undeNYable Passion | Lalo Ortega Munoz
By NYCFC Staff
New Yorkers rising up together to meet unprecedented challenges is in the fabric of this great city.
Through the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen countless examples of the community-minded selflessness and resilience associated with New York City and we’ve been inspired by those who have raised a hand and stepped up to help their fellow citizens.
In this spirit, we are setting out to reflect what’s truly undeNYable about our city and the people who make up our extended NYCFC family, all doing whatever it takes today to be back together again tomorrow through the sport we love.
undeNYable is a series of stories here on NYCFC.com, holding up members of the NYCFC family who’ve shown the meaning of "For The City", coming through for their fellow New Yorkers when it has mattered most.
Eduardo Ortega Munoz, better known as Lalo, is the First Cook at NYCFC’s Etihad City Football Academy where he is able to combine his passion for cooking and soccer.
When he was just six months old, Lalo and his mother moved from Mexico City to the United States where he grew up in Westchester, New York. His family supports Club Universidad Nacional Pumas, so he was introduced to the beautiful game at a young age. “A lot of my family, they support the Pumas in Mexico, so my uncles would send me stuff when I was a little baby and then my family would come over and they kind of just instilled that in me,” Lalo recalled, “That’s when my first love for the sport came about.”
As his love for soccer blossomed, so did his passion for cooking. Lalo credits his cousin Ricardo for being the inspiration behind his desire to become a chef. “He would come from Mexico to visit and he would always cook and was studying to be a chef at the time.” Lalo continued, “He was my favorite cousin growing up. I didn’t have any older brothers or anything, it was just me. So, whenever he came over, I would jump into the kitchen with him.”
After high school, Lalo attended SUNY Delhi where he began taking more advanced culinary courses, competing in cooking competitions, and even learning skills like ice sculpting. While on these courses, Lalo knew he was on the path he was meant to be on: “That right there was when I knew that this is what I was going to do.”
During college, Lalo had to return to Mexico in order to fix some immigration issues which ultimately set him back a year in school. However, when he returned, he was more focused than ever before. He finished his Associate’s degree at Monroe College, but he was determined to learn more so he attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City to get more intense training. From there he was recommended for a position at Jean-Georges, a three Michelin star restaurant in Manhattan, before landing the dream job at NYCFC he holds today.
Lalo has been an avid fan of the Club since its inaugural season, becoming a season ticket holder and founding member of The Third Rail. For Lalo, it has been a unique experience to support a team from the very beginning. “I think NYCFC was really something special because it’s not every day that a team starts from absolutely nothing,” he asserted, “Later on, down the line you’re going to be able to tell your kids, your grandchildren, ‘I was there when the team first started. I was there for the first home opener.’ All the firsts you would be there.”
A few years after that 2015 inaugural season, a rare opportunity arose for Lalo to combine his two passions. Following the opening of NYCFC’s Etihad City Football Academy in Orangeburg, Lalo saw on social media that the facility had a cafeteria and he started looking for a way into the kitchen. He found the company that would be handling the food services, applied for the job, and was eventually hired in May 2019.
Despite being a superfan, Lalo had the necessary culinary experience and understood the level of professionalism it requires to work around the players of his favorite Club. “I don’t think there’s anyone out there that has the same level of professional experience and the same passion for the team,” he reflected, “I wanted to bring that here and help out in any way I can.”
Although he kept his cool, he recalls the excitement he felt on his first day on the job at Etihad CFA New York. “I remember I was freaking out on the inside,” he smiled, “I was just trying to stay more focused on the actual work of it. I couldn’t believe I was here. Seeing all the players and everything. It was just really overwhelming, and I was super excited.”
Since that first day, Lalo shares how forming bonds with players and staff alike has intensified his passion for the team. “I think one of the real special things for me is you've come to know these guys as human beings, not as professional soccer players.” Lalo continued, “It’s really something special to be able to get to know them just as regular people. People sometimes forget that athletes are humans too. They have their views, they have their feelings, they’re just regular people like the rest of us.”
As his position allows him to see the Club from a new perspective, Lalo appreciates all the efforts behind the scenes that go into running a professional sports team. “I’m super impressed and amazed by every single little thing that goes around, you know, just a bunch of guys kicking a ball.” He said, “From the medical staff, groundskeepers, the media, just everybody, everything that goes into it. It’s just incredible. I appreciate what the Club does more. I have a lot more respect and understanding. And I think more than anything, it's made me appreciate the hard work that everybody does.”
This article first appeared on NYCFC on November 6, 2020.
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