As esports continues to grow, there is an ever-developing relationship between the gaming industry and the food industry. As someone who has cooked professionally for many years, this excites me. I’ve set out to find the best chefs in esports, and discuss their opinions about the connecting worlds of food and esports.
This time I had the opportunity to chat with Jeff “eXtine” EXtine, a veteran of the esports and restaurant industries.
Thanks for spending the time to talk, eXtine. To start off, why don’t you share your background both cooking and esports?
I started cooking professionally when I moved to the Bay Area after college in 2005 and was working as a rowing coach. I moved to Portland in 2008 and have been cooking around town since. I was the Kitchen Manager at Por Que No Taqueira (popular spot), a wok chef at Lucky Strike (Szechuan food), Head Chef at Produce Row Cafe (Gastropub that's been around for a long time), the general manager at 24th & Meatballs (voiced a commercial for them), did prep at Marukin Ramen, operated machines at a Pasta Factory, and am currently at the Indian Restaurant Bollywood Theater.
I was eXploring opening my own esports bar a few years ago with a business partner, but currently am working on launching a hot sauce brand: "Yyyao Sauce.” I brought some bottles with me to DreamHack Anaheim last year that were really well received, but am still working to get production more setup.
I've been a lifelong gamer and followed the emergence of esports with Counter-Strike, Quake, TeamFortress Classic, StarCraft, and Enemy Territory, but I didn't get directly involved until 2008. I had been looking forward to TF2 since TFC, and after playing it casually for a while I wanted more of a challenge, as well as to be more than just a participant in the community.
I had been writing articles for the website, Community Fortress, but realized that media coverage was seriously lacking. I have a bachelor's degree in Film Studies and utilized that knowledge as I created post-produced match coverages. This was before the full advent of Twitch, so taking a post-produced approach allowed me to upload in high quality and really make sure the action was well presented on screen. I did the commentary myself and under the brand name eXtelevision collaborated with others in the community to make some awesome things happen.
With the help of many others, particularly my Dutch video editor Lucky Luke, I've been commentating the "Top 10 TF2 plays of the month" series for over 10 years. In 2012, with significant help from another commentator: Salamancer, eXtv lead a fundraising campaign that paid for two North American TF2 teams to fly to Europe to compete on LAN (there's a documentary). eXtv was also heavily involved in the planning of the TF2 offerings at the GXL LAN in 2014. I continue to be active in promoting TF2, working with other organizers, and commentating when I can.
Through my involvement in TF2, I've been able to be involved in a lot of other esports endeavors. I've helped out at DreamHack events as a volunteer team lead before (DH Denver, Dallas, and Atlanta), focusing on helping the various esports tournaments at Dallas and Atlanta. At DreamHack Anaheim I was elevated to the position of Construction Manager helping to guide labor and ensure things were setup according to plans.
DreamHack is also the reason I was a bootcamp chef for Team Liquid at TI7. DreamHack was hosting a DotA event on the East Coast shortly before TI7 and some competing teams were worried this would impact their ability to practice for TI. DH offered to set up any qualifying teams with a bootcamp in Seattle and they tapped me to be the Chef. Since then I cooked for Team Liquid in Vancouver for TI8, at their Utrecht HQ for a bootcamp, and in Shanghai for TI9. The roster left Team Liquid to form Team Nigma, and I'm certainly cheering for the team to qualify for TI10.
I'm also pretty friendly with Portland's fighting game community. This manifested another esports/food crossover as after the CPT finals in 2018, Xi'an had a layover in Portland and the community rallied to make him feel welcome. I was getting ready to move apartments, but dropped everything to make some Red Chili Pork and fresh tortillas for Tacos. Xi'an walked in and within minutes had a plate and food. He enjoyed it and was very thankful.
You’re quite the Renaissanceman! What made you want to get into cooking? Did people in your house cook?
