When Kemba Walker and Grant Williams were quarantined together for roughly three months in Charlotte, you heard about their board games, workout habits and non-basketball hobbies. But what about food? That’s where Chianti Peek comes in.
According to Peek, cooking is in her blood. Her father was a chef for 20 years, and now she finds herself working as a personal chef for some of the world’s top professional athletes. Her behind-the-scenes role is immensely important, and such was especially the case when NBA players, like everyone else, became housebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chef Chianti, as she goes by on Instagram, became Walker’s personal chef while he was playing point guard for the Charlotte Hornets. Before working with the All-NBA star, she worked as a private chef for then Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton who, of course, is now a member of the New England Patriots.
Newton’s agent reached out to Peek, connected her with Cam, and the rest is history. She soon was linked to Walker, another Charlotte star at the time, who she now finds herself working for as an in-house chef in Boston and Charlotte.
Like her connection to Newton, working with Walker has opened Peek up to a network of Boston Celtics players, among numerous other Boston- and Charlotte-based athletes. She began working with Grant Williams, who put her in touch with fellow rookie Tacko Fall earlier this season. The network is growing as we speak, but could Peek end up working with Newton once again now that he’s joining her other clients in New England?
“I’m an in-house chef with Kemba, so I don’t really plan on it. I’m pretty loyal to Kemba — and Grant. And I have Tacko now too. Everybody’s getting on the healthy train,” Peek said. “I got introduced to Tacko through Grant. When I was cooking for Grant, he lost eight pounds in one week. That’s when I was explaining my diet plan and my products and what I had to offer. It just went from there and he told Tacko who got on board, the healthy board, and now we got a little team.”
Peek found herself in a unique situation when the NBA season was suspended in mid-March, causing players to retreat to their home cities. Walker, who still owns his house in Charlotte after playing eight seasons with the Hornets, left Boston to quarantine in North Carolina. Williams, a Charlotte native, did the same, prompting the veteran Walker to invite the 21-year-old to stay at his place. Williams gladly accepted.
Both Walker and Williams recently told reporters that they bonded during their time together, agreeing that their living styles were a solid match for one another. Peek was their third roommate and said the experience truly showcased the pair’s impressive work ethic.
“It was fire.” Peek said. “They were very tuned in, working out every single day as if the playoffs were starting tomorrow. We were drinking green juice, eating lean proteins, complex carbs — we were on it every single day. It was amazing. Everybody was on the same page. We were on a mission and now they’re on their way to Orlando.”
But now they’re heading to Walt Disney World with the Celtics, while Peek heads back home to Charlotte. The separation anxiety for both parties won’t take long to set in, especially after members of the first-arriving teams began posting evidence of the quarantine meals in the bubble earlier this week.
As teams began to enter the Walt Disney World campus, players shared photos of their less-than-optimal room service meals. This will change after the first few days in the bubble, however. Each team is required to quarantine in their respective hotel rooms for roughly 48 hours upon arrival, resulting in room service being the only initial food option. Once that period is up, the dining experience will improve.
Despite the positive outlook, Peek, like other personal chefs around the league, has her worries. She’s used to being in-house with Walker throughout the season, so it’s understandable how a dramatic change like this would bring about some concern.
“Yeah, I do (have concerns). That’s just me as a chef,” Peek said. “That’s just me as a person. As far as me worrying about (Walker’s) eating, I’m not really all that worried. He’s a really focused guy and I trust him enough. When he’s focused, he’s very focused, especially during the season and really all year, so he’s not going to eat anything crazy.”
As for other players around the league, Peek feels there could be some league-wide concern from both personal chefs and teams. The change in scenery certainly could cause some players to drop their strict regiments. NBA players are used to having team and personal chefs plan specific diets around their needs and preferences. With that out the window, the bubble could cause some less-disciplined players to fall off their routines.
“I think it could,” Peek said. “It’s crazy, I was talking to another chef friend of mine and we were talking about how we want to go down to Florida and have all the NBA chefs be there to provide meals for our clients. We’re all worried. We’re a part of the NBA family, but we’d want to have some kind of NBA chef organization where we could go down and provide each meal so we won’t have to worry about our players.”
Time will tell how the non-basketball factors impact players in the bubble. The Celtics were one of eight teams to arrive on Wednesday, and their respective quarantines began once they entered their hotel rooms. They’ll need to pass two COVID-19 tests (24 hours apart) before Boston’s first scheduled practice on Friday at 2:00 p.m. ET at the Contemporary Hotel ballroom.