Feeding The Birds: A Cherry Hill Chef Keeps The Eagles Eating Well
By Dave Spadaro

PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID MICHAEL HOWARTH

For Lane Johnson, it’s the chicken fried steak and roasted potatoes. Jalen Hurts loves lamb and greens and salads, and he stays away from carbs. Isaac Seumalo will eat just about anything, but mushrooms need not apply, and Nate Herbig is all about a juice diet with a little bit of meat and some eggs when he wants to curb his weight. T.J. Edwards devours hearty meals that fill him up and keep him away from junk food. These are the stars of the Philadelphia Eagles, and they receive first-class food service thanks to the culinary work of South Jersey’s Justin Massie, who is chef to the athletic stars in South Jersey.

And he’s loving every bit of it – helping world-class athletes craft their dining habits in a healthful and delicious way.

“I want them to trust me to be their chef and cook food for them, and help their careers,” Massie says. “They aren’t hiring me because they are rich guys who want to eat steak and lobster. They want to eat great food, and they want to get their bodies at their best. For me, hey, it’s crazy. ESPN did an article on Lane and I was in it, and I just sat back and said to my wife, ‘I’m in an ESPN article.’ This is amazing.”

“Justin takes care of me,” Johnson says. “I want to eat the right food, and I want my body to benefit from what I’m eating. Justin is helping me with my career, keeping me on the field and playing at a high level.”

Massie didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a chef. His mother started his career, unwittingly, by introducing him to their home kitchen back when he was around 11 years old and living in the San Francisco area. An athlete through his high school years there, Massie suffered a serious shoulder injury that derailed any long-term athletic plan, so when it came time to pick a career, he attended a culinary school out West and then started a journey that landed him here. Massie had an extremely successful career working his way through the restaurant business – from San Francisco to Ashville, North Carolina to New Jersey – picking up bits and pieces of the industry along with trends of healthy eating and the stressful side of the business along the way.

And then, New Jersey.

“If somebody said, ‘What’s the last place you would find yourself in the entire country,’ back when I started, I probably would have said, ‘New Jersey. I’m never going to end up in New Jersey. What’s there for me,’” Massie says, laughing. “But here I am, and I love every bit of it.”

Massie served as the executive chef of several restaurants inside Terminal C at the Newark Airport for United Airlines and then ran the culinary department for a hospital in the central part of the state from November 2019 through March 2021. Then fate smiled upon Massie when he connected with a lifelong friend of his, Gabe Rangel, a former Marine turned tough-love athletic trainer who had moved to South Jersey to work with Johnson and other professional athletes.

The pitch to recruit Massie went something like this…

“Gabe was saying he was training some guys and he didn’t know where I was in Jersey, but some of the guys didn’t have the greatest diets and it would be amazing if I could not only come clean up their diets but cook fresh stuff,” Massie says. “He told me, ‘If you saw what they were eating, it would drive you crazy.’ In my head I’m thinking, ‘You’re working with professional athletes, they should be eating whatever they want and whenever they want.’ That wasn’t the case at all. Nate was convincing, so I gave it a shot.”

Still working at the hospital 5 days a week, Massie made the hour-long drive to Johnson’s Moorestown home, and when he arrived, he found it wasn’t just Johnson there training with Rangel. A host of other professional players – including South Jersey natives Jon Runyan Jr. and Cesar Ruiz, both NFL players – quickly took to Massie’s clean cooking as he elevated the ingredients, made the food tastier and cut down the caloric intake.

Soon, Massie ditched the hospital job and joined Johnson full time, cooking from Johnson’s kitchen for 3 meals a day and at the same time meal prepping for several other players throughout the week. You might find Massie at Johnson’s house after a game cooking for a group of Eagles, many of whom take away meals for the next day. Massie has done meal prep for Jalen Hurts’ birthday party, making sure the star quarterback has what he wants, and everything is fresh, clean, healthy and, of course, delicious.

“I go 100% by what they tell me, but I want to help them. If you let athletes eat on their own, their diets would be terrible. I’ve seen it firsthand. Cesar Ruiz told me, ‘I need you to do these meals for me because, if you don’t, I’m going to order DoorDash and I’m going to gain 30 pounds over the summer,” Massie says.

“I know there are some foods where they’re used to a lot of butter or a lot of oil, which to me is just empty calories for these guys, so unless I’m specifically told otherwise, my mission is to take out as many empty calories as possible and try to incorporate something healthy. For example, I may make a pasta sauce and I know these guys aren’t eating a lot of nuts, which have a lot of protein, so I may finish with a cashew sauce or an almond sauce instead of using something that is cream-based. They’ll taste it and say, ‘That is so good!’ And I tell them it’s not dairy-based, it’s cashews.”

“It has to be healthy,” he adds. “I make chicken fried steak for Lane, and it’s not a butter-and-cream sauce. It’s a cashew sauce, and Lane loves it. If they don’t like it, I will take it out. That doesn’t happen very often. They just don’t know the alternatives and that it’s healthy and it tastes great.”

The best compliments he gets from the players? “The food tastes great. I’m losing weight and my body feels great,” Massie says. “It makes me feel great when I hear that, and it happens all the time, because these are young guys who haven’t spent a lot of time eating well.”

Massie isn’t just a chef for the pros. Some day he would like to make himself available for the masses, and his advice to the general public about their food intake is direct: “You want to eat your clean proteins, your vegetables, your whole grains. If you can incorporate that into your diet on a daily basis you should be able to maintain a good and healthy weight, and you should feel good in your body. Stay away from junk food and processed food. Keep away from high sodium and high fat. You’re going to feel good on a daily basis.”

It’s nearly dinner time. Massie is off to the kitchen once again. The stars are calling and the chef is ready to deliver some fine dining to the table and give these world-class athletes a healthy experience, all with the goal of keeping them on the field and playing at an elite level.

“These players trust me to do the right thing for them, and I’m having a great time doing it.” Massie says. “But I’ll admit it, I have to pinch myself sometimes.”


Spadaro has covered every Eagles game since 1987 and is seen and heard throughout the year on television, radio and Eagles coverage everywhere. You can hear his Eagles Live Podcast on iTunes.

February 2022
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