For some people, getting to interact and feed dolphins is the trip of a lifetime. For chef Michael Jacobs, it's just another Tuesday in Miami.
As the private chef for Anthony Fasano and Jeron Mastrud, Jacobs provides five meals a week for the Dolphins tight ends. He has been working with top athletes for several years. His company, Strategic Hospitality Group, Miami is the food service provider for the Heat. The NBA lockout might have Dwyane Wade and LeBron James on ice, but Jacobs is as busy as ever.
The New England native has consulted on the Food Network Challenge series, taught healthy cooking classes to local youth and gives volunteer seminars at the Miami campus of his alma mater, Johnson and Wales. It's all part of a professional career that started when he was 10, working for his father's catering company -- a venture that was born out of the sweet smoke
emanating from the grill of their family boat in Nantucket one summer.
"My dad was cooking Chinese barbecued pork and a woman smelled it and walked right up to the boat," Jacobs recalls. "So he gave her a spring roll and some of the meat and she loved it."
The woman asked Jacobs' father to cater a friend's party, but he was a philatelist by trade. His expertise was rare stamps, not dim sum. Nevertheless, a company was born -- one that would eventually cater for Michael Dukakis during his presidential campaign and Paul Fireman, the head of Reebok, among others.
"I ended up catering my own bar mitzvah," Jacobs says. "I did gourmet kosher Chinese food for 178 people at age 13."
It was the beginning of a career that has taken the chef across the globe from Jerusalem to Los Angeles to New York to Japan and landed him in Miami, where he's remained for more than 15 years. Now he feeds some of the city's most popular athletes.
"I was catering a Christmas party in '09 for Chris Quinn, who used to play for the Heat," he says. "Chris was roommates with Fasano at Notre Dame and told him we had to have the party at his place next year."
But in full disclosure, Quinn alerted Fasano that as a New England native, Jacobs was a Patriots fan.
"Sure, as long as he wears a Dolphins jersey," Fasano joked, and the relationship was born.
Jacobs has now been Fasano's private chef for two years. Mastrud signed on with him a year ago. The Dolphins provide breakfast and lunch each day at the team's practice facility, but dinner is in Jacobs' hands.
He provides five meals a week for Fasano and Mastrud, allowing them to cook or eat out the other two nights. Jacobs drops off their provisions twice a week, complete with reheating instructions. Each meal contains a protein, starch and vegetable, plus an appetizer and dessert.
"Most of them like salads -- a little spinach or romaine with diced tomatoes and a light vinaigrette," he says. "We'll give them fresh fruit- pineapple, watermelon, bananas or grapes as well."
Jacobs also tries to include superfoods like blueberries, walnuts and black beans. He tailors the meals specifically to his client's goals, whether it's building more muscle, losing body fat or simply maintaining their current weight. The bottom line, though, is how the athlete feels.
Occasionally his clients will text him the morning after eating one of his dinners and say they feel particularly good, so they'll continue with similar options. If they go a week without poultry and feel great, then he'll stick to lean beef, pork and seafood.
"They're definitely part of the meal planning," he says.
The options Jacobs offers are endless, but he admits most people are creatures of habit. And just because they eat healthfully doesn't mean the food isn't delicious.
"A lot of people are into comfort food because they grew up with it," he says. “They love our meatloaf, which we make with 90/10 ground beef, some whole wheat bread crumbs and organic eggs."
During his more than 25-year career, Jacobs has worked with some of the best chefs and many of the top names in sports. He's not star struck though. It's not the personalities or behind-the-scenes encounters that awe him.
"These guys put a lot of trust in me to provide the right foods and give them the right energy," he says. "That's a pretty strong statement."
Considering that an athlete's body is his moneymaker, and he takes care of some of the best, that's a strong statement indeed.