Donovan Mitchell is always looking to add something to his game. Ball handling and point-guard skills. A combination move that gets him to the basket. An attacking mindset that will put him on the free-throw line.
And, thanks to Anthony Zamora, Mitchell has added something else to his repertoire: scallops.
“He tried them for the first time this summer,” Zamora said. “Now I call him Donovan ‘Scallop’ Mitchell. He wants them almost every day.”
Just as the Utah Jazz coaching staff agonizes over every detail of player development on the court, Zamora, the team’s executive performance nutrition chef, is doing the same thing in the kitchen at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus.
“You wouldn’t put 85 in a Ferrari,” Zamora said. “The same concept applies back here. We’re going to make sure the players get the best in terms of nutrition and quality.”
On gamedays, Zamora arrives at 6:30am to start preparing his own five-man team for the four meals they’ll provide that day.
Zamora said players will need anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 calories each day depending on their body size, lean muscle mass and activity.
So hash brown power bowls (HPBs), of sweet potatoes, chicken sausage and fried eggs are standard for the 8am breakfast service. There will also be oatmeal and big, whole-grain pancakes topped with chia pudding and dried passionfruit.
Then, each morning, Zamora and his team rotate in a new item for the players. Point guard Ricky Rubio was pleased to see that on one recent morning, Zamora was offering pan con tomate, the classic Spanish tapa.
“There are days when sometimes you see guys get excited. That was one of those days,” Zamora said. “He had three or four pieces. Then he went in the locker room and came back for another one. That makes you happy.”
Zamora is passionate about nutrition, but he’s equally passionate about making good food.
That’s how he gets the team’s star guard to buy in.
Mitchell, 22, loves gummy bears and Cheesecake Factory and steaks from Ruth’s Chris. So before Zamora approached him about dietary choices, he wanted to let his food speak for itself.
“Before I even talk to a guy about vitamins or supplements or how they fuel throughout the day, I’m going to let them taste my food,” Zamora said. “The love and trust are established when you provide someone with a meal.”
Mitchell is still one of the team’s pickiest eaters, but the guard is continuing to expand his palate.
“I’m super proud of the progress he’s made with his diet,” Zamora said. “People say healthy eating isn’t fun, but it really can be. You just have to mix it up.”
Zamora studied sports nutrition at the University of Tennessee. From there, an internship with the St. Louis Rams turned into a full-time job. Last year, Zamora was hired by the Utah Jazz.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “We’re surrounded by great people on all sides. And a lot of these great people are foodies, too. So when everyone appreciates it, that makes it that much better.”
Zamora is assisted by sous chef Ben Maldonado, whom he hired after watching him work at the Copper Onion restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City. The chef called the kitchen at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus one of the best he has seen in the league.
“For myself and our staff here, it’s great to be able to work in a place like this,” Zamora said. “We have the best equipment, top of the line. We’re really able to optimize how we function.”
After breakfast and shootaround, Zamora’s team provides lunch, a pregame dinner and a postgame meal for the team.
The crew in the kitchen keeps a list of player favorites.
Derrick Favors likes Zamora’s sea bass and chicken meals. Joe Ingles had never tried chili until Zamora recently made a batch of bison chili.
“Now I’ve got him asking for that twice a week,” the chef said.
Favors is the team’s most adventurous eater.
“His nickname back here is actually Derrick Flavors,” Zamora said. “He’ll try just about everything.”
Favors likes Zamora’s sea bass and his chicken—so much so that he asked for a lesson so that he can prepare it himself.
The crew in the kitchen, meanwhile, is still working out the details of another favorite.
“We’re still trying to perfect our paella for Ricky, bring it up to his standards,” the chef said.
Zamora is one of three registered dieticians working for an NBA team.
“I can look at a research article and turn that into a plate of food,” he said.
That background bears out in everything made in the kitchen, right down to the daily recovery shakes.
“We love them, not only after workouts but also as a fueling opportunity,” Zamora said. “If it’s close to game time, a player might have nerves, not a huge appetite. Liquid delivery is a great way to get them their calories.”
Zamora whips up a mix of whey protein for muscle building, carbohydrates to reload after a workout, fruit, and water. Then he adds his special ingredient: beet powder. The benefits of the powder are no secret. Beets are a natural source of nitric oxide, which helps increase the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.
“Think of your blood like an oil change,” he said. “More oxygen, faster recovery.”
The powder, however, remains a secret—at least to some players—for a different reason.
“There are a couple of guys I haven’t told about the beats. There are a couple of picky eaters.”
Mitchell, it seems, might be one of them.
“He’s still the pickiest,” Zamora said. “But not when I don’t tell him what’s in the food.”