Everyone that knows me knows how much I love football. While I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, I have been in Tampa since 2003 and have always supported the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, I became a season ticket holder last year and have developed a deep passion for tailgating. Food has always been an expression of love for me and there is nothing like creating dishes inspired by an NFL team or player. One player in particular has inspired me on so many levels that I have created a few dishes in his honor. He is none other than Vincent Jackson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Vincent (VJ) is an asset to the Tampa Bay area and his work off the field is extremely commendable. Shortly after his arrival in Tampa, he started The Jackson in Action 83 Foundation which aims to provide support to military families, focusing on the educational, emotional, and physical health of the children. He is a true hero and I am honored that our paths have crossed.
Jackson in Action 83 focuses on providing support and tools to help military parents continue to raise their children and maintain close bonds, even when separated by thousands of miles. When I learned about his foundation, I was intrigued and knew that I wanted to somehow get involved.
Like myself, VJ has a love for food and I wanted to do something to support Jackson in Action 83 that would be long term so I could help bring awareness to his foundation on a daily basis. Along with my friend and co-worker, David Carey of EATS! American Grill in South Tampa, we put our heads together and David got busy on the grill and created the V-Jack Burger, which is now on the menu. Consisting of pulled pork sandwiched between two 4 oz Angus patties and topped with Pepper Jack cheese, peppered bacon, BBQ sauce and then placed on a grilled bun, the V-Jack is a masterpiece. Since we introduced the burger at the beginning of the football season, it has been gaining tons of fans who flock to EATS! just to have a V-Jack. $1 from every burger sold goes to The Jackson in Action 83 Foundation. If you are ever in the area, be sure to stop by and try one, they are incredible!
I recently caught up with Vincent and discussed his foundation, food and of course, the Super Bowl.
A Chat with VJack:
Tracy: Vincent, thank you for taking the time to chat. You are such an inspiration to the Tampa Bay Community and we are so lucky to have you. The Jackson In Action 83 Foundation has become very near and dear to my heart as well as the hearts of others. What prompted you to begin the foundation?
VJ: I started JIA83 because of my compassion for military personnel and their families. I grew up in a military household, my father served 21 yrs in the Army. I understand what the troops go thru, and even more so-what the the families endure. Tampa was a perfect place to launch the Foundation 2 years ago, having such a large and important military base in MacDill AFB. Regardless of football, I plan on living in Tampa for awhile and being a part of the military community.
Tracy: One of the things that I love most about JIA83 is the focus on the educational, emotional, and physical health of the children of military families. As a mother of two, I can really relate to all of these, especially physical health. I try to minimize junk food and focus on local and organic produce. What were some of your favorite healthy snacks while growing up?
VJ: Indeed, a large focus in the Foundation is on the children. Having a parent deployed is stressful and can affect a child in many ways. We really drive home the importance of education/doing well in school. Our reading program rewards around 20 kids a month who have shown dedication and improvement in their reading skills with a tour at our One Buc facility. We also hold our Summer Camp that helps kids get active outdoors as well as educates them on making healthy choices in their diet. Some of my favorite snacks as a kid (and an adult) are watermelon & granola bars!
Tracy: Yes, I love your reading program! My son is excited to participate in it next year. You and I have one thing in common, we both came from California to Tampa Bay. During your time in San Diego with the Chargers, what were some of your favorite dining spots/cuisines?
VJ: San Diego is famous for its Mexican cuisine! Every now and again I would treat myself to a California Burrito. I also actually was a partner in two original restaurants out there in the Pacific Beach area. Dirtybirds-A fun casual sports themed restaurant that specialized in great wings & burgers. The second was The Pacific Beach Fish Shop-A place to get the freshest seafood in town! Deli style, you can choose from over a dozen fish and have it prepared your way: in a sandwich, salad, or my fave..TACOS! If you’re ever in the area, check em out!
Tracy: Although I have been in Tampa for ten years, I still miss California, especially the food. Since my arrival, I have seen a lot of changes on the food scene and am proud that Tampa Bay is really transforming into a culinary gem. What are some of your favorite local dishes?
