Updated: Apr 21, 2021
Along with the early morning training sessions, my aching body, coaching on the side and the occasional feelings of loneliness, food was often my homesick remedy. Whether I was on the streets, in a restaurant, or at the dining table with my host family, creative and new dishes always brought a sense of warmth and comfort. The people I met, the knowledge I gained, and the culture that became my own, sparked a desire to keep learning, on the pitch and in the kitchen. I needed money to continue pursuing my professional soccer dreams, so I began picking up cooking jobs to fund my travels.
My grandmother opened up a restaurant in New York City in 1975. Growing up, her and my mom were the best cooks I knew and were really my first role models in the kitchen. I got my first restaurant job when I was 16 and from there, it was always an opportunity for me to make money while doing something I loved. I have this infinite curiosity about food and cooking, so during my travels abroad pursuing pro soccer, it was an obvious way to keep learning more while also keeping the lights on. Everyone needs to eat! Soccer paid some of the bills, but between coaching and cooking on the side, I was able to do slightly better than just-survive.
While I constantly look for new food experiences, I’m most inspired by my memories of food. Family dinners growing up, helping my mom in the kitchen, the after-school ritual of instant ramen with an egg, impromptu food adventures during my travels - I really romanticize the past. Whom I ate with, the conversations I had, the girl I liked, the recipe I wrote down. Reminiscing about these experiences and thinking about ways to honor or even recreate those moments in time keeps me coming back for more.
Traveling abroad, pursuing a pro soccer career, and cooking on the side seems like it might be too good to be true so believe me when I say it wasn’t all flowers and sunshine. During my first morning shift at a job I landed in a Spanish tapas bar, no one had told me the produce delivery would be coming. The restaurant wasn’t too busy, but I had a few poached eggs going and some bacon on the flattop when the delivery guy showed up with 50 pounds of vegetables and vacuum sealed meat. I helped him offload the boxes and quickly got back to cooking just in time to pull perfectly runny eggs out of the pot of simmering water. Over the next few hours I got a steady stream of tickets and was cranking out avocado toasts left and right. Meanwhile, the boxes just sat in our prep area outside the fridge – no one had explained to me that I was also responsible for unpacking, labeling, organizing, and putting away all the produce while operating the line. The head chef arrives a few hours after opening, sees the boxes just sitting there, and immediately starts cursing me out in French. I recovered from the incident, but it wasn’t too long before I ruined a batch of paprika aioli when he took me into the back, told me I was wasting his time and money, and that I should go home and wait for him to call me again. Luckily, he gave me a call and I was back on the schedule the following week.
For every up there was definitely a down, but overall the time I spent working in kitchens, juggling soccer and 14 hour-work days, forced me to adapt and grow like few other experiences in my life. As I reflect on that time nearly 10 years later, I find myself still inextricably drawn towards China and its layers of cultural nuances I’ll never fully understand. To say, “China is an interesting place,” is the understatement of the century.
While I certainly enjoyed my time in China, I have a love-hate relationship with the country and the people. There were times (staying with a host family) where I felt welcomed and cared for. There were many other times where I felt like an outsider. I’m half-Chinese. But because I’m also half-white, have tan skin, and grow the facial hair of a pubescent teenager, I look different to the Chinese people. More often than not, their best guess is that I’m Uyghur. Yes, the same Uyghurs who have been in the global news (frankly, not enough) for being placed in “re-education” camps in China for no reason other than they aren’t the majority Han-Chinese and the government doesn’t like them. They are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group facing horrible oppression and discrimination and these “re-education” camps are more like concentration camps where Uyghurs are forced into labor and brainwashed to forget their cultural identity.
Being met with skepticism, judged for looking different...these are major themes that drew me into both food and football. They are spaces where identity and cultural background or sensibilities can be so different, yet the diversity is exactly what makes the end product amazing and memorable. For me, the table and the field are where the real-talk takes place and we can truly express ourselves. Not so much in the words spoken or exchanged, but in the emotions that come with scoring a goal or tasting the perfect bite.
Born from my passions for food and footy, Fat Boy Food Club came to life. FBFC is a NYC-based food project that allows me to embrace my love for cooking, eating, and fostering a sense of community and coming together. Food is something we can all enjoy and find commonalities through, despite language barriers or background differences. Food, just like the beautiful game, brings joy.
Over the last few months, Fat Boy Food Club has been working closely with The Global FC to bring something new and refreshing to the soccer space in America and beyond. While you have to check out Part 3: The Future, all I can say is that this isn’t your typical collaboration. Whether you’re a die hard fan, not a fan, or somewhere in between, we hope you’ll enjoy what’s next from The Global FC and FBFC.
The Story Continues
Check out Part 3: The Future - Soccer Inspired Recipes, here.