The list of what Bruno Fernando could cook used to be pretty short — omelettes.
That’s the one thing that stuck when his late mother, Natalia David, tried convincing him to learn to cook when he was growing up.
Bouncing from home cooking in Angola to dining halls when playing college basketball at Maryland to many meals provided by the Hawks, the rookie center had never really had the desire, or the need, to learn his way around the kitchen.
But, with the NBA season on hiatus since March 11 because of the coronavirus, with no games or practices or in-person meetings, Fernando decided to change that.
“The first week, that was the most time on my hands I’ve ever had,” Fernando said. “So I was like, you know what, I think I should try and do something.”
Fernando unlocked a new hobby, going from not knowing how to make pasta to becoming such a good cook that Hawks Vice President of Athletic Performance and Sports Medicine Chelsea Lane requested that he make her a meal at some point (the Hawks are communicating with players via Zoom and phone these days).
He got the ball rolling by calling his sister, Paula, who lives in Angola, and asking her to walk him through different recipes. The first thing he made was rice, which sounds simple, but we’ve all either overcooked rice and burnt the bottom of the pot, or been overly cautious and ended up with too much crunch (Fernando’s came out great, since he watched over the pot religiously). After he calls Paula, or friends in the states, for a walk-through the first time he makes something, the second time is him figuring it out on his own.
He’s preparing a lot of black beans, veggies and fish and has moved on to harder things, such as lasagna and beef stroganoff. The stroganoff, in particular, stands out as one of his favorites to make.
“That was that meal where as I was making it, it smelled so good that I was like, ‘This is gonna be fire,’” Fernando said. “When I finished, I put it all in the pan and I took pictures of it because it looked so good, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m proud of that.’”
Fernando said he enjoys focusing mostly on foods that are popular in Angola, such as Bacalhau Com Natas, which is a dish that combines codfish, onions, potatoes and cream and is another one of his favorites to whip up. He often makes a big dinner so he can eat leftovers for lunch the next day.
There are certainly times he messes up a recipe, but that’s happening less frequently.
“It’s been very, very fun,” Fernando said. “I never thought I would enjoy it that much. ... I’ve had a few days where I was just messing things up. It would just not be good, things I try to make and all that. But the more I try, the better I learn, and the better I get at it.”
Apparently, at one point, his sister didn’t actually buy that Fernando was making all the food he would tell her about, so he started sending her photos and videochatting with her as evidence.
“She was like, ‘I don’t believe you,’” Fernando said. “Someone came and made it for you.’ I was like, ‘I’m by myself in quarantine, who would have come and made this?’”
In recent weeks, one of Fernando’s cousins has been living with him, which has made staying home in his Atlanta apartment and social distancing a little easier for the outgoing rookie. Without basketball, and with far more down time than he’s used to, learning to cook has given Fernando an outlet and has helped him stay in touch with people.
Plus, there’s that feeling of accomplishment after cooking a tasty meal.
“I feel like home-cooked meals are so much better,” Fernando said. “It tastes so much better when you did it yourself. … I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, phone calls with my sister, my cousins, my friends, it’s been fun for sure.”
While the season is on hiatus and the Hawks’ practice facility is closed, Fernando is still working out (the team gave players exercise plans to follow) and trying to keep his endurance level up, running hills outside. He’s an avid reader, tackling “The Alchemist” right now, with Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” likely up next.
It’s important to Fernando that he not solely rely on screens to pass the time.
“I feel like I got to the point where, I can only play so many video games, you know what I’m saying?” Fernando said. “I can only watch so much TV. TV’s nice at night, when I’m done with everything and going and laying down, that’s when I watch TV, but during the day I try and work out, get all my workouts done and then I just cook and try and keep myself occupied.”
Whenever games resume, Fernando intends to keep up with his cooking routine on days when the Hawks are in town or have days off.
If you’re a beginner cook as Fernando was, his advice is to start out with recipes you truly want to eat, and not be afraid to make a few mistakes along the way.
“For me, because I wanted to eat certain things so bad, that made me want to really learn how to make it,” Fernando said. “And I actually enjoy it, I’m enjoying it, because if you’re not enjoying it, then you’re not going to learn. … If I call my sister every single time to give me directions, then I’m not really learning, I’m just doing what she tells me to do. But for me to call her one time, and then next time try it on my own, just like everything else, there’s going to be a lot of times where it’s not going to be good, you’re going to mess up something, but consistency and trying to make it, trying to get it right is good. Just try to do what you enjoy.”
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