Brett Eisen (right) and Adam Sacks take a break from cooking at the Winter Olympics. (Photo/Courtesy Brett Eisen)
Brett Eisen (right) and Adam Sacks take a break from cooking at the Winter Olympics. (Photo/Courtesy Brett Eisen)

Q&A: Chef Brett Eisen on catering to the tastes and needs of Olympic athletes

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Name: Brett Eisen

Age: 28

City: Sacramento

Job: Sports performance chef, wellness coach

Brett Eisen is a freelance chef serving the Bay Area and Sacramento and is the owner of Fuel Good, which helps post-retirement athletes maintain a healthy lifestyle through education, meal planning, healthy cooking and other personalized services.

J.: You recently returned from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where you were a chef for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team. What was on the menu?

Brett Eisen: We cooked for about 20 to 25 athletes in a snowboard shop that was turned into a kitchen and players’ lounge. It was just about making delicious comfort food like they’re used to eating at home. It also had to be nutrient-dense to help the athletes recover. We would have a breakfast spread with yogurt, cereal, quinoa oatmeal, and breakfast sandwiches and scrambles. Lunch was salads, like a celery salad with toasted almonds, cranberries and lemon zest. Dinner might be grilled pesto flank steak, roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, carrot-ginger soup and turmeric rice. We had no seasonings available except for salt, pepper and oregano. Had I known that, I would have packed up my go-to spices: sumac, za’atar and cumin. It was all about being creative with the products we had.

You were incredibly busy and were able to attend only a few Olympic events. Any highlights from your time there?

Being able to cook side-by-side with Adam Sacks, who is my mentor from Johnson & Wales in Denver. He worked at the Beijing Olympics and was a cool guy who cooked for athletes. That’s what I wanted to do. We built an awesome relationship. I spent the High Holidays with his family and he opened doors for me. I was an 18-year-old who didn’t know his future. It’s been 10 years since we met. Now I’m 28 and cooking beside him.

Also, my bubbe was really into figure skating. When we went to her house, she would be in the basement watching skating. The moment I walked into the stadium to watch the men’s freestyle skate, I thought of her.

How would you define “wellness chef”?

It means using food to create a healthier lifestyle so you can sleep better, have a better workout and just live healthier.

You are also focused on wellness and sports, including being the former chef for the Sacramento Kings. Why the combination?

When I was growing up, I was into sports and into cooking so it happened organically. I realized at a young age that I was this white, Jewish guy and needed as much help as possible to make the starting lineup in basketball. I knew if I could better myself through healthier eating, I would do better in sports. I also wanted to travel and work with athletes and implement real food and nutrition.

Brett Eisen and other U.S. Olympics Committee chefs
Brett Eisen and other U.S. Olympics Committee chefs

When did you begin to cook?

As far as back as I can remember, we would have amazing Shabbat dinners. I was always a curious and creative kid so I would go into the kitchen after Shabbat dinner, take the leftovers, chop them up and create new dishes. By age 7, I was double flipping an omelet. I just always had a knack for cooking.

Is there anything Jewish about your cooking?

I always ask myself how I can incorporate my heritage into cooking. So, if I make French toast, I use challah, or if I am making chicken stock, I make matzah balls. At the Olympics, I make kimchi latkes. Being Jewish is my cooking style. All of these experiences as a young Jewish kid growing up in St. Louis means tradition is important, and a big part of tradition in Judaism is food. For my bar mitzvah, the theme was “Kicking It Up a Notch with Brett,” after [the catchphrase by celebrity chef] Emeril Lagasse. Guests were asked to donate pots and pans for a shelter. Being Jewish has always been a part of my life and it shows up in my food.

What are your favorite Jewish foods?

I like Israeli foods like borekas, hummus and pita bread. I also have a memory of my mom’s cornflake chicken from when I was a kid. I want to figure out a way to make the entire chicken taste like the cornflake crumbs at the bottom of the pan.

“Talking With” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to [email protected].

Elissa Einhorn
Elissa Einhorn

Elissa Einhorn began her writing career in the Bronx at the age of 8. She earned a master’s degree in communications and journalism 20 years later. While Elissa worked for non-profits her entire career, including as a Jewish communal professional, she now enjoys working for herself as a freelance writer. Still, her most treasured role is that of ima (mom) to twin daughters who she is (finally) happy to count among her friends.