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How did Kwame Brown become a celebrity chef?

Fresh Fields, the aggressively wholesome grocery chain, markets itself as a bastion of food knowledge. This summer, it offered District shoppers an enrichment opportunity beyond the free samples of unpasteurized boutique cheeses: the chance to win a private cookout with barbecue expert Kwame Brown.

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This would be the same Kwame Brown—the Wizards’ 20-year-old forward/center and the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft—whose eating habits were unflatteringly described in a Washington Post Magazine profile in late April. Post writer Sally Jenkins used Brown’s unrefined palate as a metaphor for his naivete in chronicling the rookie’s struggle to make the leap from a rural Georgia high school to the pros. Among his reported gourmet gaffes were a suspicious reaction toward fried calamari, shock at not being able to get French dressing in a French restaurant, and thrice-daily consumption of Popeyes chicken.

But where Jenkins saw a rube with backward tastes, Fresh Fields saw a “grill master” and its first-ever celebrity pitchman. Entrants in the “Grill and Chill with Kwame Brown Sweep ‘Steaks’” contest received copies of Brown’s own recipes for dishes including “Come-a-Courtin’” pork chops and “Three-Point” mashed potatoes. Fresh Fields spokesperson Sarah Kenney goes so far as to call Brown a “foodie.”

Whence the expertise? Brown was unavailable for comment, but his business manager, Richard Lopez, says the player grew up around family cookouts, taking command of the grill. By the time the Post piece came out, Lopez says, Brown had already begun shopping at Fresh Fields for steak and pork chops.

When Kenney got wind of Brown’s meat-counter visits, she offered to take him on a tour of the chain’s P Street store. In the end, Brown bagged a two-year endorsement contract with the company.

More than 7,000 people entered to win the cookout contest, whose winners were chosen last week. And so many customers have offered to buy the promotional life-sized cutouts of 6-foot-11 Brown that Fresh Fields plans to raffle those off as well.

Lost in all the fuss is Brown’s 4.6-points-per-game average last year—a bench-warmer stat that didn’t put off Fresh Fields marketing reps at all. “He’s very glamorous for us by comparison,” says Kenney. “We’re used to working with middle-aged chefs.”

When it comes to playing down expectations, Brown’s newfound fame behind the grill has proved something of a godsend.

“He loves [the attention],” says Lopez. “We were at Best Buy recently. People kept walking up to him and talking about grilling and Fresh Fields. Instead of asking ‘Are you going to play better next year?’ they ask, ‘How do you make those pork chops?’” CP