Brooklyn Tech’s Hungry Footballer


Brian Kelly

Nicole Bidun, a rising senior in Brooklyn Tech’s Chemical Engineering major, loves to cook.

She started off in the kitchen under the wing of her parents, cooking dinners when her family had company. After gaining more experience through cooking lessons and videos, she began making dishes herself. Every now and then, her family would plan mystery bag challenges inspired by Chopped Jr., where Bidun had to make a dish in 30 minutes out of secret ingredients.

By 2018, she was crowned the winner of both Top Chef Jr. and Chopped Jr.

Bidun did not get there on the first try. After trying out for Top Chef Jr.’s first season, she was unable to secure a spot, but she redirected her focus and made the cut for Chopped Jr, where she won her episode.

She reapplied for Top Chef Jr. a year later and won her season, taking home $50,000. Her winning three-course meal consisted of pork soup dumplings, short rib ragu with fresh fettuccine and homemade ricotta, and lemon souffle for dessert. “I feel like Chopped Jr. helped me think on my feet more,” she said. “Top Chef was more endurance based. But I applied for both of them for fun, not for any kind of outward achievement.”

Although her journey in cooking began with guidance from her parents, Bidun said that her parents never pushed her to cook seriously. “I kind of took that on my own,” she said. “It’s always incumbent upon me.” However, she did acknowledge that, as a part of a competitive family, her parents always strongly encouraged her to work hard and pursue her passions.

Bidun doesn’t cook competitively anymore. These days, her main focus is on soccer. She competes for Tech in the fall and for her travel team, New York Soccer Club (NYSC), from November to June. She also recently joined the Downtown United Soccer Club (DUSC) women’s team. However, she still incorporates cooking into her life, often using it as a release from the stresses of competition. “I don’t cook with the same kind of intensity that I did, but I’m really happy that I did it when I did. I still was doing it for fun,” she said. “Soccer is important to me, but not always fun. Cooking has always been fun for me and it still is…I don’t think I would go back to competition in cooking.”

Even though she no longer cooks on television, she is still consistently experimenting in the kitchen. Her creations range from simple treats–homemade buns, sourdough bread, bagels, cookies, and scones– to complex dishes–pasta made from scratch, burrata and Calabrian chili stuffed zucchini blossoms, and crab apple tarte tatins.

Her newest creation, however, is not a dish, but a combination of her two passions. Hungry Footballer, an Instagram account and blog dedicated to teaching student-athletes how to cook quick and tasty meals for themselves, is a manifestation of Bidun’s love for her sport and favorite hobby. Her website details healthy, easy-to-follow recipes to help athletes fuel up and dominate their respective sports.

Hungry Footballer was born from a simple realization. Bidun’s coaches would tell her that she needed to eat a protein-packed meal with carbs two hours before her game but provided minimal guidance. “I find myself at soccer, and a lot of kids want to eat healthier, but have to cook meals for themselves. But they don’t have an easy access recipe or they don’t know what ingredients to buy, what looks good, and what the price range should be,” she said.

As a Chemical Engineering major, Bidun also works to understand the science behind the food she makes, and how each food affects athletic performance. She has tried to demystify food myths through research, answering questions such as whether athletes need to drink two gallons of water a day, or if probiotics actually hold health benefits.

Hungry Footballer is designed for everyone looking to eat healthily. Bidun acknowledged that not everyone has the same produce or ingredients available to them, but still hopes that healthy eating can be accessible to everyone. “Healthy eating is equated with having privilege, and I think that that’s definitely a problem,” she said.

She elaborated that individuals obsess over specific health food brands, or on whether their milk is grass-fed or all their fruit is organic. “I think that’s definitely taking it to an unhealthy extreme. But I don’t want to say there are ways to work around it,” she said, alluding to the fact that not everyone can afford high-quality food.

Bidun hopes that athletes can listen to their bodies, and eat what they think will help them reach peak performance. “I know people on my team would go to Chipotle before practice and feel totally fine,” she said. “That’s not a bad thing or a good thing. It’s just how their body reacts to that, so I feel like it’s definitely a personal preference.”

Bidun also emphasized that when athletes do listen to their bodies, they should not simply indulge in their cravings, but rather think about what they truly need. “You might want to have a bowl of ice cream before practice,” she said. “You might feel good at the moment. But when you’re practicing, you’re bobbing on the floor. There’s trial and error with that.”

Bidun’s own pre-game menu consists of NUUN Hydration Electrolyte Tablets in her water and dates (“It’s my superfood!”). However, she stressed that everyone has their own preferences and priorities for their long-term well-being. “It’s just about finding that balance,” she said.