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From the NFL to Food TV, Chef Tobias’ Unique Journey

Chef Tobias Dorzon is a man on a culinary mission. Currently, the executive chef of Thirteen, a Houston-based fine-dining restaurant owned by NBA All-Star James Harden, Dorzon has also curated dinners at the prestigious James Beard House and has cooked for countless celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Kevin Hart. Besides these impressive accolades, Dorzon is also a regular on food television, winning four times on Guy’s Grocery Games and a current contestant on Food Network’s Season 3 of Guy Fieri’s Tournament of Champions.

For Dorzon, these culinary accolades can all be tied directly to a unique aspect of his background — a career in professional football. In fact, it’s precisely this football experience that Dorzon credits as having a significant impact on his success as a chef and rising food star.

“That’s where football has helped the most, being mentally prepared, not worried about the competition in front of me. But also being focused on the craft that I’ve been blessed to learn and go forward,” said Dorzon.

Chef Tobias Dorzon standing solo in kitchen.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

From Football to the Kitchen

From an early age, Dorzon was surrounded by restaurant life. His father, an immigrant from the country of Liberia in Africa, was a career chef, running an African restaurant along with a catering company in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Although his childhood was framed by this restaurant experience, Dorzon grew up dedicating himself to a career in football. After high school, he attended Jackson State University in Mississippi on an athletic scholarship before playing a stint in the NFL and the Canadian football league. Essentially, he had accomplished his childhood dream.

However, Dorzon eventually left professional football, choosing to pursue a drastic career pivot into the culinary world. What prompted this decision? For Dorzon, it was his competitive and passionate nature that prompted the career change, the very traits that propelled him to become a professional athlete.

“That (football) was my end all be all, the only thing I wanted to do,” said Dorzon. “And just like anybody that’s great at something, I felt like at a point, once I got to Canada, that if I wasn’t the best at what I actually did, it was time for me to figure something else out.”

With this renewed focus on reinventing himself, he attended the Culinary School at the Art Institute of Washington, dedicating himself to learning as much as possible about food. While at culinary school, Dorzon also took an opportunity to study abroad in Sicily for 6 months. This overseas trip would have a profound effect on his perspectives as a chef. It was in Europe that he truly excelled, crafting his culinary style through an education on fine-dining, plating, and flavor profiles. The experience changed many of his ideas about food and cooking, orienting Dorzon into the mind space of a fine-dining chef. In Sicily, he learned to fine-tune that attention to detail, and the international setting of the training also inspired him to create his own style — classic American cuisine with a global twist.

Bringing an Athlete’s Mentality to Food Television

Chef Tobias Dorzon on cell in kitchen.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Despite his success in professional restaurants, Dorzon has also branched in the competitive world of food television. As a four-time winner of Guy’s Grocery Games, Dorzon quickly became a fan favorite for his dynamic personality and inventive food. Although these culinary competitions were a first for Dorzon, he was a quick study, excelling in the pressure cooker of food competitions. Once again, Dorzon credits that success to the lessons he’s learned on the football field.

“Being able to have that competitive edge playing football, I took that to the culinary world,” said Dorzon. “While I wouldn’t say that chefs don’t have that edge, but to have that competitive nature, that was something that football really prepared me for. Whether its an event or culinary battle, I know football really helped me get that upper edge of ‘I’m that guy’ while I’m cooking. And because football players have to compete all the time. In order to win, you have to compete. Culinary is the same way.”

Armed with this fiery mindset, Dorzon is now tackling another challenge as a contestant on the new season of Tournament of Champions, arguably the biggest culinary competition in America. With a final prize of $100,000, the competition is fierce, filled with Michelin-starred chefs and James Beard award winners. At first, Dorzon was somewhat starstruck by his competition, suddenly finding himself in a room with the very chefs he’s looked up to. But he also gave himself some valuable insight. If he was now considered a peer in the same competition as these amazing chefs, he must be trending in the right direction. After all, intense competition is nothing new to Dorzon and this new realm of food television is simply another sport to excel at.

He’s not done after the Tournament of Champions. As an intense competitor, Dorzon wants to be the best he possibly can in the culinary world. His goals are high, including his desire to win a James Beard and a Michelin Star. In the spring of 2022, Dorzon is moving one step closer to those aspirations with the opening of a new restaurant — Huncho House in Hyattsville, Maryland. The restaurant will be helmed by Dorzon, creating a platform for him to showcase his unique food and style. But it’s also something else — another ambitious culinary landmark in Dorzon’s unique life journey.

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Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
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