8 Questions with Daina Falk

Training Camp is here. Football is about to be back and that means TAILGATE SEASON. I had the pleasure to sit down with Daina Falk, author of the soon-to-be-released The Hungry Fan's Game Day Cookbook: 165 Recipes for Eating, Drinking & Watching Sports to talk about some great foods to cook up this season.

The book is not even out yet and already a #1 New Release. Why? Because Daina, the daughter of legendary sports agent David Falk, has collaborated with hundreds of athletes including LeBron James, Boomer Esiason, Victoria Azarenka and Dikembe Mutombo to deliver fresh takes on so many tailgate classics- wings, sliders, dips...everything!

I talk a lot about food and health on this blog. Not only are these recipes delicious, but there's always a healthy twist. I urge you to go pre-order a copy on Amazon to guarantee you get it in time for the start of football season! But, don't just get one--get one for you, one for the ultimate tailgaiter you know, and another for someone who tailgates often, but maybe they really need this book to upgrade their food game.

Brandon Steiner: Who did you write The Hungry Fan’s Game Day Cookbook for? Why did you write this book?

Daina Falk: I have been pretty active on social media for the last several years and in that time, I cannot tell you how many times I have had a sports fan who frequently tailgates reach out to me for a recipe for their game day celebration. More often than not, the request is something along the lines of this: "Hey Daina, I make really great chili for my tailgate every Sunday and have done so for the last 15 years. The problem is that my friends are so utterly sick of my chili! Can you please help me make something that’ll really knock their socks off?” I try to respond to everyone and to provide everyone with a great recipe that’s unique to his or her sports town and culture. This book is for those fans—and their fellow tailgaters and homegaters (or as I like to collectively call them “fangaters”). It’s for those who love to throw down on game day, enjoy great game day food, and want to show off their impressive fangating skills.

BS: When did you first discover your passion for food + sports and become a Hungry Fan®?

I have always loved sports. It’s been a part of my life since the womb—I was raised around sports by virtue of being my father’s daughter. And I have pretty much always loved to eat as well (evidenced by the fact that I was quite chubby as a kid). The passion for cooking really began in college when I spent my junior year abroad in Italy and France, where I took cooking classes and really learned how to cook. When I was about 27, the idea for Hungry Fan® crystallized in my head and I decided to take a stab at making this into something real because there just didn’t seem to be an expert voice in that crossover space between sports and food. I’ve been at it ever since, curating game day for sports fans online and occasionally on television as well.

BS: There are 165 recipes in this book and they all look delicious. What’s the FIRST one someone should tackle?

Oooooh. Wow. That’s a tough one. I do have my favorites—that I will confess. But picking a first recipe to tackle is actually an especially personal thing—it’s all about what people like. For instance, perhaps a particular recipe is more interesting than others because it’s a food a fan might find at one of his or her local restaurants (i.e. Cajun in New Orleans, carne asada in San Diego, etc.). But if I had to pick one recipe that stands out in my head, I’d go for the brisket sandwich on homemade Texas toast. It’s pretty ridiculously tasty and is actually a spin on an old brisket recipe passed down to me from my grandmother. 

BS: How can a big-time tailgater keep things healthy?

Awesome question. Healthy is, in my opinion, one of the vaguest words in the English vernacular. Having studied Nutrition for a few years in high school and college and staying on top of it today, I have come to formulate my own definition of healthy because I find that its meaning seems to morph every few years based on what is trendy. For me, healthy with regards to food means balanced, in moderation, and nutritionally dense—meaning that there are lots of nutrients per serving. Healthy therefore isn’t typically a word commonly associated with tailgating, a practice during which we sports fans typically eat fatty, greasy food in excess. But believe it or not, it’s actually very easy to keep things healthy (now that we know what healthy actually means). So try this: eat less (portion control—a.k.a. stop eating when you’re full), change the tailgating menu up frequently so that you’re enjoying a variety of different foods week to week, and try substituting healthier options in where you can. For example, rather than lettuce, use baby spinach or kale; rather than using store-bought mayonnaise, try making your own (there is an awesome recipe for homemade mayonnaise in my book that is much healthier than normal mayo); instead of sour cream try using Greek yogurt (they taste almost exactly the same but Greek yogurt is lower in calories and fat and is richer in nutrients); and axe all products with high fructose corn syrup (such as soda and ketchup) and replace them with products that use real sugar or better yet agave, maple syrup, honey or other natural sweeteners.

BS: Talk about your app. How is it changing the in-stadium experience?

I launched Hungry Fan App with a partner in 2013 as a response to a frustrating (and frequently experienced) day at Yankees Stadium. The new stadium, while beautiful, is enormous and has so many food offerings. But at the time, there was no way to know what food stand was where (and that included bars, kiosks, and portables). That led to lots and lots of aimless wandering on my behalf, staring longingly at other people’s food, green with food envy, and wondering where the source of that deliciousness was. I began talking to lots of friends about this and I found I was not alone. Apparently there were many of us who wasted too much time wandering stadium and arena concourses—missing key moments of the game—because we were hungry and in search of the perfect concession food. So I met up with a new friend of mine, Ian Schafer, who’s a huge sports fan and marketing guru, and together we launched Hungry Fan App to put an end to the aimless wandering in search of food at the ballpark. Since the launch of Hungry Fan App, the NBA, NHL and NFL all launched their own respective team apps. Yet there remains only us as the one single go-to source for concession menus at ballparks, stadiums, arenas and speedways in North America. So as we like to say, if you’re at the game and you find yourself hungry, pull up Hungry Fan App to find what there is to eat so you can quickly get back to your seat! 

BS: Of all the book’s guest contributors, which athlete’s recipe surprised you most and why?

I was so fortunate to get so many incredible athletes to share their recipes with me for this book. It’s hard to pinpoint one that was extremely surprising—or at least more surprising than any other. Perhaps the better way to answer this question is to point out which athlete has the most surprising story that’s related to his or her dish. And that’s an easy one: Bryan Volpenheim. Many of you may not be super familiar with Bryan. He is a multiple medal-winning US Olympic rower. Bryan competed in three Olympics (2000, 2004 and 2008) and also furnished multiple recipes for this book. His recipes are super gourmet and insanely delicious. What’s so surprising about Bryan’s dishes is that they are the product of a culinary school graduate. Somehow in between competing in multiple summer Olympics, as well as for the US National Team at multiple World Championships, and in between all the training required for all these events, Bryan managed to also attend and graduate from culinary school. So if you thought you were an overachiever, it seems the gauntlet has now been thrown down.  

BS: What’s your go-to game day experience?

I love a good tailgate, especially when it’s a big game and the weather’s nice. (I’m hardcore but I don’t nearly stack up to the folks in Minnesota, Green Bay or Chicago when the weather gets cold). And like 35% of all tailgaters, I don’t always feel the need to head into the game—I am more than content to chow down while hanging out and watching the game in the parking lot. It’s kind of fun having that few second delay between when you can hear the crowd go wild and when you see what they’re cheering for on the TV. It prepares you to get excited! If I had to pick one thing I would want at every tailgate, that’s simple: buffalo wings or bust!

BS: What’s next for you?

It’s probably time to start on book #2! I already have some ideas on where I may want to take this one. I am also looking forward to some more TV work—I have some more substantial projects in the works and I am very excited! Outside of books and TV, I’m working on rolling out my spice blends to supermarkets and other food retail locations nationwide. Lookout, America! I’m coming and I’m bringing great flavor with me.

To learn more about The Hungry Fan's Gameday Cookbook, Daina Falk, 
Hungry Fan™ and the Hungry Fan™ App, click here.

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