Have you ever wondered how much food is sold at Major League Baseball games? We went to Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, to find out.
Citi Field, the Mets' stadium, is as well-known for its foods as its home team. During a homestand against the Chicago Cubs, we visited the stadium’s senior executive chef, Patrick Schaeffer, for some exclusive insight into its food operations.
A shocking volume of food is prepared and served at Citi Field’s restaurants, kiosks and private clubs each game. According to ESPN, the Mets drew nearly 30,000 people on average to their home games, but even with so many fantastic food offerings, fans still crave ballpark classics. Some large stats:
Stadium cuisine has come a long way from “peanuts and Cracker Jacks.” A lot of this has to do with Schaeffer, senior executive chef for Aramark, the company that oversees culinary operations at stadiums across the country, including Citi Field.
Cooks at Citi Field are well-trained, too. Most have attended Nathan’s Hot Dog University, where they learned cook the frankfurters from a “frown” into a “smile” to fit as many dogs on the grill as possible.
Schaeffer shared what the players are eating in the locker rooms, too, and it might surprise you. Stay up to date on how the Mets are doing (and what they’re eating) on Instagram @AmazinMetsFood.
The Daily Meal: Do you have a favorite item of what's served at Citi Field?
Chef Patrick Schaeffer: We are really proud of the product we get in here. With our partnership with Pat LaFrieda, we get the best quality meats not just out of any ballpark but any restaurant or food service facility here in New York. We're getting the top-quality product available. With that, we put a lot of time into our preparation. We don't manipulate the product too much, we just use really simple ingredients and really great technique.
Things like the pastrami, the smoked pork shoulders, and the ribs, a lot of time of effort goes into those things that people might not know. Everyone knows barbecue and smoking take a long time, but we actually do it right here.
Is there any strategy as to where food goes? Like why chicken Parm goes in the outfield?
That whole area with Nicoletta and the chicken Parm is the “fun zone.” They have the kids batting and the dunk tank, and chicken Parm is kid-friendly, but that's not why it was developed, it was because it fit.
Some of the other things we put on the menu, like we do a pizza fry out there with some of the same ingredients on there -- we put stracciatella cheese on there -- that's a very kid-friendly item. We developed, specifically for that stand, the Italian cheeseballs, which are the fratelle. It's easy to walk around the ballpark [with them] and you can have a second something.
What do some of the players like on the Citi Field menu?
They love a lot of things. We send a lot of the food from the ballpark down there. I will tell you that this year they are eating very healthy, but on getaway days, when everyone's getting on the plane getting out of town, there's a big delivery of Shake Shack; they like that stuff. They do a lot of tacos; our lobster tacos are very popular down there.
We have a couple of other kitchens that will send other specialties, like the Porsche Grille does a fantastic macaroni and cheese, believe it or not. They request some French fries from one of the kitchens on this level, actually. They get stuff sent down and the manager in the locker room gets it. They're young men, I think you would be surprised of what they eat down there. They love pizza.
Are there ever any requests from opposing teams visiting Citi Field?
Actually, no. They eat very simply. When a visiting team comes in, I usually talk to their trainer or nutritionist and we'll work out a menu, supplementing whatever they have in the locker room. New York is a food city, so sometimes they want things delivered from other places and coordinators down there handle that stuff.
How far ahead is cuisine planned at Citi Field? Are you already working on the 2019 season?
We're actually in the process of thinking about things we're going to do next year. Are we gonna move locations? Are we gonna double-up on something? Is something doing well here? Our insight to analytics starts with the first guest through the door where we start to look at what trends are around the ballpark, what's selling, what people want, any feedback that we're getting from them. That goes into the design for the next season as far as how food is built, how it's executed, and honestly if we don't get started this early, supply chain is a very difficult thing that some people don't think about.
Procurement and getting product in here is very difficult, going back to using the best meat in the business. We use fantastic cheeses, all of our partnerships use specific products they like to use, it's not just any kind of off-the-shelf stuff you're going to get from some big box or broadline distributor. There's actually specialty procurement that goes into it and that takes up a lot of time as far as the development process for a new season.
If the Mets make the playoffs this season, may there be any special items added to the menus of Citi Field?
We always do special stuff. My first season here was the year we went to the World Series and we went to the playoffs the second year [I was here] and we always do special things. One thing I will say is that baseball is a very superstitious sport, and I'm not going to let the cat out of the bag for anything. You guys will see any specials or fun things we do when the time comes.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
I was in the elevator the last homestand with a father and a daughter and they weren't talking about the starting pitcher. They weren't talking about who's playing in the outfield, they were talking about their game plan for eating at Citi Field. It was interesting to me they knew what was going on. They were saying, "We're going to attack the waffles stand," the Wowfulls we stand have now, and they were going to centerfield to get some chicken Parm, and then they were going to get a lobster taco…
When you come here, we have a lot of great food. Get here early, pace yourself, and start before the rest of the fans decide what they want.
For the baseball experience closer to home, find one of the country’s 75 best hot dogs.