Sunday, March 23, 2008

Chatting with The Executive Chef at New Nationals Park

From the very first moments Michael Snead and I met--we have hit it off well. This man has passion for his job and profession. Michael is the Executive Chef at New Nationals Park. His job for Centerplate is to design the menus--for every level of service--create the meals that many patrons of Our Washington Nationals will enjoy this coming season on South Capitol Street. Mr. Snead-LOVES HIS JOB. His dedication for food and presentation is just what our new ballpark needs for it's Inaugural Season. At one time--The Executive Chef for The MCI Center (Now Verizon Center)--Michael's work and effort is deemed so important and valued--that Centerplate has previously sent him to work The Super Bowl. Probably, no bigger moment in American Sport than The NFL Championship Game. On a number of occasions--Michael Snead, The African Queen and I have chatted about the upcoming offerings at New Nationals Park. This past Saturday afternoon, during The George Washington University/St. Joeseph's First Game--Sohna and I spoke with Michael in the New PNC Diamond Club.

With that--here with go with Our Conversation With Centerplate's Executive Chef.

What has this been like to get ready in a brand new stadium? (SBF)

“Unquestionably, it’s been a challenging experience—but a rewarding experience at the same time. Just because taking something from scratch, forging ahead—making the effort—to get things accomplished. And then at the end—be able to put out the quality food we have. I am very proud of that effort.”

So you are happy with food choices? (SBF)

(Smiling Broadly) “YES!! We are providing some nice fare.”

What are some of the good ones—you really like? (SBF)

“Wow!! There are so many to choose. (Thinking about it) Let’s see. Parmigiana Crusted Rock Fish, New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp over Buttered Grits and Country Greens, Ancho Chili Barbecue Wings, Peppered Crusted Tenderloin with Four Cheese Potato Gratin and Grilled Asparagus—I could keep on going—we have so many good items to choose available.”

I am hungry right now!! (The African Queen)

“You should be!!”

Where can customers at Nationals Park enjoy these offerings? (SBF)

“In The Diamond Club and President’s Club. And in The Stars and Stripes Club we will have portable Buffets where we will put out an All-Inclusive Single Serving Plate (of these special items).”

How about The Red Porch Restaurant? (SBF))

“The Red Porch Restaurant is more of a casual dining atmosphere restaurant. It’s Ballpark Fare, but I took that fare and made it more interesting. Such as—a Southern Catfish BLT Sandwich will be offered. Asian Noodle Chicken Salad, Cucumber Noodle Salad—things like that. Red Porch is a simple service, it is quick and casual—but anyone can come in there and enjoy themselves—regardless of where you sit (in the ballpark).”

Did my Sushi make the cut? (The African Queen)

“Yes, you will be very pleased to know that Sushi made the cut. Actually, we had Sushi at the Suite Holders Tasting this past Wednesday (March 18th). We will do both Sushi and Maki (at New Nationals Park).”

And where can you get that? (The African Queen)

“We will have an Asian Cart out on the Main Concourse. That menu will be a variety—it will be a combination type set up—like there will be Stir Fry or some other Asian Dish. Sushi and Maki will be sold out of that cart—Japanese & Chinese Beer. Then, obviously, it is on our Suite and Catering Menu—as well—and The Club Dining Rooms.”

The Nationals announced a series of items that are traditional to other ballparks around the country—when a visiting team comes to town—who is handling those items? (SBF)

“What we plan on doing—when a Visiting Team is coming—say The Phillies are in town. We will have a Phillie Cheese Steak Sandwich Bar. We are trying to theme something toward each visiting team—every time they come to the park.”

And those offerings—will they be Centerplate Items or The Actual Same Exact Item on sale at that Out of Town Ballpark? (SBF)

“They will be Centerplate Items. Some of the teams that come visit us are part of The Centerplate Partnership. So, when they come, I will probably get in touch with someone at THAT STADIUM to see what their favorite recipes are and then put that exact same item out here.”

