When Devin Funchess opens the door to his South End apartment, there’s no mistaking his job: He plays football. The Carolina Panthers’ No. 1 wide receiver has a corner table stacked with game balls—his name emblazoned on them—wrapped in cellophane. A black Super Bowl 50 hat is perched atop them.
On the wall by the four-seater kitchen table and balcony is a framed No. 1 jersey—in the signature maize and dark blue—from his college days at the University of Michigan. By the bathroom is a framed Charlotte Observer article announcing that the Panthers’ selected him in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft. And in the corner, by the wall-mounted flat-screen TV, a Panthers helmet rests on a waist-high rattan vase.
It’s not surprising that his space speaks to his profession. What’s a little less obvious is that the 24-year-old has a fully stocked kitchen that he uses to cook for himself, his friends, his family, and today, the staff of SouthPark Magazine.
On the menu: Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo, one of his signature dishes.
The upcoming football season is a big one for Funchess, now in the last year of his rookie deal. After last October’s surprise trade of Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills, he became the team’s top receiver, and Funchess has been a tether point in the overhaul of the Panthers’ receiving corps, which general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera have been restructuring and revamping.
Cooking is a way for him to eat well and decompress after a grueling practice. He says he often find himself cooking for his teammates, linebacker Shaq Thompson and wide receiver Damiere Byrd.
“After the hard day, you need a good meal,” says Funchess. “Usually we sit and talk about life, complain about the work week, just like regular people. And other than that, we relax.”
Funchess has only one rule: No one can sit on his plush sectional couch until after they’re done eating. It puts everyone to sleep.
MISE EN PLACE
On the field, Funchess is all about precision—getting in perfect sync with Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton, getting his 6-foot-five-inch, 236-pound frame to the exact right spot at the exact right time.
In the kitchen, he’s a little more relaxed. But, a fan of mise en place, he lines up all of his ingredients before starting.
He made the alfredo sauce the night before (his secret ingredient: cream cheese), and for the shrimp, he sets out butter, garlic, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt and pepper. But he doesn’t bother with measuring spoons.
“I dibble and dabble,” Funchess says. “Just a pinch here, a pinch there. You can’t overdo garlic, though.”
As he boils the water for the pasta, his phone rings. “Peezy!” Funchess says, smiling.
That’s Funchess’ grandfather, James Hester—he prefers “Peezy” to “Pawpaw.” He and Funchess are close. In fact, Peezy is one of the reasons Funchess loves the kitchen.
A native of Detroit, Mich., Funchess grew up surrounded by family and hours-long weekend barbecues with anywhere from 10 to 30 people. His grandfather used to have a vegetable garden, and after a fresh picking, he’d cook Funchess and his older sister, Courtney, squash, okra, collard greens. He taught them to love simple slices of tomato with salt and pepper.
“He’d make us stuff kids don’t typically eat,” says Courtney Funchess, now 25 and working in public relations and communications for the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans.
Their grandmother, Leanir Hester, is the family baker. She’s known for her lemon meringue pie, a German chocolate cake (Devin’s favorite, Courtney says), and her signature pound cake no one else can replicate.
But Funchess didn’t start contributing to the family barbecues until he was older. After he followed his sister, Courtney, to the University of Michigan on a football scholarship, he ate on campus most of the time. It wasn’t until he got his own apartment with his childhood friend-turned-teammate Terry Richardson that he started experimenting in the kitchen. “I did my pasta all the time,” Funchess says. “Then chicken and mashed potatoes and steaks.”
But it wasn’t all healthy, hearty cooking. Courtney Funchess remembers when he brother and Richardson got a deep-fryer. And like any good college student, their late-nights often called for, well, less cultured dining.
“We would eat White Castle at any time,” says Richardson, 23. “It could be midnight, it could be 3 a.m., and we would get in the car.”
Their go-to order? The No. 1 with cheese, mozzarella sticks, and the Chicken Rings.
A NEW SPECIALTY
These days, Funchess is a whiz on the grill. Unable to have his own, he uses the one on his apartment complex’s rooftop balcony, by the pool.
When his grandfather Peezy is in town, Funchess turns to steaks. Occasionally, the pair will stop in nearby Sullivan’s Steakhouse on South Boulevard—there Funchess gets a custom order of shrimp egg rolls, not on the menu—but often, he cooks for his grandfather himself.
“He doesn’t like pasta,” says Funchess. “He’s a simple man.”
Funchess new specialty is lamb chops—he cooks them up in Charlotte and for family barbecues in Detroit. It all comes down to the seasoning, he says, and no, he won’t give the recipe.
“I hate to give him credit—it goes to his head,” says Richardson, laughing. “But I can’t lie. …One time I went over to their house and he was grilling some lamb chops, and I probably ate six or seven of them in three minutes, they were that good.”
As for the seasoning on the Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo, the SouthPark staff can attest: it was perfect. A little pepper, a sprinkle of cheese, and Funchess was setting bowls of creaminess in front of each of us.
Then the only question left was: What do you usually eat for dessert?
“I’m a big candy guy,” Funchess says. That explains the bright red helmet sitting on his minibar. “Skittles sent it,” he says. “I love Skittles.”
Photography by Joseph Bradley
Wardrobe styling by Stacee Michelle