It was a sizzling way to introduce the online series.
“I appreciate you having people come in to spend a little time with me in my kitchen,” said men’s basketball coach Lamont Paris, sporting a traditional chef’s white coat emblazoned with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Power C. “Fingers crossed, I won’t burn anything down.”
Via a Zoom video conference, Paris was speaking with Andrea Lyons, associate director of alumni affairs at UTC, for Cooking With The Coach—part of the new Mocs On Demand alumni webinar series. During the half-hour segment, viewers get a glimpse of Paris’ personal side, culinary skills and sense of humor as he prepared Coach P’s “One-Pan Spicy Ginger Stir Fry.”
“I cook well enough to be dangerous, but not well enough to be able to make all the things that are unhealthy for you,” Paris said. “I stick to basic stuff and it’s usually pretty healthy.”
The Mocs On Demand online series has been created by the UTC alumni affairs staff to help connect the campus community. In coming up with new ways of engaging alumni while incorporating social distancing, the team brainstormed different content ideas relevant to alumni and the University community.
“In falling in line with best practices of other universities that we’ve been in contact with, we came up with the idea of having different online events, but let’s package them together and create a common theme,” Lyons explained. “The name Mocs On Demand just seemed to fit perfectly. When alumni hear about it, they will know they can go to their alma mater and get different types of content and information to stay connected.”
Along with the lighter feature on cooking and basketball with Paris, the initial batch of videos—both live events and recorded on-demand sessions—included pandemic-related segments focusing on finances, health and career.
“As we looked at this webinar series and the subjects, we made sure we did timely topics, fun topics and informative topics, and it was important for us to use alumni and UTC faculty and staff to be the presenters,” said Jayne Holder, UTC assistant vice chancellor for alumni affairs. “Any time our office creates a program, the main reason is to benefit our alumni. We want to engage them in a meaningful way, and we want to offer them something from their alma mater that they can use in their everyday life.”
Emails went out May 19—one week before the first online event—inviting alumni to register for Cooking With The Coach; Managing Your Money During COVID-19 with Chris Taylor, a 2011 graduate of the Gary W. Rollins College of Business; COVID-19: Fact Over Fiction, a live question-and-answer with UTC medical experts Chris Smith and Yasmine Key; and Career Self-Care with Robert Liddell, executive director of the UTC Center for Career and Leadership Development. UTC community members also could register for the virtual webinars at alumni.utc.edu/MocsOnDemand. Registrants are sent an email link so they can watch and share the videos at their leisure.
More than 100 UTC graduates signed up after the introductory email, a large number for a previously untested concept. “For us to do something brand new and to have that type of reception was very encouraging,” Lyons said. The early leader in video link requests was for Cooking With The Coach.
The idea for a cooking show came up during one of the alumni team’s brainstorming sessions. The concept was a group effort, but the thought of having Coach Paris in the kitchen resonated with Holder.
From past interactions with the coach, Holder knew that Paris had an affinity for cooking. She recalled attending a community event with him, “and as I was introducing him to folks, I mentioned that he also enjoyed cooking. He took his telephone out of his pocket and started showing me pictures of the meals that he had made that past Sunday to pack for the week. He had all of his Tupperware in order and labeled and he said, ‘That way, I don’t have to freeze anything because it’s still going to be fresh on Friday.’”
That organization and attention-to-deal came through on the video.
“It was one of the cleanest kitchens I’ve ever seen,” Lyons said. “It was immaculate. He had all his food organized and chopped and everything was very well laid out, which kind of speaks to his methodology in coaching as well. It was interesting to see the parallels and how everything tied together.”
As Paris put together the dish, featuring ground beef and a host of colorful vegetables (the entire ingredient list can be found around the 4:05-minute mark on the video), he told Lyons his affinity for home-cooked meals began while growing up—thanks to his mom. “For the first 18 years of my life, we probably ate out five times,” he said. He revealed that his signature dish is chili, followed by homemade macaroni and cheese.
While dinner was cooking, Lyons conversed with Paris—who led UTC to a 20-13 record this past season in his third year coaching the squad—about putting together a basketball team.
“To make a food analogy, the most important thing is not the chef. It’s the ingredients,” Paris said. “If you get the right ingredients and you let those ingredients shine, you’re going to have a good dish at the end of the day, pretty much unless you blow your kitchen up. So I make that analogy; that’s what I try to do. I try to get guys that know how to play, high character guys, good students who work hard. And then I just try to put them in a position to do what they’ve already proven that they can do.”
Lyons was pleased to showcase the coach’s personality and culinary skills in launching the Mocs On Demand series.
“What surprised me the most was just how comfortable he was in that element,” Lyons said. “You see him on the basketball court and you know this is who he is. But in his kitchen, he was just as confident and in charge. During the interview he’d say, ‘OK, give me just a second, Andrea. Let me watch my ground beef over here and make sure that I’m not burning it up.’ He was just as careful and on top of things while cooking as he would have been coaching.
“I thought the entire segment went well. It’s not particularly long, but it was long enough to where he was able to prepare the meal and show it off. We put up the ingredients list and encouraged people to make their own version of this dish. They can post a picture on our social media sites to show us what they cooked. I think there is an opportunity to get people engaged a second time, and that’s exciting.”