My family has always enjoyed good food, the process behind it, and trying new cuisines. I grew up in Japan, so I definitely got eXposed to a lot of different tastes when I was young. My Grandpa Extine was a big inspiration, having a huge garden and always wanting to cook for people. My Dad similarly enjoys to cook and with a PHD in Chemistry, likes to understand the process and reasoning behind methods. I used to have small LAN parties at my house in Highschool, and my dad would love to make us Pancakes or French Toast the morning after.
I've really enjoyed the challenge and fast pace of working in restaurants. It can be really stressful, but it can also be a lot of fun to be in the middle of a rush spinning around, doing things in a hurry, and selling a ton of food. Managing tickets and the process of efficiently making a lot of dishes has a lot of similarities to gaming.
Working with co-workers is similar to team esports. You have to be able to give and receive feedback, adapt to how others like to work, focus on what is most important at the moment, and be able to take a step back afterwards to re-think how things went.
Sounds like a ton of work, but a ton of fun! And since you have experience doing both, what would you say the main differences between cooking at a restaurant and cooking for an esports bootcamp?
Equipment and timing.
At a restaurant you're very well setup to work efficiently, make what you want with appropriate pans, and also easily clean up afterwards. Cooking for a bootcamp out of a home kitchen is a bit more difficult. The dishwasher takes longer to run so there is a lot of washing by hand. You can quickly run out of containers or bowls to put things into when prepping and dealing with leftovers and it can limit menu possibilities.
When I cooked in Shanghai for the TI9 bootcamp, I simply had two wok burners and a toaster oven. Everything can be figured out, but dropping into a strange kitchen and making large meals in the following days is certainly a fun challenge.
For food service at a restaurant, you get all your ingredients prepared, then crank out as much as you can for hours at a time to a pre-set menu. At the bootcamps, it's definitely a challenge to have the food ready for when the players are ready for it. With DotA, it can be tough to predict when a game is going to end, it's not as if they're eating on a rigid schedule. My timing has gotten better over the years as I've struck a better balance between ambitions and the reality that there's a lot to do and I'm working by myself. I'm trying to serve the players the best food possible, but sometimes I have to tone things back a bit in order to make sure they'll be ready for their upcoming scrim.
It's certainly a bit terrifying when I've been peeking in on a game and think I have a good 15 minutes or so to finish my dish, then all of a sudden a smiling Kuroky leads the squad around the corner saying, "Hi Jeff, is the food almost ready?"
The players and staff have been fantastic to work with, understanding of the challenges I'm facing, and appreciative of the food. You don't always get a lot of interactions with customers as a professional chef, so it's a lot of fun to be able to discuss food and menu ideas with the people you're taking care of.
I can imagine how terrifying it is when it’s a 20-minute stomp! What about your perspective on nourishment? Obviously, in a high-intensity and mentally challenging environment like a gaming bootcamp, you can’t constantly be serving the most indulgent meals, but can’t be serving celery sticks every day. How do you tackle proper nutrition?
To me, nourishment, nutrition, and eating healthy is about eating the right things and the right amount of things. Dealing with jet lag can make the body feel odd, so I would often be urging food on the players in the first days after arrival. We shopped consciously and discernibly to get the best products for the team which is important. There were definitely a few processed snacks, but that was balanced by fruits, nuts, and other healthy stuff like fresh vegetables.
It's important to present options and then be able to adapt to make sure everyone was fed, whether that's just a bigger portion or different food. I introduced them to a few things, but tried to keep it familiar and appealing.
It's important to have a balanced plate with proteins, carbs, and vegetables. I might be feeding them a cheesesteak sandwich, but I'll pair it with asparagus and a side salad. I served lighter meals for lunch to keep them energized but not sleepy, and then a bit more heavy and filling meals for dinner. There was always a little bit more available if the players needed a little more, and I'd follow up if I saw some things left on the plate. If the pantry is stocked, there's a lot that can always be whipped up for a player if a dish didn't land right.
Speaking more on cooking as a discipline, an Anthony Bourdain quotes that always stuck with me was this: “Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman—not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen—though not designed by them. Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying.”
