Five days a week, Clinton Nelson — as carefully as he can — prepares dessert plates amid the stress and fast pace of a restaurant kitchen.
And then, every day after his shift as a line cook ends, the self-supporting 22-year-old makes the short drive to San Mateo’s B Street Boxing gym.
Though the kitchen and the boxing ring are different worlds, Nelson is equally passionate about both.
“The plating has to very beautiful and exact,” the 200-pounder said of his work at Redwood City’s John Bentley’s Restaurant. “You have to follow the recipes precisely.”
“You have to be delicate,” he continued, now focusing his attention to the gym floor. “But out here, it’s real rough.”
A San Mateo native and graduate of The City’s California Culinary Academy, the trim, 6-foot heavyweight recalls some of his fondest family moments being when everyone, including himself, scrambled to prepare a feast.
But it wasn’t until he found work in a San Mateo restaurant that he discovered another, quite different, passion.
“I saw this big, strong kid,” B Street Boxing owner and trainer Eddie Croft recalled when Nelson first walked into gym after his restaurant shift ended. “And he picked up the technique pretty fast.”
The trips to the gym quickly developed from a mere hobby after work to an obsession with competing in the ring.
After making his amateur debut in September 2009, Nelson won the Golden Gloves Northern California heavyweight championship before losing to Antwon Abron to advance to the state championships. Nelson again faced the quick Abron in an attempt to advance to the state championship.
Though content with his improved performance, Nelson dropped another decision to his Stockton foe.
“It was a lot better than last time,” Nelson said of the loss. “My footwork was all wrong last time. From what everybody said, it was a close fight.”
Though only fighting for about two years, Croft said he isn’t surprised at how far the former novice has come.
“If you’re dedicated and tough, then I know I can teach you what you need to know to compete at the next level,” Croft said. “It’s up to these guys to push themselves and get in shape.”
For being around desserts all day, Nelson doesn’t seem to have discipline issues. “If you snack and fall asleep, it sits there and you gain a little bit of weight,” Nelson said. “And you’ve really got to work that off the next day.”
But while working full time to support himself, Nelson has overcome a few economic challenges that threatened to KO his boxing career.
“I got nervous,” Nelson said after being laid off and out of work. “I was like, ‘I’m sorry, Eddie, I can’t box anymore.’
“He said, ‘Clinton, don’t worry about it. Pay me when you can, I still want you to keep coming in.’”
Nelson later landed two jobs, and worked every day until he paid his trainer.
Despite the recent loss to Abron, Nelson was right back in the gym — and the kitchen.
“The gym,” Nelson said, “it’s a whole other family.”
“I wouldn’t take it back for anything,” he said of his careers.