Steelers players Moats, Conner and more team up to cook and help cancer patients at Magee-Womens Hospital
“Never trust a skinny chef.”
Those are the words of Pittsburgh Steelers 6-foot-4, 318-pound lineman B.J. Finney, who was demonstrating his cooking skills, with teammates linebacker Arthur Moats, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, running back James Conner and linebacker Farrington Huguenin, at the ninth annual Healthy Cooking and Eating for Breast Cancer Awareness with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 24 at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Oakland.
The players donned chef coats instead of game-day jerseys and joined the Magee nutrition and culinary staff to prepare two healthy dishes, team-competition style, for 30 breast cancer patients and survivors and their guests from Magee-Womens Breast Cancer Program, which is part of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, demonstrating how simple it can be to prepare foods that are delicious and nutritious.
The Steelers join the National Football League and its teams in promotion of A Crucial Catch campaign, which is an effort to raise awareness for breast cancer screenings.
A little song, dance and fun
The players split into two teams — Conner and Huguenin created Greek chicken with tomatoes, peppers, olives and feta cheese, while Finney, Moats and Tuitt whipped up Orecchiette with broccoli and rabe pesto. It was an hour and a half of laughing and singing and forgetting about the medical diagnosis that connected everyone in the room.
“I am in awe of how much I got to smile today,” says Melissa Philson, 45 ,of Greenville, Mercer County, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in March and finished treatment two weeks ago. “This was amazing, and it felt good to laugh so much.”
Philson clutched two pink Terrible Towels — one she brought to be autographed, and the other given to those in attendance. The players signed both, one for her, and the other for her 13-year-old daughter, Makenna.
“When I was first diagnosed I immediately thought of my daughter and hoping she never has to hear the words ‘breast cancer,’ ” Philson says. “Early detection is so important. All of us in this room know that and want to share that with other women to go and get your mammogram, because cancer can be beat.”
Conner certainly knows that. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 and now is healthy.
He and Huguenin were assigned to dip the chicken in flour for the first step in their recipe. Conner kept looking over at Moats and his crew.
Finney told him to focus “on what he is doing, not on what we are doing.”
Conner responded with a smile, but continued to pester Finney, Moats and Tuitt. Those in attendance would laughed at their antics. The players sang and danced while they cooked.
Important lessons, too
That was the goal of the event — fun — but also to talk about the importance of using certain seasonings and natural foods instead of always having lots of sugar, salt and fat in your food, said Tom Hritz, director of food & nutrition services at the hospital. Proper nutrition is always key, but it can be even more important for cancer patients who may be nauseous or have their sense of taste affected because of treatments. Many just aren’t hungry.
“This was a way to highlight nutrition and cooking techniques in an enjoyable atmosphere,” Hritz said.
Guests received samples of both dishes and were supposed to choose a favorite, but in the end they all agreed both recipes were good.
Part of the dish Moats, Finney and Tuitt made involved boiling broccoli in salted water and then transferring it into salted ice water before pureeing it and adding pistachios and Parmesan cheese.
“I think we are going to break this puree machine before we are done,” Moats said. “When cooking you have to have a lot of love and passion for it. No job is too small in the kitchen. You have to put all you have into the meal you are making. It’s about cooking with your heart.”
Leading the cooking class was the hospital’s executive chef Jennifer McKelvey.
“I had no idea this would be so much fun, and so entertaining” McKelvey said. “This is the highlight of my week. They gave these women, these survivors and their guests time to think about something else than cancer.”