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Sep 30, 2018

The Culinary Coach


Note: The following appears in the Syracuse gameday football program

One of the first of her kind, culinary professional Donna McCain is in her second football season as executive performance chef, a position that was introduced to the college football ranks when she and her colleague, Hali Foreman, were hired in 2017 by the Tiger football program.

“It was a good fit for me and a way for me to make an impact on the players,” said McCain. “I’m extremely grateful to be a part of this culture.”
With a lifelong passion for both athletics and nutrition, McCain described her position with Clemson’s football team as a career that marries her two passions, as it enables her to work closely with the players in molding their dietary customs to meet the high standards required of competing on college football’s biggest stage.

“Everyone is trying to be the best in the country at what they’re doing, and it helps drive what I do,” said McCain. “All of the departments within the football program work together, so we share ideas and information and push each other to be the best.”



As executive performance chef, McCain essentially performs half of her duties in the kitchen and half of her duties out of the kitchen. On top of the culinary aspect of her job, McCain also meets regularly with the players, monitoring their eating habits and helping them meet their fueling needs.

“Getting to work solely with the football players, I’m able to learn their preferences. Having that individual relationship with each player really helps.”


She previously worked with Paul Harrington, Clemson football’s director of nutrition, at Alabama, McCain rejoined Harrington after accepting the executive performance chef position with the Tigers in the summer of 2017.

With a culinary nutrition degree from Johnson & Wales University, McCain has combined her love for cooking and sports in her professional pursuits. A three-sport athlete growing up, McCain was also a precocious talent in the kitchen, deciding in the fourth grade that she wanted to one day become a chef.

“I was able to dive deep into the nutrition science,” said McCain when speaking on her experience at Johnson & Wales University. “I was intrigued by how nutrition can affect performance.”

McCain is now using her passion for culinary nutrition for the betterment of the Clemson football program. Along with Foreman and Harrington, McCain is a part of a dedicated team committed to fostering the nutritional well-being of a football team consisting of over 100 student-athletes.

In a way, McCain is a coach, and one such example of that coaching comes in the form of the cooking classes she and Foreman put on for the players. The classes are one-on-one cooking demos that typically range from three to four hours in length and help improve the players’ culinary skills while simultaneously educating the young men on the importance of nutrition.

“It’s all conversational nutrition education. We find that that’s how our guys learn best, and it’s better to have a conversation about nutrition than just to give them a pamphlet.”

Truly passionate about the intersection between athletics and nutrition, McCain has already made a significant impact on the football program since arriving in Tigertown a little over a year ago.

More than a chef, McCain has become a mentor for the football players, using her breadth of knowledge in the field of nutrition science to improve their diets, and thereby improve their performances in the weightroom and on the gridiron.

McCain may technically be considered an executive performance chef, but her de facto role as a culinary professional has made her an instrumental difference-maker for Tiger football.