by Nicole Ruiz Hudson
I might as well fess up right now—this writer is not a sports fan. When I go to a game, it’s really just an excuse to load up on all the ballpark snacks. Therefore, the kitchen stadium tour that a small group of us students got to take recently was the perfect way for me to see Yankee stadium.
Hot dog and nacho assembly lines were nowhere to be seen on this visit. As much as I love concessions, the kitchens we saw are producing food in a completely different league. Chef Nichole Sutton, of the Legends Club, led us on rare behind-the-scenes tour of the elite clubs and luxury suites that are providing elevated dinning experiences to Yankee fans. However, these kitchens aren’t trying to completely undo themselves of their ballpark concession roots either. According to Chef Nichole, the goal is more to kick it up a few notches, so rather than getting your average hamburger, here you might be served a short rib slider topped with foie gras. You can also expect to find classics like seafood cocktail. They’re taking high-end ingredients and presenting them in accessible and familiar ways.
The surroundings are also just a little more luxe than your average bleacher seats. Fans with deep pockets can buy suites, which are basically like a baseball fan’s dream apartment. They include indoor and outdoor seating from which to view the game, big screen TVs, and individual kitchens. However, you’ll never have to lift a finger in this kitchen as the suites receive full-service catering.
The Yankee Clubs have a more social ambiance at which fans can enjoy restaurant-style dinning within the ballpark. Chef Nichole’s club, Legends, has the look of a chic, modernist cafeteria with a lot of dark woods, black leather, and steel chairs. The bright, airy space is organized around three buffet stations at the center of the club themed around air, land, and sea. Each club has a different vibe, but no matter where you go, you’re surrounded by Yankee history as photographs of team members hang on just about every wall. A lot of these clubs also have amazing views of the field to enjoy as you savor your meal. Most of the clubs require membership; however, the Audi Club does provide reservations on a per game basis.
These club areas are quite large and have multiple areas, and Chef Nichole made it clear that to serve so many people each game the kitchens really have to hustle. (Legends alone serves approximately 1,200 people on average.) Moreover, sometimes conditions aren’t exactly ideal as some of the kitchens are rather small given the large production scale. The pastry kitchen in particular felt pretty tight with just our small group and the few staff members that were working during our visit. Every game is a make-it-work situation, and they get it done.
Product selection is also given a lot of consideration, as one would assume. As much as possible, the clubs try to source locally and sustainably with an eye on social and environmental responsibility. However, there is a bit of a balancing act that has to happen given the sheer quantities of product required. Additionally, certain items are provided by sponsors, which also factor into purchasing decisions.
Besides getting a very different look at stadium eating, our group also got the rare privilege of getting within a few feet of the green. I have to admit that getting a taste of what it might feel like to emerge out of the dugout and step onto the field was pretty cool.
When I next return to the stadium, back under the constraints of a student budget, I’ll probably opt once again for my usual concessions. I’ll still enjoy my hot dog as always, but I will definitely be thinking longingly about those sparerib sliders.
After 9 years working in the entertainment industry, thoughts of food and cooking got the better of Nicole Ruiz Hudson's imagination. She is now enrolled in the Classic Culinary Program at FCI and hopes to marry her new skills, love of entertainment, and her passion for food in a career in food media. When she is not cooking and eating, she is recording her culinary adventures on her blog, nibblinggypsy.com