Sports are basically part of Daina Falk’s DNA. The daughter of legendary sports agent David Falk, she’s been around athletes—and game days—since she was born. So when she developed an interest in food and cooking, marrying that passion with sports was only natural. Falk created Hungry Fan, a sports-centered food website she parlayed into a book, The Hungry Fan’s Game Day Cookbook, which was published in August.
Falk makes regular appearances on TV talking about game day food and travels the country judging tailgate competitions, so she’s well-versed in the ways Americans approach sports and food. With college bowl games on the horizon and the Super Bowl following shortly after, Falk’s following tips for elevating your game day eats—whether from a stadium tailgate, corporate suite or the comfort of home—will carry you through the rest of football season.
INVEST IN INGREDIENTS AND EQUIPMENT
“When you think of tailgating, you immediately think of hot dogs and hamburgers,” Falk says. “I try to take very basic recipes and elevate them either by making them more interesting or focusing on the quality of the ingredients—whether that’s buying organic, using grass-fed beef or making my own sauces and condiments.”
Falk also suggests using a classic kitchen tool with the grill to expand your possibilities: a cast iron skillet. “They’re fantastic for game day,” Falk says. “I know that they’re heavy, and I know that they’re hard to transport. But if you use a cast iron skillet, you can put it on top of your grill and you can make anything that you would make in a skillet just like you would at home.”
DON’T BE AFRAID TO DEVIATE FROM THE CLASSICS
Although game day tends to be a time when people focus on all-American recipes, it’s worth thinking outside the box sometimes. “For a [New York] Giants game, I went to a tailgate where someone made a truffle quail egg parmesan toast,” Falk says. “He had dozens of quail eggs—which are not easy to find—and cooked them in toast with French butter and truffle oil and grated fresh Parmesan cheese on top. It was over-the-top but amazing.”
Although beer is the traditional game-day drink, Falk likes keeping other options on hand as well. “I like to offer prosecco—mimosas, if it’s an early game—and wine, which is really growing in popularity at tailgates.”
USE THE TEAMS AS YOUR INSPIRATION
“I love how as you travel around the United States, you encounter so many different cultures that are rooted in the history of their place,” Falk says. “Those cultures are reflected in the food you eat.”
So for big games like the Super Bowl, she serves at least two dishes that pay homage to the regional cuisines of the teams that are playing. “For [Denver] Broncos versus [Carolina] Panthers last year, I did a turkey slopper, which is basically a turkey burger that you drown in green chili—it’s a very Denver thing,” she says. “Then for the Panthers recipe, I did a pimiento cheese dip with my Hungry Fan barbecue blend.”
DON’T FORGET TO CONTRIBUTE TO A COMPANY TAILGATE
Although Falk’s No. 1 rule for surviving a company tailgate is “don’t get too drunk—everybody has a camera on their cellphones, and it’s only one click to post that on social media”—she also recommends offering to contribute in some way. If you’re attending a tailgate hosted by your boss, ask what you can bring. And if you’re tailgating with a group of coworkers, offer to help cover the costs.
KNOW THE UNSPOKEN RULES OF WATCHING IN A SUITE
Although suites can be a great place to watch a game—and the catering tends to be better than stadium food—Falk notes that suites are often more about work than play. That may be changing: “In newer stadiums, suites are much lower than they used to be, so it’s easier to be engaged with the game,” she says. “But it’s almost like you have to cut the suite in half—the back half is where business is conducted, and the front half is reserved for people who actually want to sit down and watch the game. How you use the space in the suite is your choice.”