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DeRusha Eats: The Sports-Food Philosophy Of Vikings' TCO Performance Center

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On the second floor of TCO Performance Center in Eagan, overlooking the Minnesota Vikings practice field, a different team is hard at work.

"I didn't anticipate having a job like this," said Chef Aaron Hagerdorn, who presides over a team of his own for FLIK Hospitality, the operator of the Minnesota Vikings food operation.

"It's a one-of-a-kind experience. Who wouldn't want to cook for their hometown football team?" asked Hagerdorn.

Hiring a restaurant chef to craft delicious and nutritious food for an athletic team is a trend in the Twin Cities. Chef David Fhima directs the culinary operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, Chefs Andrew Zimmern and Gavin Kaysen run a company that provides the team chef for the Minnesota Wild, and now Hagerdorn, a former co-owner of Main Street Farmer Restaurant in St. Michael, and the chef who opened Prairie Restaurant in the Hyatt Minneapolis.

The needs of the athletes changes "throughout the year based on what they're doing, it changes throughout the week too," he explained.

During training camp, the athletes need a ton of calories. After a game, they need foods that help them heal.

"Everything we do here is from scratch, we use the best food we can find, we just have to do it in a little more quantity," Hagerdorn said.

The kitchen at Vikings headquarters is open for three meals a day. It's all free: for every player, coach, owner, every person with the team.

"Most of my guys know what the players eat. My breakfast guy has most of them ready when they walk in," he said.

Throughout the cafe you see signs trying to steer the athletes in the right direction: symbols for food that gives energy and food that strengthens bones.

There's even food that can act as medicine.

"We also work on anti-inflammatory foods, that's a real priority," he said, "Anything to give them an edge."

When the team moved from Winter Park in Eden Prairie to the brand new facility in Eagan, nutrition was part of the game plan.

"The food we serve is essential," said Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman. "A lot of these guys are young kids - so they don't know how to eat right. They get help from the chef, the team dietician, we give them that help."

And while most of us don't want to eat a crazy amount of calories each day, most of us aren't professional athletes.

"They want them to eat between 3 to 5,000 calories during camp, because they're burning that. Whatever they burn they need to put back in," said Hagerdorn.

So when you see that 300-pound tackle taking care of business on the field, know it started in Chef Aaron Hagerdorn's kitchen in Eagan.

"To me it says food is a focus. Food is a focus to the athletes. It helps them perform," he said.

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