Tom Brady and I have a lot in common. He’s in his 40s; I’m in my 40s. He lives in Massachusetts; I live in Massachusetts. We’re practically the same person.
Now we also both eat a lot of jackfruit.
In service of his GOATism, the Patriots QB consumes a plant-based, high-protein diet, involving many organic ingredients and very few nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants), which are supposed to be inflammatory. This year, he teamed with meal-delivery service Purple Carrot to create TB12 Performance Meals, which “help you achieve and sustain your peak performance.” They’re designed for athletes, but anyone who is willing to pay $78 a week is allowed to subscribe.
As for me, I, too, consume a plant-based, high-protein diet. And some fish and meat. And unlimited gluten and dairy. Don’t even get me started on the nightshades! I love nightshades. I am the form of athlete known as desk jockey. I am already the GOAT of many things: procrastinating, drinking coffee, making bad puns, to name just a few. But with the regular season looming — a sixth Super Bowl win in the offing for Brady, cozy sweaters and hot toddies for me — perhaps there was room for improvement. What new levels of performance might I reach if I ate like Tom Brady? Could we get there together, accomplishing all of our goals? I envisioned us a few months down the road, sharing a celebratory wheatgrass toast to his new ring and my best-selling novel, which I’ll start writing any day now.
We could do this.
The first white box arrived, emblazoned with the words “FOOD IS YOUR FUEL” in red. Undeniably true. I felt encouraged already. Inside: cold packs and the makings of three meals in separate bags, ingredients premeasured and clearly labeled. A glossy page went with each, featuring a picture of the dish and its recipe, conveniently punched with binder holes. There was also a note from Brady himself. He said he was excited to share meals with me. He wanted me to achieve and sustain my own peak performance. That was so nice. The note was handwritten in Sharpie, and if you tell me it was just a copy, I’m not going to listen.
The first thing I made was pasta fagioli, because it sounded like something my family might enjoy, a.k.a. actually eat. BBQ jackfruit — which looks like an alien life form but is highly nutritious and used as a meat substitute — seemed a slightly higher bar. The Italian soup of noodles and beans is something I actually make when Tom Brady isn’t telling me what to cook. I like it because it’s easy, most of the ingredients are on hand in the pantry, and it’s a good way to use up vegetables lingering in the refrigerator. It’s also cheap.
This pasta fagioli was costing me $26 for two servings, but at least I didn’t have to measure my ingredients. This was my first experience with a meal-delivery service, and I could get used to it. It was like having my own prep cook without actually having to interact with anyone.
Each of those two servings was 970 calories, my recipe sheet informed me — the bulk of my daily allotment. I did three jumping jacks, cracked my knuckles, and got to work.
Where was my prep cook now? I still had to chop onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. But the recipe was well conceived and well written. (They all were, in fact: a smart mix of cuisines, flavors, and seasonal ingredients.) Step 2 was labeled “build flavor.” I always imagined meal kits were for people who just wanted to follow directions mindlessly; this one seemed to be imparting principles of cooking along the way. Subversive.
I began to sense the mind of a chef behind the scenes: There was plenty of acid in the form of lemon juice. There was textural counterpoint, with crisp bites of asparagus added at the end. There was a pistou of basil, spinach, walnuts, and garlic to whiz up separately for an added layer of flavor. There was a faux English muffin to turn into garlic bread and eat alongside (as for the pasta, it was faux too, made from chickpeas). It was a lot of work. All very cheffy.
When it was done, I dished myself a bowl, drizzled on the pistou, and tasted it. This was my moment to live like Tom and supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and my moment was . . . bland. I added more salt, another squeeze of lemon, another drizzle of pistou. Better. Not better than the pasta fagioli I might throw together in less time for less money, and not better than it would have been with Parmesan grated over it, but good.
Good thing, too, because there was plenty of it. TB12 meals might serve two if you are actually Brady and Gronk is coming to lunch. For most people, this was a pot of soup that would serve 6, which meant I was eating more like 320 calories. Guess I didn’t need to do those jumping jacks. Phew!
Pozole, which I believe is one of the world’s greatest dishes of all time (GDOAT), was made with golden beets and the grain amaranth. It was topped with creamy avocado and crisp radish, then dolloped with a salsa verde of cilantro, jalapeno, and lime juice. It was almost great — the beets were a little too sweet, and the dish needed more seasoning. It was supposed to take 35 minutes to make. It most certainly did not. Isn’t it time for recipe developers to admit they’ve been lying to us about prep times? Fake news!
Red beet curry with brown basmati rice looked like a bucket of borscht and tasted like a hippie coop. My prep cook was falling down on the job. The recipe called for 12 ounces of beets; my kit included less than half that. I threw in some more beets. There were two little cans of coconut milk: Why not one bigger one? The materials that came with the first box suggested one reason for subscribing might be that you want to “reduce your environmental impact on the planet.” If cutting out meat might in fact help, the amount of packaging created could negate that.
The dish was soupy after the addition of a cup of water, the flavor of the coconut milk lost even after I cooked it down. A friend came over for dinner with her kids. “Can I taste?” she asked, dipping a spoon into the pot. Then we ordered pizza.
The next day for lunch, though, it wasn’t bad. It needed more aromatics, more curry powder. But it perked up when sprinkled with scallions, cilantro, and lime juice. And the fussy extra step of chopping peanuts, mixing them with hemp seed, flaxseed meal, and agave, and baking them into a brittle really paid off in terms of texture and flavor. I won’t make the curry again, but I will make some variation of that crunchy-sweet peanut topping.
The next day for lunch, the curry wasn’t bad again. And the next day for dinner. I froze the rest. One problem with eating like Tom Brady is that nobody wants to eat like Tom Brady with you.
But how was my athleticism faring? Well, I took the curry with me on a 90-degree hike in the Blue Hills and ate it while everyone else had their sandwiches. The hiking was definitely easier afterward. Of course, we were now also going downhill.
My TB12 experiment ended the night I made pizza bianca, which was topped with vegan mozzarella and a lemony salad of shaved asparagus and watercress. The crust, made of mushed-up mung beans and chickpea flour, was somewhere between falafel and cracker. The vegan mozzarella was quite pleasant, and the salad was lovely; I’ll make that again, too. I called in my husband, a longtime Patriots season ticketholder. He tasted it.
“Wow,” he said. “That’s messed up, Tom Brady.” He walked out of the room without another word.
New Englanders have a great ability to compartmentalize where Brady’s behavior is concerned. Mung bean-crust vegan pizza might be where that ability reaches its limit. The promo material included with the meals suggests posting photos with the hashtag #eatlikeagoat. There’s, like, three guys doing this on the entire Internet.
So I don’t know how the TB12 meals are doing — Purple Carrot doesn’t disclose subscriber numbers. But I did find out who is behind those well-conceived recipes: Andrea Nordby, head of culinary at Purple Carrot, along with a team including a sous chef and two test cooks. (Coming up for the week of the first game: Buffalo cauliflower tacos.) She went to Johnson & Wales and has worked at places like Whole Foods and the South End Buttery. She doesn’t talk to Tom and Gisele personally, but she does send over all the menus for approval.
And look at how well it’s going. Brady’s going to play forever. He has a new book coming out, “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance.”
And me? I’m pretty much the same person I was before I started eating like Tom Brady. It could be his success has little to do with his diet after all. But let’s be honest. It’s probably the nightshades.