VJ: Here in Tampa I am still in the exploration mode. I try and find a new place once a month. I am a lover of ALL foods so the spectrum is large..from sushi at Yoko’s, breakfast at Pinky’s, to burgers at EATS! American Grill, to pizza at Paci’s. Too many to name!
Tracy: You just named some of my favorite places and I think I am in love with the pizza at Paci’s. Burgers are a favorite of mine and I am very proud to have helped with the conception of the VJack Burger at EATS! It is a South Tampa favorite, especially during football season. Speaking of football and tomorrow being the big day for the Super Bowl, what game day foods will you be enjoying?
VJ: Superbowl foods: ceviche and chips, grilled chicken sliders, fruit plate, skirt steak tacos. Game day foods should be casual and edible with one hand, so you can Hi-Five with the other hand 😉
Tracy: I agree, game day foods should be casual and fun. As of now, my fridge is packed with stuff for tomorrow’s game. What would we find if we were to peek in your refrigerator?
VJ: You will find lots of fruit, water, orange juice, 1% milk, lemonade, deli turkey meat for sandwiches, salad fixings, fresh fish, salsa, eggs, chicken wings, ground turkey, etc. Nothing really out of the ordinary! I do like spicy so you will usually find some jalapeño or habañero peppers to cook with.
Tracy: Sounds a lot like my fridge, especially when it comes to spicy. One whole shelf is filled with about 20 bottles of local hot sauces. I have a feeling that you are just as good in the kitchen as you are on the field. Is there one dish that you are a master at?
VJ: I do like to cook, but don’t know if I’m as gifted in kitchen! Ha ha. Some of my fave dishes are grilled pork chops with an apple glaze and potatoes, and stuffed manicotti with spicy chicken sausage. My mom taught me well!
Tracy: What a great mom! When did you discover your love of football? Is there one NFL player that really inspired you to play?
VJ: As a kid I played all sports..baseball, soccer, basketball, football. Whatever the kids in the neighborhood we’re playing that day or whichever season it was to sign up at the recreation center. I would have to say it was my senior year of high school that I really started to really love football. Basketball had always been my sport of choice, I even played 2 yrs in college, but there was just something about putting on the pads and the smell of the grass that put a smile on my face.
Tracy: I love to travel and try regional dishes. In fact, when tailgating, I enjoy making foods that represent the cities of the teams playing. When playing away games, do you ever get the change to explore any of the local cuisine?
VJ: Absolutely, when we travel I try to sample the local cuisine if the schedule permits. Examples include BBQ in Kansas City and Tennessee, as well as Cajun food in New Orleans. I was born in the south so I grew up on gumbo, bbq and crawfish boils. Yumm!
Tracy: There is nothing like Southern food! My goal this year is to master Southern cuisine and learn as much as I can about regional BBQ. Ok, now I am hungry and can’t wait for tomorrow’s feast. Speaking of tomorrow I am not sure if I can ask this, but what the heck. Broncos or Seahawks?
VJ: I’m just looking for a great game!! Which I have no doubt it will be.
Tracy: Yes, indeed it will be. Thank you so much for your time. 🙂
I am including a recipe below for my VJ Catch-erole that would be a great addition to your Super Bowl spread. For some lucky readers, am giving away 15 autographed photos of Vincent Jackson. You can enter below. Have a great Super Bowl weekend!
- 1 bag Original Pretzel Crisps
- 1 cup BBQ Sauce
- 1/2 lb pulled pork (cooked)
- 8-10 slices of Pepper Jack cheese
- Dole Pineapple Slices
- Heat oven to 350.
- In a casserole dish, layer the bottom with Pretzel Crisps. Next, layer with pulled pork and coat with BBQ sauce. Top with slices of Pepper Jack
- Bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes. Pull from over and top with slices of pineapple.
- Return to oven and back for an additional 3 minutes. Cheese should be nice and melted. Remove from oven, let cool and serve. Enjoy!