Herschel Walker is a savvy arbiter of his own brand name, frequently finding ways to keep his name in the spotlight.
He’s known best as the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner with the beloved University of Georgia Bulldogs. He spent 16 years in pro football. He has since dabbled in ballet, track, bobsledding and more recently, mixed martial arts. He runs a Savannah-based food services company appropriately named Renaissance Man. And he opened a restaurant last year in Athens.
Now Walker is back on reality TV, courtesy of the Food Network and its competition show “Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook Off.” This third season, debuting January 6 at 9 p.m., features Walker on Guy Fieri’s team with “SNL” comic Chris Kattan, 1980s pop star Tiffany and early 1990s rapper and current DIY Network reality star Vanilla Ice. Walker is no stranger to this genre: he was on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2009.
He's the second locally based football player to compete on the show. Last year, Hines Ward came in a surprising third place before losing to actor Dean McDermott.
He will be competing to win $50,000 for his charity of choice, Patriot Support, which provides mental health services to troops and their families.
We recently talked by phone to the garrulous Walker from Dallas, where he has an office. (He also has offices in Alpharetta and Savannah.)
Q: What’s your cooking background?
Walker: I've been doing it a long time. Most Southern boys clean, cook and sew. Cooking is something I gravitate to.
Q: What's your specialty?
Walker: I think I'm more of a dessert guy. My mom and I when I was little used to make these apple tarts. It's something I'm comfortable with.
Q: What did you learn on the show?
Walker: I've definitely become a better cook. Guy showed me things I never would have tried in the kitchen. I've really improved my knife skills! I used to do things that would have cut my hand off! And I've also become a big fan of the Food Network. I used to only watch "Judge Judy" and "Law & Order." Now I'm following "Chopped" and "Grocery Games" and anything on the network. I'm hooked!>
Q: Was the experience what you expected?
Walker: I thought I'd just come in and cook something, no big deal. But it's a big-time competition. My reputation is on the line! I don't mind competition. I do ultimate fighting. If I can take down people in a cage, I can cook!
Q: Sure beats getting beat down, eh?
Walker: True. You won't get hit. You might get embarrassed. You go in and burn something and not know what you're doing. It can get funny.
Q: What did you think of your competitors?
Walker: I had never met any of these people before. I was excited to meet Vanilla Ice. And Florence Henderson. I grew up watching "The Brady Bunch"! Everyone knows Chris Kattan from "Saturday Night Live." And Tiffany was Britney Spears before there was Britney Spears.
Q: How's the new restaurant [Herschel's Famou 34 Pub & Grill] going in Athens?
A: It opened during the Super Bowl last year. It's been doing well. We get a lot of students, not as many intowners. There is hardly any parking there, which is something we're working on. I went back for a couple of Georgia games against LSU and Missouri. During the game, we had more visitors than people from Georgia!
Q: How much is the restaurant about you?
Walker: We have a lot of pictures. I'm thinking of bringing in the Heisman Trophy so people can see it and touch it. And I visit a lot. People are shocked when they see me there. When I do something, I get involved. In this case, it's not just my name up there. I want to have input. And I think I'm going to add a couple of items I learned from the show!
"Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Food Cook Off," 9 p.m. Mondays starting January 6, Food Network
The cast features Walker, actress Florence Henderson ("Brady Bunch"), comic Chris Kattan ("Saturday Night Live"), singer/construction guy Vanilla Ice (DIY's "The Vanilla Ice Project" and "Vanilla Ice Goes Amish"), magician Penn Jillette (two stints on "Celebrity Apprentice"), reality star and former pilot Jake Pavelka ("The Bachelor"), singer Tiffany ("I Think We're Alone Now," "Could've Been") and comic Judy Gold.