Isaiah Stewart can rebound. Like few others his age. And when he was on his way to a career-high 21 boards Friday night against Oklahoma City, his teammates were yelling at him to “go ahead and keep snagging them.”
But did you know the Detroit Pistons rookie forward can cook?
That he attacks the kitchen the same way he attacks the glass? That his go-to dish is honey-glazed salmon? That he likes to serve it with broccoli?
Not steamed or boiled, but sautéed, over high-heat, where the florets begin to amber, then char.
“Let the heat do its thing,” he said.
Let the heat do its thing.
“Add some lemon, got my red pepper flakes …” he said.
You see where this is going, right?
That broccoli holds natural sugars. That direct heat brings them out in the open, where they begin to caramelize. That citrus and chili add a tart, spicy surprise. That with practice and repetition and a willingness to step out, Stewart is transforming something ordinary into a dance on the palette.
You might say the same of his play this season, if you’ll forgive the cheap — but tasty — metaphor, where practice and film study mimic the kitchen and the spices, and games are what you taste on the plate. As for the heat?
Stewart supplies his own. It’s why Troy Weaver drafted him, even though he’s a bit undersized at 6 feet 8, and even though the ideal big today is someone who can step out and shoot, which Stewart did not do much during his single season at Washington.
Though he did enough to show Weaver he wasn’t only a throwback big who’d be cemented on the block. Still, it’s the motor and physicality that Weaver sought, enough to make a trade to draft him.
All the rookie has done is reward Weaver’s faith. With energy, yes, but also with a quick second jump — critical on rebounds — a feel for where the ball will carom — ala Dennis Rodman — an internal map on positioning and how to use his strength — Stewart outmuscled OKC’s 7-footer, Moses Brown, over and over on Friday — and a spirit that stands out on a team that competes as hard as anyone in the NBA.
He brings similar curiosity and will to cooking. And will show off some of what he’s learned for “America’s Test Kitchen,” where he and Rick Mahorn put their skills before the camera for an upcoming show. Mahorn enjoys cooking, too, and offered a few tips to Stewart.
“That’s how you brown it a little bit,” Mahorn told him, shaking a sizzling pan with stew meat. “Give it a little shake, like you were doing last night on the court.”
Stewart was invited to make beef stew for the PBS program as part homage to his new nickname, “Beef Stew.” But also, as a way to test what he’s learned at the stove, and to test himself in the heat, so to speak.
He first learned to cook from his older brother during the pre-draft process last year, when he was back home in Rochester, New York. His brother studies culinary arts. Stewart had extra time. The first dish he learned was honey-glazed salmon. He learned some basics, too, like how to cook vegetables without squeezing out their nutrients and flavor.
He also wanted to learn how to cook Jamaican dishes, where his father is from, and where he intends to take his father when its reasonably safe to travel, at least if his dad will get on a plane.
“He doesn’t like them,” said Stewart.
In the meantime, he’ll settle for perfecting oxtail stew and rice and peas, and fish steamed in banana leaves and curry chicken and, yes, jerk chicken. And keep getting better at “staining the pot with flavor,” he said.
Which is another way of browning the protein, and getting that nice little brown crisp, and then capturing the delicious brown bits left in the bottom of the pan by deglazing it.
Hey, what better way to spend time during the pandemic? And what better way to take the traits that propel you in a profession over to a hobby?
Not that he fills up on stews all the time. His brother taught him how to cook healthy dishes, including the salmon and broccoli combo, for one.
There will be others. Many others, as long as Stewart navigates the kitchen the way he navigates the NBA. Or anything he tries, truthfully.
“Growth wise, I try to get better at everything,” he said after his record-setting night against the Thunder on Friday night. “For me, I just want to continue to work.”
Which is why you shouldn’t be surprised when he starts hitting more 3-pointers, or putting the ball on the deck, or using his wide shoulders to seal off defenders on the block, and toss in jump hook floaters.
Stewart is here to get better. He is here to work. Rebounding, like the salmon, is the beginning. There is a lot more citrus and chili on the way.