FRISCO, Texas – The planning has gone on for a little while. So many moving parts. So many things to worry and wonder about, but by Wednesday night, the final preparations will be done.
He will be ready for Thanksgiving.
No, Manwell McLean, who is better known as Chef Hoppie to his Dallas Cowboys friends and clients.
“I’ll go to Dak’s probably to help his dad do some cooking, then go to Hooker’s and get his dinner ready. Then Zeke’s for his full dinner,” Chef Hoppie said. “Traditional dinners, turkey and all the extra fixings.”
McLean doesn’t have to worry about cooking for Lamb on Thanksgiving this year since the wide receiver’s family will handle all of the chores, but he cooks for Lamb five days a week throughout the year. He will cook for Prescott three days a week and is ready for when Elliott and Hooker call to ask. He recently added Dallas Mavericks center JaVale McGee as a client too.
“Football was my first love, first passion, but once I realized I wasn’t growing anymore and my height isn’t what’s preferred in the NFL, it still lets me be connected to the game,” McLean said. “I’m still part of a team and feel like I’m in the NFL even though I don’t play on Sundays.”
He is at AT&T Stadium for most home games, although not the annual Thanksgiving game -- this year against the New York Giants (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox) -- because he'll be too busy prepping the postgame dinners for his Cowboys clients.
Happy 4/21 Day pic.twitter.com/lXEJTKGDu4— Chef Hoppie (@ChefHoppie) April 21, 2022
Growing up, McLean played for Cowboys legend Deion Sanders’ Truth youth football program. He went to Sanders’ Prime Prep and sold cookies at the concession stand. He was running a baking business on the side when Sanders had him come to the house to do some desserts. He met Sanders’ chef, learned how to present his food and eventually became Sanders’ chef.
If you’re wondering where the "Chef Hoppie" name came from, that was from Sanders’ team too.
“I fractured my ankle and we had this all-star game and I still wanted to work out and be ready to play,” McLean said. “They said I looked like I’m hopping so that’s where the Hoppie came from.”
In 2018, former Cowboys wide receiver Allen Hurns went to social media searching for a chef after signing with the Cowboys. McLean answered and a connection was made that ultimately led to the current roster.
“He’s a guy that grew up playing football like all of us, so he understands the game, and I think he spent a lot of time around Deion, so he knows what it’s like to be around Cowboys,” Elliott said. “But other than that, obviously, he’s a hard worker. I’ve never met someone as young and motivated as him.”
McLean is just 25. He will go to grocery stores and a butcher two or three times a day. He does the cooking but is hoping to add a staff to grow his business. Before moving closer to The Star in Frisco, Elliott said McLean would drive five hours a day as he made deliveries after putting together meals.
“He’s successful at a young age,” Elliott said, “but he’s put the work in.”
While Elliott runs a meal prep business with McLean, Lamb said Chef Hoppie has become, “more brother than chef.”
“It’s not even just the food,” Lamb said. “It’s the vibe that we give off. I’m big on relationships that will make everything better. Everything is work until you like it. Being with him my first three years, it’s kind of like our relationship grew easily. It’s seeing him five days out of the week and then just getting to know him.”
Each player has a favorite dish. For Prescott, it’s salmon.
“I never liked salmon before Chef Hoppie,” Prescott said. “Now it’s a go-to.”
Said Lamb,” I wasn’t big on salmon either until his flavor. He added some sauce on top. It’s not crazy, but you notice the difference.”
Lamb said the ox tail might be his favorite. Elliott too.
“But I think probably every time he cooks for me I have him make a little bit of fried chicken,” Elliott said.
Hooker keeps it simple.
“I’m a big steak guy and his potatoes are fire,” Hooker said. “A couple weeks ago, he made me a variety of different flavor wings and, man, I’m telling you, they were better than a lot of stores. I’m going to keep using him until I can’t no more. He’s going to get tired of me.”
McLean wasn’t classically trained, although he attended a culinary school until the chefs were asking him more questions than he was asking them.
“I tell people I never had a specialty because everything is special,” McLean said. “Anything you ask me to make, I can create it, but I’ll have my own version, my own style. I’ll never put myself in a category or make sure something is a strong suit. I want everything to hit the same way.”
At The Star, director of sports performance Scott Sehnert will set up meals for the players through Legends Hospitality, while having individual plans for certain players. While McLean does not work directly with Sehnert, Lamb said he will tell McLean what the Cowboys want. During the offseason, Lamb wanted to added some bulk.
“If Scott wants me at 200, I’ll be like, ‘Hey, Hop, you’ve got to go a little harder this week,’ or add more to the pile or whatever,” Lamb said. “And he’ll be, ‘All right, I got you,’ and he’ll add more mashed potatoes or more protein or whatever it is to figure it all out.”
Said McLean, “We’re still conscious of health and things that benefit the ultimate goal.”
That’s a little more difficult for Thanksgiving, where the menu includes turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, rice, dressing, greens, green bean casserole, corn on the cob, yams and corn bread, although Elliott’s mom will make the mac 'n' cheese and cabbage for their family.
For dessert will be the Mama Hoppie 7-Up pound cake.
“They’re very supportive of my dreams and what I do,” McLean said. “You don’t hear about a chef being able to cook for this many superstars at once. Nobody’s greedy or to the point they just want me to be specifically their chef. They really push me, work with my schedule and let me kind of do some things that haven’t been done, which is what they’re also trying to do in their lanes.”