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FOXBOROUGH — When Justin Bethel isn’t downing punts or practicing the drums, chances are you can find him in the kitchen.

Taking a spin through his camera roll, you’ll find photos and videos of his creations. Last May, for example, he documented his process for pan-seared salmon topped with garlic cream sauce, along with a side of mashed potatoes with bacon and chives. Two weeks later, he was back at it, making pan-fried chicken, with a baked sweet potato and broccoli.

On this Thursday afternoon inside his home, Bethel is preparing an asparagus parmesan risotto with pan-seared chicken.

Justin Bethel prepares the pan-seared chicken.
Justin Bethel prepares the pan-seared chicken.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“You have to be patient,” he says, as he gradually adds a cup of broth to his pan. “You can’t rush anything. The trick to it is every time you add liquid to it, you have to let it slowly absorb everything. Otherwise, you’re going to mess it up.”


Bethel, wearing a navy blue apron with his name and Patriots logo embroidered on the front, has two burners on his stove top in use. One warms a pot with the broth, while the other has the pan with the risotto in progress. He pays close attention while stirring the rice, sampling it until he’s happy with the consistency.

Risotto is just the latest dish of interest for Bethel. A few years ago, he went on a ramen kick, where he made everything from scratch — the broth, the flour, and the noodles.

“If you would have come to my house at the time, I had noodles all over, hanging everywhere, trying to dry them out,” he said.

Bethel has always had an interest in cooking, having watched his father, Chris, prepare food for their family of five growing up. Bethel enrolled in his first formal cooking class his junior year at Blythewood (S.C.) High School, primarily because the period was scheduled right before lunch.


In the class, Bethel learned how to make a variety of dishes. His favorites were always desserts — not necessarily because he had a sweet tooth but because he loved the presentation. He still bubbles over in excitement when recalling one particular sweet treat: a three-layered chocolate cheesecake covered in ganache and almonds.

“It looked so pretty,” said Bethel. “I was like, ‘I love this. This is what I want to do.’ ”

The finished product: Asparagus parmesan risotto with pan-seared chicken prepared by Justin Bethel.
The finished product: Asparagus parmesan risotto with pan-seared chicken prepared by Justin Bethel.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

As graduation neared, Bethel initially planned to study culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence. He enjoyed cooking so much that he wanted to become a chef. He also considered attending the University of South Carolina and walking on to the football team.

But Bethel ended up getting a scholarship to play football at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. Blythewood’s coach, Jeff Scott, with whom Bethel won a state championship in 2006, had just gotten hired as Presbyterian’s coach and offered him a spot.

Bethel, who didn’t garner much other interest at the Division 1 level, couldn’t pass up the full ride. He became a starting cornerback at Presbyterian, while maintaining an important role on special teams, and graduated with a degree in business administration.

After the Arizona Cardinals drafted Bethel in the sixth round in 2012, his plans obviously shifted to professional football.

Now in his 10th NFL season, Bethel is a key member of New England’s special teams unit, playing 82.4 percent of the snaps this season. Because of the team’s shaky secondary depth, he even logged some snaps at cornerback last Sunday against the Cowboys, and he broke up a potential touchdown pass that led to safety Kyle Dugger’s first career interception.


“JB is so athletic,” said safety Adrian Phillips. “He’s probably pound for pound one of the strongest people on the team. He’s just super athletic. He’s one of those guys you can pretty much plug in anywhere. He might not get a whole lot of reps in practice or whatever it may be, but when he gets in a game, he knows what to do.

“He’s just a vet. He’s also one of those guys, like, if you tell him, ‘Hey, go guard him, go shut him down.’ He’ll be like, ‘All right,’ and he’ll just go about his day.”

Justin Bethel wore a navy blue apron with his name and Patriots logo embroidered on the front as he prepared dinner.
Justin Bethel wore a navy blue apron with his name and Patriots logo embroidered on the front as he prepared dinner.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Even though his NFL career has taken off in ways he never could have imagined as a high schooler, Bethel still finds time for his love for cooking.

During the offseason, he tried to make at least one dessert per a week — triple mousse mud pie, strawberry shortcake, and pineapple upside-down cake were some of the highlights — and other meals more frequently.

His approach is simple: “If I see something I like, I’ll try it.”

Just as he does when playing the drums, Bethel likes to experiment. He hasn’t signed up for any more cooking classes, nor does he follow any recipes that closely. He’s also not a fan of utilizing shortcuts, such as Instant Pots or Crock-Pots, preferring to do things by hand.


Added his wife, Breanna: “He can put things together randomly, and it’ll still taste good. Whereas if I just did random spices, who knows what it’s going to taste like?”

Desserts remain Bethel’s favorite things to make because he likes to dress them up. Cheesecake, the confection that first caught his eye back in high school, became a staple. Back when he was with the Cardinals, he even bought cake boxes so that he could bring some to the facility.

For dessert, Bethel made sugar-coated, caramel-filled, baked peach pies.
For dessert, Bethel made sugar-coated, caramel-filled, baked peach pies.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“When I first got to the league, cheesecakes were my thing,” Bethel said. “I would make a different cheesecake pretty much every week.”

On this day, Bethel has prepared sugar-coated, caramel-filled, baked peach pies. He’s particularly pleased because he was able to successfully blanch his peaches — a peeling technique that involves putting ripe peaches first in boiling water and then ice water.

For Bethel, the fun is in the process, especially when he gets to cook for multiple people. He’s looking forward to cooking more as his family grows — he and his wife just welcomed their first daughter — and is happy he can keep it up as a hobby.

“The more people I’m cooking for, the better,” he said.

When Bethel looks around and takes in the counter of empty plates, he smiles.

“Ah, that’s what I like to see,” he said.

Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.