To me it encapsulates how much attention and work is needed to be great at preparing food. I also think it can teach you about “practicing your craft” in other areas of your life. As you begin other new roles in esports, how would you say you work as a chef has helped you?
I've learned a ton of life lessons through my time as a chef: teamwork, management, and work ethic in particular.
Craftsmanship is attention to detail and harnessing the passion that drives what you do. Both are very important to the world of esports and I think applying those concepts has been effective whether I'm coaching an esports team, community building, making videos, producing a stream, or organizing an event.
It seems to stick with you for life. What about on a personal level? I’m someone that thinks the esports demographic would benefit from everyone having some degree of knowledge how to cook. It’s such a beneficial skill many have not cultivated. What’s your opinion?
Yeah, without a doubt, cooking is an important life skill to have. It can be a great creative outlet, a bit of a meditative process, a way to save money, or a way to treat yourself. There's so much to learn about once you dive into it, and like any esport, you just gotta keep trying if it's something you want to do.
Food is really fun to share with others and I think we have seen that passion intertwine with the esports demographic in some ways before. When tournaments and festivals start welcoming crowds again, eating is a big part of traveling and having fun, hopefully there's a bit more of a focus on that moving forward. There's a lot of opportunity in the crossover between the esports and food worlds for purveyors, content creators, or sponsors.
Yyyao Sauce sounds really interesting (and badass, frankly). What made you want to make a hot sauce, and how is it distinct from others available?
I'd spent 2019 traveling, attending esports events, and thinking on life. I decided I wanted to find a food product I could focus on making and doing right. Team Nigma was really encouraging when I spoke with Mo about it in Shanghai, that was really when I started moving forward with the idea and developing recipes. I've always been into all the different types of salsa but fermented hot sauce is another level.
Yyyao sauce is unique in that I'm fermenting fruit alongside the peppers for the sauce. Many sauces with fruit are made on the stove top with sugar, while mine is a natural fermentation process resulting in a shelf stable product. I've mainly been working with Habaneros which have a wonderful flavor profile to start with, and pairing them with fruits like Pineapple, Peach, Mango, Blueberry, and Plums.
Spicier peppers are in the plans for sure, last year I did get some Ghost Peppers and Carolina Reapers from Central Washington to make a sauce I called Young Insanity, which was a collaboration with an up-and-coming competitive Team Fortress 2 player named Young Sanity.
Is there a favorite recipe or uncommon food you could recommend to our readers?
Favorite recipe would probably be fried rice. Especially to either feed a bunch of people or yourself a bunch of times. It can be tailored to your desires or just be a dish that's using leftovers and random veggies. Cold rice is better to use, but it's no big deal if you're making the rice right beforehand.
Personally I love a simple bacon and egg fried rice with green onion, but ham, shrimp, or tofu work great as other protein options. Veggie wise you can also add onions or garlic, broccoli, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, pretty much whatever.
Cook the proteins in the pan then remove, cook the veggies (not your green onion though) in the pan in the residue from the proteins (deglaze if needed), then remove the veggies and cook your scramble eggs if you like. Add the rice, crank the heat back up, add all the veggies (and the green onion) and then season. I like to season the rice with salt while frying, then finish with a touch more soy sauce later while I'm eating. If you want that typical Chinese fried rice taste, you need to find the yellow chicken stock granules and use a pinch of that while frying.
For uncommon foods, I'd suggest Szechuan peppercorns, poblano peppers, and chipotle powder. Smoked paprika is one of my favorite things to use, and chipotle is a spicier deeper version of that.
Fried rice is so versatile, but always delicious. Thank you so much for the excellent interview. Anything also you would like to share?
Thanks for the interview, I enjoy talking about food and enjoy talking about esports, so it was a wonderful time!
Shout-out to my girlfriend Citrris for all her support, Team Nigma, The Portland Burnsiders, Stormbreaker Brewing (HOP IT DONT DROP IT), AntlionAudio and my family. Shout back on twitter: @eXtelevision.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.