No matter your favorite team, the New York Yankees are generally thought of as the “dynasty” of the Major League Baseball. As such, it is fitting for the company overseeing the food and beverage options at Yankee Stadium to be known as Legends Hospitality. Yankee Stadium is known not only for historic baseball games, concerts, and other major events, but also for its world-class dining fare.
Stadium food has come a long way from “peanuts and Cracker Jack” — 2017 saw the introduction of new vendors, new social spaces (including Sunrun Kids Clubhouse, Masterpass Batter's Eye Deck, and AT&T Sports Lounge), and new menu items. The Frank's RedHot Terrace and the Toyota Terrace introduced new staple menu items like sliders (the Yankee Dingers), the Chicken Diablo Sandwich, and fresh hot bao. The venue also expanded its alcohol selection, with New York’s own Blue Point Brewing Company now available in kiosks throughout the stadium.
As the MLB team with the most World Series victories, the Yankees are no strangers to playing October baseball, and the team is currently in the midst of a playoff series against the Houston Astros. Senior executive chef Matt Gibson has been working with the Yankees and Legends Hospitality since 2010. On the eve of Game 5 of the ALCS, I spoke with Gibson — who studied at Le Cordon Bleu and began as a sous chef within Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant group — by phone. Read on to find out how stadium chefs train for baseball season.
When you are working as executive chef in the post-season, is it any different than your work during the regular season?
Chef Matt Gibson: Absolutely. First and foremost, the atmosphere in the stadium is contagious. As a Yankee fan and an employee here, there's definitely an electric atmosphere in the air. With that comes more fans, more of our ownership, more heavy hitters, and there's definitely another level of excitement in everything for us and our staff. We just finished a relatively grueling season, and we're all tired, but there's something about the team and the building that gives us energy and fuel and to go to the next battle. It's definitely more work, and there's a certain number of people who fit into the stadium, but they're all here and they're all enjoying themselves and ultimately eating a lot of food, which is great for us.
Do you find that the tastes of the people change in a post-season setting?
Yeah, absolutely. We've had great success with the team, and people like to celebrate. There are really two types of fans that come to the stadium. There are the ones who come to a baseball game and expect to have a hot dog and a beer, those core concession items, which we have a lot of. But there's also a lot of fans that really go to the stadium to watch the game, but also to experience the new offerings. The days of a captive audience are long gone, and our company is pushing that envelope to make sure that we have an interactive and fun experience for the fans to walk around and try. A lot of our new concessions anyone in the building can go to. It's fun to watch.
What new things did Yankee Stadium add this season?
We had some great partnerships created this year. We have Bareburger, Jersey Mike's, and a lot of these new concepts have been great for us. They are tremendous brands to be associated with. They're great people, they produce a great product. Every year in the off-season, we judge current trends. We want to make sure we’re setting the bar high for ourselves. The expectations are very high. We figure out what the new items will be. We debut them and have the ability to tweak them throughout the season. If we make it into the [playoffs] then there are some concepts debuting.
The cold weather is coming in and one of our sponsors is Hale & Hearty, so we're starting to get heartier, soup-based stuff. The clam chowders are starting to come out now. Beer and hot chocolate, when it gets cold.
What can you tell me about some of the new items that Legends Hospitality created?
One of them is our slider concept, which we call Yankee Dingers. We didn't know what to call our sliders and one of our sous chefs said, “How about Dingers?” We said, “Why?” He said, “Because they're a home run!” (laughs) We thought it was corny, but when we ran it up the ladder, it stuck pretty quick. Burgers are great; I'm from California and have an affinity for In-N-Out Burger. I have cheeseburger shoes that I often wear throughout the stadium. We debuted [the Dinger concept] this year at our spring training facility [in Tampa] then brought it up to the Bronx in one or two locations. Now we have them in more kiosks throughout the stadium. It's a fun product, and we're looking to refine it further for next season.
Another is our bao concept. We wanted to take fun things and put them into a bao format. It’s relatively trendy, and it’s a good bargain. We make sure that our fans not only are excited with the product, but they feel they've been taken care of at the ballpark. We have a traditional pork belly one; we did a Philly cheesesteak version; a barbecue chicken one, which is one of our best sellers; and a Buffalo cauliflower vegetarian one.
In our Masterpass Batter Eye's Deck, we've got these great rotisserie units for chicken. We've got ribs and onions roasted underneath with wonderful meat juices. We're also dipping it into melted cheese and throw it onto bread so it's like French onion soup or a French dip, a hybrid of those two.
Those three distinctive concepts are kind of the main integrations we've had this year. We've gathered a lot of data on them and we're looking to take them to our spring training facility and expand on them and push the envelope for next season.
That is very interesting that spring training is not only where baseball develops, but also the food. How long has that been the case for Yankee Stadium and/or Legends Hospitality?
This last season, [Tampa’s] George M. Steinbrenner Field went through a major kitchen renovation. It’s an absolute dream cooking down there. We integrated massive smokers, so we’re able to do smoked meats. Every concession stand has full cooking capabilities, which never happened before. So what it really does is offer a great premium product in Tampa, and it’s also a great sounding board for us to figure out on a smaller scale how we can run efficiently and if a concept works. This is the first year that we’ve been able to do that and it's been phenomenal. I can't wait to get down to Tampa, not only for the warmer weather, but to get back into those kitchens and figure out how we can push the envelope further for the 2018 season.
So when you're not busy with the Yankees or Legends Hospitality, how do you like to spend your free time?
Long walks on the beach is too cliche, right? (laughs) Really, the off-season for us is such a family atmosphere; my wife works at the stadium. What we try to do is try to visit as many other properties as possible, whether it's internally or externally, just to make sure we're exposing ourselves to what fans are exposed to. I just bought a house and am trying different open-fire concepts. I'm finally able to cook outside and use fire now that I'm out of an apartment. I really want to tap into that and figure out how we can do something like that. The season’s been great but long and busy. We sort of just catch our breath for a few weeks then we really tackle what we can do for 2018. [The off-season] goes by incredibly quick and it's really just planning for the next season.
Finally, any last words?
At the end of the day, we tried hard this year. We really put a lot of effort into everything. The Yankees and Legends were really big into making sure that what we created was available to every fan that walked into the stadium, especially these days with fans with food allergies and restricted diets. We take that very seriously. It's not like, "Head down to the corner and good luck." We try to embrace our fans so that everyone who walks into the stadium is able to enjoy themselves with the products available. It's a lifestyle that we have, and our goal is to make sure that everyone has a great time, and so far it's been good. We look forward to a couple more games here in the Bronx and hopefully a big win.
That's all for the Yankees, but we also have the scoop on what the Dodgers are serving for the playoffs!