the grub street diet

Rex Chapman Ate Turkey Chili Every Day for a Year

“I’m just weird like that.”

Rex Chapman. Illustration: Margalit Cutler
Rex Chapman. Illustration: Margalit Cutler

On Monday, Rex Chapman debuted his eponymous show with CNN+ in which he interviews people like Jason Sudeikis, Amber Ruffin, and Kevin Love. A high-school basketball phenom, Chapman played 12 seasons in the NBA — and now works as basketball broadcaster — but he’s better known among some as a (reluctant) Twitter personality. His digital persona bends toward uplifting, but he’s also been open about his struggles with addiction. Now a full-time New Yorker, Chapman even experienced a major life milestone this past week: He ate borscht for the first time. 

Monday, March 28
We were shooting an episode of my show at the restaurant Veselka. I went over there, talked to the owner and a couple of young refugees — teenagers — so that was pretty tough, actually.

It was the middle of the day and I wasn’t hungry, but they brought out some borscht and pierogi and it was amazing. It was amazing. I’d never had borscht before. I don’t think I’d ever really had any Ukrainian food, so that was awesome for me, to have that for the first time. There are lots of other things that I want to try. I’m sure I’ve never actually had real-deal Greek food or Indian food before, so those are both on my list.

Growing up in Kentucky, it wasn’t like there was a lot of variety, and we didn’t fly anywhere. We drove everywhere we went for vacations, and that was normally within three or four, five hours of Kentucky.

Even now, you don’t get much selection. If you try to go find a turkey burger in Lexington, good luck. It’s good to get authentic food up here because there’s just such a wide variety, so many people and cultures.

Growing up, pretty much everything was fried. Not the best, I’ll admit. As Kentuckians, we don’t have the best eating habits, like many places in the South or the Midwest.

My hometown is kind of famous for barbecue. In fact, I think we somehow call ourselves the barbecue capital of the world in Owensboro. But there are two things in Owensboro. One is mutton. The other is burgoo. B-U-R-G-O-O. Burgoo. And I don’t think anybody knows what’s in it. I sure as hell don’t.

I moved to New York a couple months ago. From the first time I came here as a teenager for the NBA draft, I just liked the hustle and bustle. I like being able to look out the window and see cars and, at night, see all the lights and people walking around. A few of the places I lived in Kentucky growing up, a car might not drive past your house for an hour. I just like the … It feels alive and that feels fun.

One thing I wanted to do in New York was get up here and go out, try things, go to little hole-in-the-wall restaurants and see plays and do all the touristy things that I’ve never done.

Later that day, I went to Peak, this Hudson Yards restaurant and bar with great views, for the CNN+ launch party. It was on the 100th floor or something like that, so the views were just insane and everything was all decked out. I got to see my old friends Jemele Hill and Cari Champion, who also have a show — I just can’t believe they picked me to work next to these people.

At the party, I had half a beer, which I always drink on ice, and there were passed hors d’oeuvres, but I just ate at home. It helps me drink it slower. Based on my past and what I’ve gone through I know I need to pace myself. Plus it helps keep me hydrated at the same time. That’s just smart. My preference is Coors Light on ice. My friends call that the Rex Chapman.

Back at home, I had a couple of omelets. I like them cooked harder, like in a diner. I’ve had it the other way, where the eggs are still softer, you know, and well, I don’t like it that other way. Doesn’t feel cooked to me.

I also had some carrot cake. I like mine with cream-cheese frosting, of course. I don’t think I’ve had carrot cake without that frosting. But would I turn down that frostingless carrot cake? No, I don’t think so.

Now, you might be wondering, was this carrot cake homemade? Hell no. I’m not baking. It’s from some restaurant around here somewhere. I don’t know where.

Tuesday, March 29 
Drank a Diet Coke.

I had a salad with tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, bleu cheese, croutons, and Thousand Island dressing. Where would I rank this among salad dressings? Fifth, fourth? I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ll have to get back to you all on that.

One thing I do know is that I just like food. I love Mexican food, I love Italian food, I don’t care if it’s Italian American or Italian Italian. Here’s a story. After I got out of rehab four years ago, I needed to lose some weight. For one year straight, every meal I ate was turkey chili. Every meal. Once a day only. I would eat it at night, in the evening, every night. I’m just weird like that. I didn’t have to think about it; I liked it; it was spicy. But for a whole year I did that. It’s not really discipline. It’s an addiction thing. Routine is kind of key, so it works in that way.

Speaking of turkey, I had turkey pasta made with veggie rotini. I try not to eat much meat. I try not to eat much beef, pork, chicken. I try to eat fish some. Turkey is just kind of my go-to protein, I guess. I like pasta, too, but I know it doesn’t like me very much. It sits on my stomach, so I try to eat as much vegetables and stuff as I can.

At night I snacked on some dark-chocolate M&Ms.

Wednesday, March 29
I ate the same foods, more of that turkey pasta. I go through periods where I like something and I’ll want it all the time, as you may have guessed from my year of turkey chili.

My main thing is that, while I really like food, I hate thinking about what I’m going to eat. I hate it. It wears me out. It’s not that I would rather be doing other things — not particularly. My brain doesn’t work this way. It’s not just food, in other words. Like for our show, for example, it stresses me out figuring out what to wear, so over the last little while, we figured out they’re just going to pick it out for me because I don’t like doing it. Same way with food. It’s really just a convenience thing.

Thursday, March 31
Stuffed peppers with rice, ground turkey, and veggies. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never had stuffed peppers before. Will I have them again? Sure, why not?

I also ate a Caprese salad— you know, with tomato, basil, and mozzarella.

Usually I get delivery all the time, so this was a weird week for me. It’s been a while since I’ve actually even been in New York for a whole week, with traveling for the show and the NCAA tournament, so I don’t usually have time to prepare meals. It was good to actually have some healthier food made at home and then have leftovers ready for the next day. I’m a creature of habit so all of this traveling gets me out of my routine. Even though I liked having the salads and stuffed peppers, I probably won’t be able to get back in the routine of having food prepped at home for a while. Maybe the next time I’ve got more than a week in one place.

Anyway, I had some M&Ms. I like dark chocolate. I use it as a bit of a cheat. I love ice cream, but I can’t eat that stuff anymore, it just kills my stomach. When I was younger, I used to like milk chocolate, but as I got older my taste changed for whatever reason.

One thing is for sure: I drink Diet Coke all the time. I’m for sure a Diet Coke addict. Yeah, forever. My folks drank straight Coke when I was little, we drank Coke, and I guess I stopped drinking soda while I was playing for a while, and the last two years I guess I probably drink six to 12 of them a day.

It’s like you dial your addiction down, or at least dumb it down instead of taking whatever it was that was killing you fast. You just drink Diet Coke instead. It’ll kill you slower.

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