Eddie Jackson Handles The Heat In The Kitchen With Whirlpool - Exclusive Interview

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Whether on the field or in the kitchen, Eddie Jackson takes competition seriously. After playing professionally in the NFL, Jackson was ready to tackle a new challenge. With a passion for good food, Jackson turned to cooking for the next phase of his career and went all in. Without the luxury of a traditional culinary education, Jackson tried his hand at competitive cooking to showcase his talent. He first competed on Season 4 of "MasterChef," coming in seventh place, and then competed on the 11th season of "Food Network Star," where he beat out the competition and took home the grand prize.

Since then, Jackson has been cooking up a storm and has even put out a cookbook full of game day recipes. Recently, he has partnered with Whirlpool to showcase their new line of smart appliances that can turn any recipe into the star of the show. We sat down for an exclusive interview with Jackson to talk about his career, his favorite recipes, and to find out what makes these ranges so smart.

Getting into the kitchen and coming off the field

How did you get interested in cooking?

I've been around cooking my whole life. My grandmothers were chefs growing up, so [when] I was five years old, that's when I started cooking, making biscuits with my grandmother. That's truly when I fell in love with food.

Do you have formal cooking training?

I didn't go to culinary school, so to speak. I've been cooking all my life, I like to say, and all of my family members are cooks. Everything that I've done has been trial-and-error. I've learned on-the-go, and ... I'm 41, and I've been cooking professionally since I was about 25. I got about 16 years under my belt, so the School of Hard Knocks is how I learned how to cook.

How did you go from being an NFL star and decided to completely switch gears and become a chef?

It's really not that I switched gears, it's that one chapter of my life closed, and I moved on to something else that I love. Sports was my first love, and food was after that. Once I finished playing football, I was like, "All right. What do I want to do now with food?" That's what else I love, and that's what I did, try to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with food.

Do you see similarities between being a chef and a professional football player?

There is a lot of similarities, especially the route that I took to become this "celebrity chef" on TV. I competed in "Food Network Star" seven years ago, which I won, and that was a very tough competition where I was there for about [11] weeks. Ultimately, I won because I was able to overcome so many obstacles throughout that competition. 

Some weeks, I would do really bad, go back, get coaching from Bobby Flay and Giada [De Laurentiis], and then come back the next week and do those things better and learn from my mistakes same way that I would if I was playing a football season. [We] can't keep making the same mistakes, or we're going to always lose the game. That mentality is what ultimately got me to win "Food Network Star."

Game day recipes

For game day, what are some of your favorite recipes that you can make, especially with the air fryer feature that's on the new Whirlpool ranges?

Working with Whirlpool and their products has been a serious game-changer for me. I have a whole book that's dedicated to game day meals and recipes and all these different things, so I've been playing around with this new Whirlpool smart oven that has the air fryer mode on it, updates itself, and adds on different accessories and different things like that, specifically the air fry mode.

I created one of my favorite recipes that I get asked to make all the time: spicy chicken parmesan wings, and I use the air fryer for it. For one, I was able to cook two pounds at one time. Normally, when you have a countertop, you can only cook six wings at a time. I was able to make two pounds of wings at once, because the entire oven is an air fryer. I love that it updates itself, because it has over-the-air updates. You can wake up and then the next day, if you have one of the smart appliances, it'll update itself and have new gidgets and gadgets on it that you can use. You can wake up and you have a huge air fryer. How cool is that?

Are there any other recipes that you particularly love cooking with the Whirlpool product line?

Yeah, I've been doing a lot of experimenting with my smart oven and learning the device. It gets better with time. The more you use [this one], it gets smarter with time. I have another recipe that I'm going to be coming out with next month that's going to utilize the Yummly smart thermometer. I'm going to be doing a thick cut of protein, so you can really see how this thermometer works and the benefits that it has. It's a great accessory.

Working with Whirlpool

What are some other features that are in these new smart ranges you'd be able to tell us about?

[There are] so many different things that they have. It learns your cooking habits and things like that. What I really like is the Yummly smart thermometer. When you're entertaining, sometimes, you forget about what's in the oven. With this Yummly smart thermometer, you can utilize this tool, and it keeps track of the temperature of whatever protein and things that you're cooking. It's a little bit less stress, especially if you're entertaining, [which] I like to do.

What made you initially want to partner with Whirlpool?

I've always been the type of person that [thinks] sports and food go hand-in-hand, and I love entertaining. When this was brought to me, and I learned about the different types of technology that Whirlpool was inputting into their smart appliances (the air fry mode, having this thermometer), I'm like, "Well, this could be a game-changer for me, because a lot of the recipes that I utilize ... I've used a countertop air fryer before, but now I can have access to an entire oven that's an air fryer." 

It's going to be a little bit healthier, but it's also going to allow me to entertain a little bit more effortlessly. I don't have to worry about different things. If you throw something in the fryer, you really got to watch it. Now we're talking about an air fryer, so we're using no oil at all, but we're still getting a great, crispy product, which is good for everybody. [It's] a little bit healthier, but at the same time, you don't have to sit there and watch it if you would [while] frying something. [With] innovative [and] good quality products, I wanted to partner up with a company like that.

Halloween and favorites

I have to ask, what was it like working on Halloween Wars?

The show is very creepy. It's a creepy show. And I like creepy. I love horror movies, and working with Zak Bagans and Shinmin and Aarti is just an absolute pleasure. Hosting that show was the first time I've really hosted a Halloween show. I've done a lot of holiday shows but not a Halloween show. And it can be very scary. Some of these creations that these pumpkin artists and sugar artists create are, first off, just out of this world, but they're creepy at the same time.

When you are cooking, what is one ingredient you can't live without?

Is salt an ingredient?

I think so.

You have to have salt! You got to season everything in levels. That's what I tell people. People think that you just need to season with salt one time. Anytime you add something to a pan, you have to add a little pinch of salt and build those levels of flavor. That's the biggest difference. When you go into a restaurant, making restaurant-quality dishes, is that they're going to season at every level of the cooking process. And that's what a lot of home cooks don't realize.

When you do go out, what's your go-to fast food order?

I'm not a big fast food person, because I'm cooking every day. I love cooking. But what I do... It's not necessarily fast food, but I live in Texas. I love a good taqueria. I like tacos. It's not necessarily fast food, like a chain, but when I do go out, and I want something quick, and I live in Houston, Texas, I'm finding me a little taco cart or taqueria because we have them on every corner in Houston.

Whirlpool's Smart Appliances, including oven ranges with Air Fry Mode and Yummly Smart Thermometers, are available in stores and online wherever you purchase your appliances.

This interview has been edited for clarity.