“Steel Cut Oats. Egg whites, with Mozzarella cheese. Turkey bacon, but not crispy. Fresh watermelon and Midnight Beauty grapes. Orange juice with pomegranate, and a little brown sugar on the side.” Sitting on the patio of a local coffee shop, Chef Nina G rattles Leonard Fournette’s daily breakfast off of the top of her head ecstatically, without fumbling. She dives into Fournette’s lunch and dinner preference with vigor, barely allowing me to get a word in. She’s elated to discuss the menu, but I’m more interested in how she became a personal chef for some of the Jaguars’ most popular athletes.
Chef Nina brands herself a Sports Performance Personal Chef. She’s more than that. In her own words, she’s an extraordinary introvert. She’s a 10-year Navy veteran, and she’s a mother of 3, with number 4 on the way. Her clientele, which also includes Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue, James O’Shaughnessy and Charles Jones II keeps her on her toes, but it’s all a part of the journey.
As a native of Washington D. C., she joined the Navy and was eventually stationed at NAS JAX. While in the Navy, she worked within the Morale, Wellness and Recreation division. One December in the Navy, there was a charity event on base that provided Christmas gifts for others. Nina decided to start a fundraiser with a simple premise: Cook. Nina charged $5 a plate for her dishes and in a mere 3 months had raised $15,000. That’s when the light went off. “I was just helping out. I didn’t know I wanted to be a chef.” Little did Nina know, that’s exactly what she’d become, and a damn good one.
After a stop at One Ocean in Atlantic Beach, a promotion to Sous Chef in less than a year, a stop at Melrose Hotel in Georgetown and a stint as an Executive Chef for American Airlines, Chef Nina dove into entrepreneurialism. Her first venture was called LoveLustFoods. She staged her plates for meal prep and private dinners, and posted them on Instagram. One specific post was captioned with incredible foreshadowing: “I wish I could cook for an athlete.”
As fate would have it, her Instagram page found it’s way to a member of the Jaguars’ nutrition team at the time. This helped Nina land her first NFL client: Jaguars’ defensive end Duane Smoot. Then, in 2018, business picked up. Nina got a random phone call from a number she didn’t recognize. If she didn’t answer, she wouldn’t have spoken to a representative from Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s sports agency Roc Nation. Roc Nation was reaching out to set up a meal plan and discuss dietary needs for one of their clients: Leonard Fournette. Nina took this high profile opportunity and ran with it to the metaphorical end zone.
Nina ranks Fournette’s diet during this year’s OTA workouts as the hardest to track and maintain. Fournette, coming off of a 2018 campaign which left much to be desired, had a lot to prove in 2019. “The concern was his weight, but we got it under control,” Nina recollects. She says, “We had to take away a lot of things he likes. Like pasta and rice. He’s a southern boy from New Orleans, afterall. NO BREAD! NO DAIRY!” She pounds the table with each syllable. She means business.
Myles Jack followed directly after Fournette in hiring Nina. “Calais Campbell told Myles that he needs to get his nutrition in check to take it to the next level. That’s where I came in,” Nina says.
He also has impeccable timing. Nina’s phone dings after receiving a text message, and it’s Jack. “Lobster bisque, California sushi rolls, chicken Caesar salad, and Ahi tuna.” It’s an odd combo, but Nina let’s me know that this isn’t abnormal. She fills me in: “Do you remember when the Popeye’s chicken sandwich came out recently? Well, Myles ate two of them and got sick. I got a message the next day asking if I could ‘make the Popeye’s chicken sandwich … but healthy.’ I hit the store that morning and got to work. He liked mine better,” Nina says with a sly smirk on her face.
“Yannick Ngakoue and James O’ Shaugnessy asked for it too. It was a hit.”
Speaking of James O’ Shaugnessy, Nina let’s me know that he’s always happy, and that it’s infectious, regardless of the situation. “He’s serious about what he’s doing out there. He had an ACL tear recently, and we’re working together on that. I’ve been making medicinal bone broths with mushrooms lately to help out. It’s important to cater specifically to their needs.”
Ngakoue, she says, is just as specific, but it comes directly from him. He is adamant his food doesn’t get soggy. Nina recalls recently when Yan’ asked for her to keep the couscous and brown rice separate, for that exact reason.
“I like that I’m dealing with five individuals that allow me to be creative and allow me to do what we need to do nutritionally.” Nina’s use of the word “we” isn’t by accident. She holds herself to the same standard her professional clients do.
Nina likes to keep things local when she can. She frequents C&C Fisheries in Mayport, as well as Blue Buddha Exotic Foods. “I used mushrooms sourced from Ponte Vedra when I can get my hands on them too,” she adds.
Chef Nina G is in the works of acquiring a trademark, and other growth ideas are percolating too. Perhaps the biggest came to light when I asked a selfish question. “Have you ever written a cookbook?” I asked, envisioning myself buying it to impress my family at Thanksgiving this year. “I haven’t, but I want to take a different spin with my business. I want to take over the NFL, every city.” You read that right. Chef Nina G wants to take over the National Football League. To protect her intellectual property, I’ll leave out the details. Trust me though, it’s a phenomenal idea.
While Nina develops her plot to takeover the League, she’ll still be plugging away to keep her group of five NFL clients in tip-top shape. Until then, the Industry should be on watch: Nina G is a future All-Star.
Q & A with Chef Nina G
Q: What is your “last supper” or “death row” meal. Anything you want, but the last meal you get?
A: “I would need French bread. Chateaubriand cooked medium. Mashed potatoes and gravy, and French cut green beans. I have to have blackberry cobbler with Breyers vanilla bean ice cream.”
Q: What is your favorite or least favorite type of food to make for a client?
A: “Ramen. Once those noodles hit the broth, it doesn’t look pretty. I like pretty food.”
Q: Do you find it hard to cook for yourself? You know the whole “passion becoming work” thing?
A: “I eat a lot of take out. I’ve been going to this Thai place, Aroi Thai on Lomax street. Curry Panang and thai fried rice. I gotta have thai iced tea too.”
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in the Jacksonville area?
A: “Azurea and Ocean 60 are really good. I also frequent Buddha’s Belly and Bread and Board.”
Q: What do you think are the best qualities a personal chef can have?
A: “Discipline, charisma, flexibility.”
Q: What is your favorite kitchen Item or utensil to use?
A: “ My mandoline. That thing is a beast. It has like, 7 blades”
Q: What is your favorite or least favorite ingredient to use?
A: “I think my favorite ingredient are onions. You can do 50,000 things with an onion … Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, people think you’re in there doing magic. They think you’re Emeril.”
Q: Do you enjoy sports aside from your clients? A favorite team perhaps?
A: “I don’t watch. I can tell you which spoon is your dessert spoon, or what the athletes need to eat based on their position, but that’s it. I wanted to be an ice skater when I was little, I idolized Nadia Comaneci. My high school was connected to Georgetown University, we used to skip school and watch the boys play basketball.”