Published October 11, 2011
Cook it and they will come.
In San Francisco, AT&T Park’s Cha Cha Bowl tops shredded, marinated pork, rice and beans with pineapple-zucchini salsa for Giants' fans. Safeco Field spawned the Ichiroll, a spicy tuna roll with black sesame seed with kaiware (radish sprouts) named for Seattle Mariner right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki. Denver's Coors Field serves up tasty, mind-over-matter Rocky Mountain Oysters: peeled, seasoned, flour-coated, deep-fried bull or buffalo testicles.
These days stadium food is better, and a lot more interesting to eat.
Being on-trend, New York City's Madison Square Garden (MSG) recently struck deals with Hill Country for true Texas Barbecue and Carnegie Deli for corned beef and pastrami, as part of its multi-year renovation.
Then MSG trumped the trend with its Signature Collection that debuts later this fall. Essentially it's concession cuisine created by four New York City superstar chefs -- Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Andrew Carmellini, Jeremy Marshall and Drew Nieporent-- each either a devoted Knick or Ranger fan.
“These chefs’ recipes are exclusive to the Garden,” says MSG President Hank J. Ratner. “You can’t get this food anywhere else.”
The chefs-concessionaires were given no direction and no suggestions. They delivered burgers, brats, seafood and chicken. Not just “burgers,” but custom-ground Black Angus, short rib and brisket burgers. Not just brats, but beer-braised brats topped with Riesling-infused sauerkraut.
And from globe-trotting Jean-Georges Vongerichten, inventor of Molten Chocolate Cake, comes a chicken hot dog.
“Where else are you going to get a chicken dog by Jean-Georges?” asks Ratner triumphantly. “Nowhere.”
Thousands flock to his New York, London, Vegas and Shanghai restaurants for haute cuisine, but Vongerichten’s inspiration for Simply Chicken was a fast food chicken sandwich he ate in an airport.
His marinated organic Asian chicken sandwich has mayo spiked with sambal oelek (an Asian chile sauce) and crunchy, quickly-brined pickles. The sliced chicken salad with carrot-miso dressing subtly satisfies, but his chicken hot dog with kimchi and spicy mustard is the star. Kimchi, a fermented, pickled, spiced, cabbage-based Korean condiment is like highly-flavored relish with a kick.
You can take the chef out of Ohio, but you can’t take Ohio out of the chef.
Andrew Carmellini has won two James Beard Awards (the food world’s Oscars), mastered French and Italian cuisine, helped a few New York restaurants earn three- and four-star ratings and recently, and successfully, ventured into American cuisine with The Dutch.
But deep down he’s a bratwurst kind of guy.
“I grew up,” he says, “eating cheese brats from a shop in South Cleveland called ‘The Sausage Shop.’”
His sausage boss pairs beer-braised cheese brats with “weinkraut,” sauerkraut cooked in Riesling with smoked bacon, sweet onions and caraway seeds.
AC's Italian Link Pizzaiola and Sweet Peppers is the kind of “Italian-American street food I grew up eating,” he says. “Stadium food,” says Carmellini, “really can be better.”
“You know how shrimp goes from flaccid to a tight curl when you drop it in boiling water,” asks Aquagrill’s Jeremy Marshall. “You’re better off coaxing it at 125°F to 135°F for seven to ten minutes.”
Same for lobster. Boiling toughens the meat making it rubbery. Marshall ramps up his lobster roll with shrimp for added texture and lightly dresses it with lemony mayo. He’ll cook and deliver it daily to the Garden. Lobster and shrimp roll servers will keep it on ice as they make each sandwich to order, piling the mixture in a toasted, buttered, split New England-style sandwich roll with “naked ends.” Think hot dog roll with trimmed-off edges so that the outside resembles the inside.
Famed restaurateur Drew Nieporent, who’s won a staggering six James Beard Awards and owns Nobu, Tribeca Grill and Corton among others, was the mastermind behind Daily Burger. Why burgers?
“I like to eat them. I like to cook them. And I used to make them. In 1972 I was the Quarter-Pounder grill man at a McDonald’s,” Nieporent said.
Who knew? It’s probably why he emphasizes that he’s “grilling, not griddling, for better taste.”
Daily Burger will feature plain, cheese with bacon & onion jam (that’s homemade cheese sauce, he points out) and green tomato relish burgers. They come on a Portuguese bun that looks like an English muffin but isn’t. It’s slightly chewier “crust” and denser texture absorbs the burger’s juices without getting soggy.
Being able to get food created by New York’s top chefs at a fraction of the prices charged in their restaurants may just be what hungry sports fans want. Will people pay more for chef-designed stadium food?
Well, since people rarely say, “Hey, the food sucks but at least it’s cheap,” the answer is most probably, yes.