John Howie knows how to feed football players. His steak and seafood restaurants in Bellevue and Seattle are popular stops for Seahawks players and alumni.
“Some of the guys eat really healthy; they’re going to come in and have grilled fish, some steamed vegetables, that kind of stuff. … One night John Carlson and Lofa Tatupu came in. John had a steak, and each one ate a 36-ounce bone-in rib-eye by themselves. … Most of them like to eat meat, and quantity is usually a good thing for the big guys.”
Just before the Super Bowl each year, though, Howie is focused on a different football crowd. For about 10 years, he’s been the region’s representative to the nonprofit Taste of the NFL, a big-ticket gala held the night before the Super Bowl to raise money for food banks throughout the country.
Thirty percent of the proceeds from the $700 tickets go to hunger-fighting groups in the host city; the rest is divided among designated charities in the other NFL markets and national organizations. Seattle’s share goes to Food Lifeline; Howie pays for the food he serves, as well as some of his expenses.
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This year, while the players ready for the big day, Howie is preparing his own game plan. He’s working with an injury — shoulder surgery — but focused.
Early last week, he was buying 135 pounds of salmon, weight tallied after the skin and bones were removed, which he and his crew will turn into 1,500 portions of seared ginger-and-lemongrass-crusted fish. He’ll serve it over sticky rice topped with red-curry coconut sauce from a 10-gallon batch and a slaw of Kaffir lime leaf, zucchini, carrots and peanuts, topped with micro-cilantro leaves.
He’s paired in the fundraising efforts with former Seahawk Craig Terrill, who was in the game in 2006, the last time the team went to the Super Bowl.
“Thankfully, I don’t do any of the cooking. I just smile and shake hands and talk football with people,” Terrill said. (“A player like me, at my peak, I was maybe 300 pounds, and only had to work to keep that weight on. Anything in front of you, you consume it, and it’s on to the next meal.”)
Usually, when the event is done, Terrill flies home.
“I’ve played in the Super Bowl, so I don’t really want to sit in the stands and watch another team play.” This time, though, he’ll be on the scene, working on the Seahawks pregame radio broadcast.
Both Terrill and Howie, who played football in college, love sports.
They’ve channeled their competitive urges into raising money for Food Lifeline, which won an extra $10,000 last year when donations on a Seahawks page (http://support.tasteofthenfl.com/site/TR/Events/General?team_id=1167&pg=team&fr_id=1070) drew more than any other team, through events like closing Howie’s Sport restaurant for a night to raise money. This year, they’re vying for the lead again.
“Sometimes the most gratifying part is getting to be involved in things like that. The football and the competitive side of it drives you, but to be able to give back and do these events is the icing on the cake,” Terrill said.
Howie’s known for his philanthropic work, including serving hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners to people in need at the Bellevue Seastar each year. “I’ve been pretty blessed for the most part with what’s gone on with my business life. I like to share some of that and help people who need help. … The people who work for me have a lot of pride that we do that. They want to continue to work for me and be a part of that.”
With the Seahawks in the big game, Howie knows he’ll be more in the limelight again.
When the Hawks played in the 2006 Super Bowl, in Detroit, chefs from the opposing hometowns were challenged to a TV Dip-Off.
“Somehow, mine went missing the night before the event,” Howie remembers.
A frantic call from his sous chef alerted him that their finished creation was no longer in the fridge. “We had to figure out how to make Dungeness crab dip at midnight in Detroit so we could serve it at 4:30 a.m. on “Good Morning America.”
He sent a team to the grocery store, where they picked up frozen blue crab and patched together a similar dish. “We still won. It was tough. But it wasn’t really a fair fight because the other guy had black beans in his dip.”
Back then, Howie could buy Super Bowl tickets from the Seahawks, paying face value to take his sous chef, friend and son to the game.
“It was great.”
With this year’s distribution system, where “the NFL is becoming its own ticket broker,” he was told tickets would run $2,500 apiece. Not an option. As a longtime season-ticket holder, he had hoped for a chance to buy them through the lottery, but “I didn’t win,” he said.
He did, on the other hand, provide a jackpot to others for a more basic need. Food Lifeline has been awarded $145,000 through the Taste of the NFL event in the years he’s been on that team.
No matter who comes home with the sterling silver Vince Lombardi trophy, he and Terrill have already scored big.
Rebekah Denn writes for The Seattle Times blog All You Can Eat.