Health first

They have one goal: to become professional footballers. And training isn’t the only way of getting there. Erhan Esen cooks for the young players of Fortuna Düsseldorf every day in its youth training centre. And he pays close attention to his ingredients.

Sports field at the junior training centre of Fortuna Düsseldorf

Focused and experienced, Erhan Esen cuts peppers and tomatoes and skilfully chops parsley and chives while turning on the oven at the same time. It is still early in the morning and he’s alone in the kitchen. He enjoys the silence there and in the adjacent canteen. But by 1 o’clock at the latest, the noise level here will be as high as on the football pitch at a home game. ‘Sometimes you can hardly hear your own words’, says Erhan laughing. He goes straight back to his knife and chopping board, because he knows that everything must be ready when the young talents walk into the canteen with food on their minds. ‘Good preparation is the be-all and end-all in the kitchen’, says the 34-year-old Fortuna chef confidently.

Erhan Esen prepares a healthy drink for the young talents of Fortuna Düsseldorf
Erhan Esen, chef for the young junior players, in the kitchen of Fortuna Düsseldorf's performance centre.
Erhan Esen, cook of the young junior players, prepares lunch.

‘Cooking is my passion’

Erhan has been the head chef of the Fortuna Düsseldorf youth training centre for 5 months now. A friend drew his attention to the job ad, which they had come across on Instagram. As an amateur footballer who has been playing ball games since childhood, it sounded very tempting, ‘although I was more than satisfied in my current job at a caterer’, he says. ‘Cooking is my passion! I really, really enjoy doing it’, Erhan declares enthusiastically as he cuts up fresh fruit for a vitamin drink. His training was anything but traditional: ‘I didn’t go to vocational school. But I had enough work experience to be able to take the exam at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. However, that also meant I had to teach myself all the theoretical knowledge. So I bought books and always spent an hour after work reading, learning and studying. And ultimately it worked out’, he grins cheerfully.

A fresh boost before training

On some days, up to 40 children plus their coaches flock to the canteen and enjoy Erhan’s freshly prepared food – before they head for the football pitch after a meal break. Strengthened and full of energy.

Fortuna Düsseldorf: Canteen dish for the youngest
Fortuna Düsseldorf: Young talent centre
Fortuna Düsseldorf - Changing room of the U15.

The young players get 2 different meals to choose from. Lots of vegetables, dietary fibre and protein. ‘For the kids here, their goal is to become professional footballers – so nutrition plays a big role. And I try to gently introduce them to a healthy diet’, he explains.

Children and vegetables – that’s not an easy topic. The father of a 4-year-old daughter knows that from experience. If it were up to the kids, we would have pasta with tomato sauce here every day’, he says laughing.

That’s why he tries to make his food as palatable as possible for the young footballers. He reveals his “tricks”: ‘Sometimes I leave out the aubergine in the vegetable lasagne and replace it with something else, or I make a really delicious sauce to cover up the mushrooms.’

Calculate correctly, order online and have it delivered

There are no guidelines from the club – the key thing is that the athletes eat healthy food. Erhan organises the kitchen himself. Everything is his responsibility, from meal planning and purchasing to preparation, cooking, serving and later cleaning up the kitchen. And that’s exactly what he loves about his new job. ‘I have a fixed budget, and I use it wisely to keep my kitchen organised and stocked’, he explains. He plans 90% of his shopping online through the METRO online ordering system, where he also looks at special offers and sales promotions. ‘There are a couple of products that I don’t buy online, but the good thing is that the METRO wholesale store is just around the corner. I can quickly buy them there.’ Every Wednesday, he retreats for an hour and plans the menu for the following week. He then posts it online in the in-house system, and the children and coaches have 2 days to sign up for the meal. ‘Then I see how many have signed up for the day and the week and place the order online with METRO on the Friday.’ The food is then delivered on Monday morning. At a fixed time.

A system that has proven very successful. ‘I want to be able to calculate as accurately as possible so that I can prevent food waste’. This is where years of professional experience help him – calculating, weighing and recalculating are all part of his job. Day in, day out. ‘And if there are any leftovers, I put it in our snack bar, where we always offer bananas, grapes and apples for the kids. After training, they can help themselves to the food and take it home with them.’

Sports field at the junior training centre of Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Being a cook for Fortuna’s youth training centre – that has definitely been the right decision for Erhan. He has made proper nutrition his daily mission. And when the kids ask for seconds, he knows he’s on the right track. ‘The other day, during an internal survey among the children, the question was, what would you take with you to a deserted island? One kid answered: a football and Erhan. That made me mighty proud.’

Erhan Esen, Chef of the junior training centre

Erhan Esen has been cooking for the young talents of Fortuna Düsseldorf for 5 months. Carbohydrates and vitamins are always on the menu and there’s extra protein for injured players. His dishes are healthy, but also need to be palatable for children’s highly critical palates. He would also love to cook for Chilean pro footballer Arturo Vidal. He doesn’t like coriander himself – to him, it tastes too much like soap. There’s no middle ground when it comes to coriander in his opinion. You either like it or you don’t. But he makes an exception for a Thai curry. It needs coriander because it gives the dish the necessary fresh flavour.

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