Feeding the Fusion: Chef Heidi Marsh talks cooking for a world class Esports team


The idea of how “a sound mind resides in a sound body” can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Thales, who advocated for the importance of a healthy body to support free thought and mental equilibrium. This concept is good advice as it applies to all walks of life, with Esports players being no exception.

In the early years of Esports, before the popularization of team houses and organizations taking on millions in venture capital investment, professional players had a tumultuous relationship at best with nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle. 

However, in the last half-decade, many teams have begun employing the expertise of life coaches, nutritionists and chefs, to ensure the well-being of some of their most valuable assets, the players. These unsung heroes of professional gaming may not see the spotlight often but have become an essential part of the Esports ecosystem and valued members of a team’s support staff.

In her own way, the Philadelphia Fusion's own chef, Heidi Marsh, the fan-dubbed “Real Life Moira,” has stood as a shining example of what a team chef can and should be. Through her cooking, blog writing, and social media presence, Chef Heidi has shown the unifying power of a good meal both in and out of the team house.

Credit: Heidi Marsh   

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adam: Can you tell me how you first got into the culinary arts and what drew you to this team chef position?

Heidi: Well, I've been in restaurants for over 25 years, I'm a career chef. It started as kind of a fluke. I was in college, and I had to find a way to pay for my tuition, so I started cooking on campus. Eventually, I just found that I had a gift for it. I started as a short order cook, then transitioned into fine dining and nightclubs. After about 20 years in the industry, I moved out to San Diego looking for a change, but I didn’t know what that change was. It was again by accident that I met the Fusion through a mutual connection on LinkedIn —  a friend of mine named Chef Greg who mostly does international meat exchange.

He knew that I had moved down to California, so he called me up one day and said, "You have to meet these guys!" Honestly, we thought it was a soccer team, we had no idea (laughs). 

I ended up getting connected with the culinary VP of Comcast, who put me in touch with Roston, the team manager. They had me come up and do an interview, so to speak, so I came up and cooked a bunch of stuff. They thought they were interviewing me, but I was also interviewing them, scoping them out, and getting a feel for what they liked. I made a lot of different stuff to see what they went for, and it just turned out to be a perfect fit.

Adam: What were the early days with Fusion like, when you were first getting into the flow of the position?

Heidi: The first thing was to come in and just go, "OK, what do I need?" It was like setting up a kitchen for the first time when you open a restaurant. After getting all the equipment and everything I needed, the first couple weeks were just me throwing stuff out there that I thought the guys would like. 

The biggest challenge was working without other kitchen staff. I started to feel isolated. I mean, I didn’t really have coworkers anymore and my phone's so quiet. On one side of the coin it was a relief not to have that stress, but on the other, it was really lonely. So I reached out to Comcast chefs that were in the area and asked them advice on where to shop and what their experiences were like. I managed to make some distant coworker connections that way. 

After that though, I started to build a sort of camaraderie with the team. The guys being new to the house, new to me, new to the U.S., everyone was really shy. Then after a while, the personalities started to come out and the family lifestyle started to grow. That was really nice, but in the beginning, it was like the first days of school for everyone.    

Credit: Heidi Marsh Adam: The Fusion have one of the most diverse teams in the Esports, so what’s it like cooking for all these different regional palate. Is it challenging?

Heidi: I kind of embrace it, it gets me to cook outside of my own box too. I come from the Midwest where it's all heavy cheese and tater tots, you know, comfort foods. Now I get the chance to look into international cuisine with a blind eye and see what kind of cool fusions I can make. 

Some of the coolest dishes I've made have been French Vietnamese fusion cuisine, so I embrace that diversity and play with it in my cooking. It really challenges some of the other players to try foods outside of their comfort zone. 

Elk had told me he had never really had fish before, and now he’s digging on it. Now I think a lot of that is in the preparation and the product sourcing. There's a lot of trust placed on me to maintain a certain level of quality, so I have to stay consistent.  

Adam: Many Korean players have said the hardest thing for them last season was getting used to western food. What has your experience been like with the Korean players on Fusion in that regard?

Heidi: I think the key is really to just not over-sauce or over-spice stuff. My goal is to provide a variety, and I don't want to single out any one person or nationality. I want to make sure the menu is all-encompassing.

One of the toughest players that we had last season, he would always order burgers and chicken wings and stuff instead of eating the Italian food I was making, but I would make flatbread pizzas, and then he'd come walking through and try some and I was just like, "YES! I finally got this guy to eat something!" It's almost like guesswork for some people, but at the same time, they start to build faith with me and start to at least try everything. 

You don't want to get too extreme one way or the other, and you have to be open to feedback and not take anything too personally. When you cook in a restaurant, you're going to have all these varieties of guests and not everyone is going to be pleased, and you have to not take it personally, you just keep doing the best you can do.

Adam: Now that you are well-established with the team, what would you say is your philosophy for creating a healthy and nutritious menu?

Heidi: We pump them full of mind food, so to speak (laughs). My philosophy for that is to just keep it simple, high protein, complex carbs, clean and easy. In the beginning, I would overcomplicate and get real foodie on them, since that’s kind of where I came from in my restaurant development you know, the trends and the foodies who want waffle tacos (laughs). These guys don't want that, they want something simple and approachable, a normal three-course plate just like mom used to make.

Credit: Heidi Marsh

Adam: When it comes to nutrition, who would you say has changed or progressed the most?

Heidi: Snillo has been the biggest physical change that I can see. Last night we had lasagna, and I had a pan that I had cut into giant sizes and one that was smaller. Snillo came in and was like, "I want to do 500 calories, Heidi." That's a big deal, and it’s not just the diet, he’s always running from the arena to the house, working out, and he came to me back at the beginning for advice. He said, "Heidi, I want to get slim, and I want to get strong, what do I do?" A lot of the guys will come to me to talk about fitness and nutrition. I'm always open to them coming to me and asking me questions, and not just them but anyone. 

Part of the contract when I got with these guys was that I had to be OK with being on camera, what I didn't realize was the personal nature of it. I'll get emails from fans that are like, "I just got diagnosed with Diabetes, and it’s like the end of the world." Or it's like, "I just went through this huge breakup, and it's horrible." And I can be of help to these people and let them know it’s alright, and we can just talk about food. 

Being on Twitter, and the team Discord really changed my perspective on the community. When we went to Grand Finals, there were people there who recognized me and called out to me. It made me realize that I could really set an example and be a mentor for all these people.

Credit: Heidi Marsh

You can learn more about Chef Heidi, her recipes and the Esports chef lifestyle by checking out her blog chefheidieatsherwords.com or follow her on Twitter @chefheidiLA.

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