Someone asked me this question the other day and really didn’t know the proper answer. On The Traditional Ballpark Fare—like Chicken Fingers, Hot Dogs, what have you—and knowing that Centerplate has their own Chicken Fingers Recipe—are all The Traditional Ballpark Fare items available at New Nationals Park--Centerplate stuff—-not someone else’s? (SBF)

“Yes, absolutely. We have what we call ‘Tastings & Cuttings with Food”. We (Centerplate) just don’t buy any old thing that comes our way to fit the bill. We select The Traditional Ballpark Fare—whether it’s certain Hot Dogs or Our Select Chicken Tenders. We have tasted a variety of them. We select a lot of local vendors who are able to produce the recipes that I give them. Whether it’s frosting for the cupcakes, a specific sauce—any item that is a cut above what you might normally expect.”

Do you have Kosher Dogs as well? (The African Queen)

“One of our vendors—Hebrew National is on board. We also provide Kosher ingredients to make Kosher Food for people that want that type of fare. We are NOT a Kosher Kitchen, anything that has to be strictly kosher, we will use a vendor. But, as far as using kosher ingredients to make kosher food—I have the ability to do that here.”

Are you satisfied with the menus available come Opening Night—or are you still tweaking things? (The African Queen)

“Menus are always going to be tweaked—regardless of where you work, or where you are, or what you put out—there will be some stuff that people like or some people don’t like. But for right now and Opening Day and the first few home games—the menu is going to be pretty much what The Nationals have agreed on. No doubt, there is going to change—down the line.”

“Look, I want to keep in interesting. It’s how you keep customers coming back. I don’t want someone saying: ‘Oh—I am going to Nationals Park, it’s going to be hot dogs and hamburgers again.’ No, I don’t want that to happen. I want people to look forward to attending each and every game.”

"And here’s a good example of keeping it fresh. I only saw a part of the story, but on Fox Channel 5—apparently—Alligator Stir Fry seems to be the phrase of the town now (everyone laughing). So since then, I have told them (management) we do EVERYTHING from Hot Dogs to Alligator Stir Fry!! Now, everyone is riding on the fact that The Nationals are going to have something called ‘Alligator Stir Fry’.”

That's pretty good--we had that exact item at Florida's Seafood in Cocoa Beach at Spring Training!! (The African Queen)

“Yeah, it really is a good idea!!”

So, after all this preparation—are you going to take a break for a couple of days? (SBF)

“I will take tomorrow off (Easter Sunday). I will be back Monday and work the entire week through Opening Night. Then, we actually have a week off until the next home stand on the 7th (of April). But, I probably will not be off. There is never enough time in the day. After that first game, we will be making sure everything ran properly. And if it didn’t, make the adjustment. 36 Hours in Two Days is pretty tough—that’s what we have to do this coming weekend.”

To keep everything fresh—how long ago did you start prepping? (SBF)

“We prep all the ingredients—dicing the tomatoes, whatever it may be—we do that one day out. On the day of the event—we get in here as early as 6 O’clock in the morning. Sometimes at 4 O’clock in the morning and do the actual cooking itself. That way, stuff comes out fresh, and looks fresh. Just look at the vegetables down there—they have not been sitting for hours. We will do enough to just get things open. But, as things get low—we will saute up some more vegetables, or salmon—anything that makes the experience different.”

You know those words are a far cry from Aramark at RFK Stadium? (SBF)

“Well, I can’t speak for others, but I want everyone to come to Nationals Park and enjoy the experience with our offerings—no matter what their price range. People should go home happy (from the ballpark) and feeling they received value in return. If we have provided that—I am very, very happy.”

With that Our Conversation with The Executive Chef--Michael Snead--concluded. In a short period of time--Sohna and I have become very fond of New Nationals Park's Executive Chef. His passion for his profession is beyond reproach. He really loves his daily chores. Mr. Snead cares about the food offerings at the new ballpark. Hopefully, his enthusiasm will result in many happy customers--for years to come--at baseball games for Our Washington Nationals.

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