Rem Pitlick pulled a pair of blue surgical gloves from his backpack and snapped them onto his hands.
Usually, those hands are ensconced in bulkier maroon hockey gloves and handling a stick. But on this February afternoon, Pitlick’s nimble fingers wash mushrooms, chop sweet potatoes and sear a pork loin.
As the protective gear suggests, though, Pitlick’s approach to the culinary arts is fairly clinical. While the junior center for the Gophers cooks nearly every meal for himself, it’s not always about the fancy recipe, the artful presentation or even the taste. Cooking is simply a way for the NHL hopeful to control what he eats and thus optimize his performance on the ice.
“I eat a lot just to get it down,” Pitlick said. “It’s not always good.”
That might be a bit of modesty showing, as the rosemary-and-thyme pork loin with roasted sweet potatoes, mushrooms and broccolini he later pulled from the oven smelled, looked and, yes, tasted delicious.
But there’s no doubt Pitlick’s focus on food the past two years has translated to his play. The Plymouth native has led the team in points the past two seasons and enters Friday’s home game against Arizona State with 17 goals and 21 assists.
“I can see it in every meal he cooks,” said sophomore forward Scott Reedy, one of Pitlick’s roommates. “He’s got the vegetable, the carb, the protein and different types of fats and seeds. Pretty much everything. And he’s got his shakes as well that he does and his salads after his meal. So I’d say it’s definitely similar to something Tom Brady does.”
Pitlick admitted the six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback has been an inspiration. Brady wrote a book about an intense diet that he thinks will keep him playing at a peak level until his mid-40s. Pitlick said he doesn’t follow a specific diet, but he avoids processed foods, eats a variety of fruits and vegetables and drinks at least a gallon of water per day.
Pitlick’s father, Lance, called his son “the Cliff Clavin of cooking for hockey,” after the know-it-all character from “Cheers.” And anyone who sticks around Pitlick long enough while he’s in the kitchen will learn why. He’s full of interesting facts, from olive oil losing its health benefits if overheated to apple cider vinegar helping to lower blood sugar levels before high-carb meals.
Naturally, Pitlick’s nutrition focus draws a healthy amount of chirping from his teammates. Even coach Bob Motzko said the attention to detail his No. 1 center pays to everything that could affect his hockey is “the far extreme.”
“There are going to be a lot of guys that might rib him, but they’re going to go, ‘What’s he doing?’ ‘It works.’ ‘Where did you get that?’ ” Motzko said. “They’re going to peek over their shoulder.”
Motzko said it is becoming less taboo to see elite athletes take such an interest in what they eat, especially compared to his college playing days in the 1980s. He made macaroni and cheese with canned chili and called it goulash. Lance Pitlick, a former Gophers and NHL player, said it usually takes athletes into their professional careers before they develop the habits his son has.
The start of Pitlick’s healthier lifestyle coincided two years ago with a close friend first making those changes and Pitlick living in his own apartment with a kitchen for the first time. Since then, he’s taught himself how to prepare items like steak, turkey burgers on sweet potato toast, Brady’s avocado ice cream and cacao powder chocolate sauce. Roommate Sam Rossini has started making Pitlick’s two-ingredient egg-and-banana pancakes every morning (though Rossini loads his with chocolate chips while Pitlick prefers blueberries).
But Pitlick is quick to point out he in no way considers himself a gastronomic expert. He admits to using more dried spices than fresh because they don’t go bad as quickly. He roasts a lot of his food because it’s less hands-on and time-consuming. He doesn’t have many kitchen utensils, such as tongs, and instead uses the basic fork-and-knife combo.
“I like to cook for myself,” Pitlick said. “And at the end of the day, I can control what I eat.”
So when Pitlick does give up the power to a professional chef at a restaurant, he goes for his favorite foods he can’t make at home, such as sushi, pho and — because he is still a college guy at heart — Chipotle.
His Gophers teammates will dine out at a place like Chipotle after most practices before eating dinner in the dining hall at Athlete’s Village. Pitlick is the only member of the team who consistently cooks for himself, players say, and it is inspiring some people in his life. His dad lost 30 pounds in the last year just following some of Pitlick’s same standards.
“I’m not necessarily doing the healthier eating, like, does it help your performance? I don’t know. Is it really huge?” Pitlick said. “I just try to do it in a sense that, especially during the winter, people are always getting sick and stuff. And I just want to make sure I’m giving myself the best chance to not get sick and miss games.”
He hasn’t missed a game the past two seasons — ever since he started cooking.