Alum pioneers healthy sports food
Growing up, Daina Falk saw her father manage Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Mike Krzyzewski, among countless others. Naturally, the Duke graduate aspired to follow in his footsteps.
But David Falk advised his daughter against it, even though it has led him to inking some of the largest contracts in NBA history and playing power broker with some of the biggest names in the sport. Although Daina, Trinity ’05, decided not to go down that path, she refused to abandon her love for sports in her professional aspirations.
“He really discouraged it because it’s not the kind of industry that it was when he first got into it,” she said. “For me, I wanted to find a way to get into sports, but in my own way and make my own mark.”
The result is The Hungry Fan, Daina’s website and blog that features her recipes and experience in the food industry, based on her mission to combine her passion for sport with her interest in healthy eating. Daina believes there is a way to maintain sports traditions like tailgating and eating in front of the TV while avoiding the fatty foods that are often prominent.
“It’s more than being a chef—she has a keen interest in sports, which she grew up around,” David said. “She loves to travel and she loves food. And she’s trying to combine all three of those interests into what she’s doing.”
Daina’s hunger for a career in the culinary arts spawned when she studied abroad while attending Duke, spending a year in Italy and France. While overseas, she lost 23 pounds even though she “stuffed her face left and right,” which she credits to Europe’s focus on fresh ingredients and the culture of walking as a mode of transportation.
In Italy, she experimented with those ingredients, going to the market every Thursday with people she knew there and learning new recipes. She furthered that education in France where she took cooking classes.
Returning to the United States, Daina said she quickly regained that weight even though she worked out daily. When she graduated in 2005, she moved to Los Angeles and worked for a talent agency, but after a car accident and the subsequent physical therapy, she came up with the idea that would eventually develop into The Hungry Fan.
“I’m really adamant about food being healthier, whether that means low fat or good, clean ingredients,” she said. “There is a way to enjoy sports as a fan but in a healthy way.”
After discouraging his daughter from joining him in his field, David Falk applauded his daughter’s entrepreneurial instincts. Still an active agent, with Austin Rivers among his most recent clients, he did not want his daughter to join an industry that he believed had evolved from when she observed it as a child.
“She grew up around people like Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, John Thompson, Coach K, Juwan Howard, and the nature of all of it has changed dramatically over the last 10-15 years,” he said. “It’s more than being a chef—she has a keen interest in sports, which she grew up around. She loves to travel and she loves food. And she’s trying to combine all three of those interests into what she’s doing.”
Since her immersion into the sports-food industry, she has had the opportunity to participate in events such as “Taste of the NFL,” an annual charitable event hosted the night before the Super Bowl. She now splits her time between New York and Los Angeles as she regularly writes about healthy sports eating and posts recipes on her blog.
David Falk, who has a strong Duke connection beyond Krzyzewski and Rivers with clients or former ones such as Elton Brand, Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry and Bobby Hurly, sees parallels between his career and hers.
“I think when you have the chance to do things vocationally that you’re passionate about, you’re just better at it. Most people work at things they don’t like,” he said. “I have better meals with her than I do at a restaurant.”
At the same time, Daina has used her expertise to help her father, who she says has a bad habit of binge eating junk food while he’s on the phone. He also never ate breakfast, she said, something else she has tried to correct.
David said he never critiques the food, but will sometimes use his expertise to advise her with brand management. He still draws a line, however, in how he manages her noting she is his daughter, not a client.
With that added layer to the father-daughter bond, Daina sees a lot of her father in herself as she carves out her niche in transforming sports food into healthy food.
“I’m very much like my father,” she said. “I very much love my mother but I’m like a mini-David Falk—just with more hair, and hopefully a little more attractive.”