By Rebecca Torchia
Editor in Chief
Multi-colored Christmas lights run along the top of each beige wall in the living room, stretching into the kitchen to disappear above dark-wooded cabinets. On the stove, two pots of water come to a boil. One will hold potatoes, the other will steam broccoli. A square pan heats up in preparation for chicken.
This is the kitchen of Chef Ceko, more commonly known as Michal Cekovsky, the junior center for the Maryland men’s basketball team. Ceko, along with junior track athlete Josh Landsman, created the Instagram account “@Foodcheck._” to share beautiful and delicious food of their own creation. At only 3 weeks old, the account already has more than 600 followers.
On a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of finals week, the duo has chosen a meal that’s both simple and healthy.
“We’re cooking chicken, broccoli [and] we’re going to make some potatoes,” Ceko said.
As athletes, Ceko and Landsman aim to make most of their meals healthy. Their Instagram account features beef and tuna steaks, smoothies, and avocado toast. The freezer in Ceko’s apartment is packed with frozen foods such as salmon and additional chicken breasts. There are no frozen pizzas or microwavable meals.
While they shop at a number of different grocery stores—Whole Foods and Shoppers included—they try to find products that will make for healthy meals. Yes! Organic Market next to Busboys and Poets is one of their go-to stores.
“It’s organic, so they have really good steaks for acceptable prices,” Ceko said.
“We like to get the organic healthy foods,” Landsman added.
When they do eat out, they prefer food joints such as Busboys and Poets or the Maryland Food Co-op. Unlike some of their teammates, you won’t find them in the food court at Stamp, unless it’s not for fast food.
“We get Saladworks,” Landsman said. “We eat very healthy, and it’s mainly because we cook for ourselves a lot.”
The chicken breasts are rubbed down with olive oil and seasoned with thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper before being placed in the pan so hot, Ceko initially snatches his hand away to avoid being burned. He laughs, but the last thing he needs is to injure himself in the kitchen.
On February 19, in a game against Wisconsin, Ceko fractured his ankle, effectively taking him out of games for the remainder of the season. The fracture led to surgery, and ultimately a medical walking boot, which was removed earlier Tuesday.
Unable to play basketball after his surgery, Ceko began to focus more on cooking.
“[Cooking] is fun,” Ceko said. “Basketball is serious, especially a big ten game … The point is to have fun in basketball, but this is no pressure. It’s definitely fun, and I’m really enjoying that.”
February wasn’t the Terp center’s first time in the kitchen though. He started cooking when he was around 14 years old.
“That was like my first experiment in the kitchen,” Ceko said. “It usually ended up in the trash.”
Now, he has broccoli in the steamer and chicken in the oven. Potatoes are drained through a colander before being hand-mashed by Landsman. They’re seasoned with salt, garlic salt and butter.
At home in Slovakia, Ceko’s mother is the best cook.
“I love almost everything that she makes,” he said.
Her specialties include traditional Slovak dishes. All of the foods have Slovak names but one is similar to a Pierogi, Ceko said. It’s very traditional because it is stuffed with a uniquely Slovak cheese called bryndza.
Ceko has yet to try his hand at any of the traditional meals for the Instagram, though he would love to make goulash, a Slovak beef stew.
It would likely be the best meal to serve to the team, because of the large quantity produced in one meal. He has yet to cook for the team as a whole, due to the cost of the groceries and the number of people involved.
“If I want to make steaks or something it’s going to take a while because we have a lot of players,” Ceko said.
He has cooked for individual teammates however, including Jared Nickens, Andrew Terrell and a couple of the others when he made copious amounts of pasta one day.
“They crush it, I was like, ‘whoa, where’s my pasta?’” Ceko joked. “They kill it.”
Anyone passing by his third-floor apartment can smell the early-afternoon meal that’s being prepared, as a kitchen stool props open the door to ventilate the room.
Usually, however, passersby pay little attention to the gourmet cooking taking place inside. Only once a couple of girls asked to come in, but food wasn’t their goal. Instead, they had spied Ceko’s cat, Max, inside the apartment, and wanted a picture.
Max usually stays out of the way when the boys cook, and is rewarded for his patience with small tastes of their meals.
Ceko, works harder to be patient. He watches while Landsman carefully plates the broccoli, potatoes and finally the chicken, transferring it from a cutting board to a crisp white plate.
“He is very good with the presentation,” Ceko said.
The potatoes are garnished with a leaf of parsley, the only herb grown in the kitchen, and the photographs begin. Landsman usually takes around 5-10 minutes to photograph the food for the Instagram account, while Ceko waits as patiently as he can.
After getting to eat the food they worked so hard on, Landsman touches up the colors in the images using Adobe Lightroom and posts them to the account.
The posts have been featured on multiple other cooking accounts, rapidly growing the duo’s popularity. As beginners in their food-Instagram endeavor, they still get excited when their photos are mentioned or reposted.
Students on campus are even beginning to recognize Ceko and Landsman more as the owners of their Instagram account “@foodcheck._” than their status as student athletes. The pair even joked about starting an iSeries course in cooking.
“Medium rare? A. Well done? C. We don’t do that here,” Ceko laughed.
They gave this meal a 7 out of 10 for its simplicity, but the food tastes as good as it looks. The broccoli has a surprising and delicious smoky flavor from the rosemary. The chicken is moist and tender. And the mashed potatoes are arguably the best taste on the plate. Perhaps instead of a fall semester course, they should consider a delivery service.