Michael Jackson’s Former Personal Chef Dishes on the King of Pop’s Quirky Eating Habits

08/28/2015 at 04:18 PM ET

Tracy Morgan and Megan Wollover's wedding cake
Jeff Tisman Photography

It’s Michael Jackson‘s birthday on Saturday, and his former personal chef is serving up some of the pop star’s favorite dishes to commemorate it.

Mani Niall, owner of Oakland’s Sweet Bar Bakery, met Jackson in 1982 and later went on to hit the road with him during the massively popular Victory tour, and he recalls his spectacular level of superstardom during that time.

“I got to know him before Thriller was released,” Niall tells PEOPLE, “and watched the fame grow around him — it was pretty remarkable.”

While the world saw him as an untouchable pop phenomenon, Niall got to know him in a more humanizing way: through food.

“He was the type of person who could just go, go, go for hours without eating, and then be famished,” Niall says.

And when that time came, finding the right food to satisfy him wasn’t always the easiest thing. Niall says that Jackson had a “fairly limited diet” and was “a vegetarian who didn’t like vegetables.”

“He liked pizza, but he didn’t like pasta,” he continues.

Another difficult workaround: He had a major sweet tooth, but he didn’t eat sugar and didn’t like chocolate.

Niall did find some dishes that were a home run, though. Mexican food like spicy smoked red chile enchiladas were a staple, and the singer was also fond of grilled tofu shish kebabs with couscous and Moroccan sauce.

The commemorative menu, available at Sweet Bar starting Saturday and lasting through next week, includes a pizza with shiitake mushrooms and Japanese eggplant (what Niall calls the “perfect way to disguise vegetables”) and cookies made with pecans and sweetened with maple syrup, not sugar (which Jackson’s bodyguard used to affectionately call “ookies”).

Because Jackson was a Jehovah’s Witness during the time he was on tour with him, he never celebrated his birthday.

“Every year, his assistant would remind everybody: ‘Okay, Michael’s birthday’s coming up, but he doesn’t celebrate it,’ ” Niall remembers. “So this is also a really nice way, in retrospect, to celebrate his birthday since I couldn’t do it at the time.”

—Shay Spence, @chezspence

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Showing 27 comments

Stella on

So, I guess chicken is a vegetable… who knew.

catmandu on

Pedo

Roxanne on

Thank you Sir for not saying anything bad about such a kind person. I will always have respect and ADMIRATION for such a abused child who had a sad life. But made the best of it. I still thank him for his talent and enjoyment of his music. Happy Birthday Michael.

sal on

where does it say anything about chicken?

D'Erpio on

I bet he liked Korean food. I read somewhere that he was really fond of soups, particularly Cream of Sum Yung Man.

JackB on

Very interesting. I had a feeling Michael had a problem with food – he was so very thin, even on Thriller.
I do find it odd though, that this chef said they never celebrated his birthday – Michael dropped the Jehovah’s Witness religion and became Christian sometime in the late ’80s/early ’90s. So if this guy met Michael after Thriller, he was only his chef for a few years…

Foodie Mathematician on

He must have been a REAL challenge to cook for — but what a wild ride it must have been. As Weird Al would say: “Eat It”!

elizabeth on

PeopleMag, you reserve the right to remove comments? So let’s get after the several who have already slagged this section. As for the article, who is this person toured with J5 30 years ago and now at MJ’s birthday puts his name out there? Anything for hits.

Smrs on

Just putting it out there….I was thinking the other day with all the transgender talk that maybe Michael Jackson was transgender and never came out. Wouldn’t it make sense??

Kaz on

Interesting, because I remember Michael saying in an interview a few years before he died, he loved chocolate. A lot of people attributed his sweet tooth to some of the pill addictions he had. And Magic Johnson spoke of he and Kobe Bryant all eating KFC one night with Michael, talked about how down to earth he was and he even liked KFC, like most of us do.

Saralee on

D’Erpio, you are so not funny.

Penny _Tration on

@Smrs wasn’t transgender lmao

Kilie on

After all the Child molestation issues..I just assumed He ate TWINKIE’S

Hautie on

Stella,
“spicy smoked red chile enchiladas”

Chicken was not mentioned.

Stella on

@Sal I was referring to an error in the article, it origianlly said “red chicken enchiladas”

Amanda on

Ah miss good ole MJ. Interesting to see something positive for a change.

cheryllee on

Seems disrespectful to celebrate his birthday.

Kaz on

Interesting because MJ said in a phone interview before his death, that he loved chocolate. And Magic Johnson told a funny story of them all ordering KFC one night. Michael liked normal food it seems, atleast as he got older. This guy really hasn’t revealed much, so much changed in MJ as he got older.

Anonymous on

Happy Birthday Michael
Thank you for your exclusive art and all you humanitarian works.
I love you

Niloo on

Happy Birthday Dear Michael
Thank you so much for your great and exclusive art and of course your humanitarian works.
I love you

No name on

It was nice to see something positive said about him. No one understood him when he was here. He was a person who lived a surreal life and did unbelievable things that no one will ever do!

Tailour Evans on

Happy Birthday Michael!! :* :*

I will always, ALWAYS love you with all my heart and I would do anything to have you here. Theres SO much I never got to say to you. I will always protect you and defend you, because you changed my life at a young age. And I couldnt have asked for anything better. Thank you for everything!

Love Always & Forever & Beyond Infinity,
Tailour Evans

George V on

Everyone farts, Catmandu

Anne S on

There is only ONE original Michael Jackson Off the Wall Album left on Ebay. Ending today! See here (With Afro) ! http://www.ebay.com/itm/SUPER-RARE-OFF-THE-WALL-MICHAEL-JACKSON-1ST-PRESSING-1979-Vinyl-RECORD-/321844565536?&_trksid=p2056016.m2518.l4276

Linda on

LINDA on August 30th,2015 Thank you so much for sharing this information. I’m always interested in hearing anything about him. I had a feeling that he was particular about what he ate because of his dancing. Certain foods can cause cramping. It doesn’t seem right not to celebrate his Birthday. He’s such a BEAUTIFUL,WONDERFUL,GIVING,KIND HUMAN BEING!!!!!!! And that should be celebrated in and of itself for what he gave to us. There will never be anyone else like him. An ORIGINAL DESIGN!!!!!! I LOVE YOU MICHAEL HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!

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Erika on

Have you tried Cookscanner.com? What’s your take on it?

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