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Starting around 1 a.m. this morning, employees with the food and beverage company Centerplate were rolling into the kitchens at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium to prepare food for the hungry fans attending today’s homecoming game against the Boston College Eagles.

The rule of thumb is to start working roughly 12 hours before kickoff in order to prepare the food for the day. The kitchen leadership and stadium management have to factor in the weather, who the University of Louisville football team is playing and what time the game starts when ordering ingredients for general concessions and the suites.

In the suites, the popular items tend to be traditional tailgate dishes at the start of the season, and then after that, it varies quite a bit. The most popular item for concessions is the Super Nachos, which is a large helping of chips with cheese and salsa.

“Two people can split it and almost make a meal out of it,” said general manager Martin Durbin.

While some food options are simply football must-haves like chicken wings, Centerplate staff at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium reviews its menu and adds new items every year. (See details about new suite and concession offerings in the slideshow above.)

“We look at the trends,” said Chef Frank Marrara. The team pays attention to what people are eating when they go out to dinner with friends or significant others — and they take cues from what trends are migrating this way from the West.

Marrara created the Tuscan Super Salad to take into the super food and health food trend. The salad includes baby kale, carrots, shaved Brussel sprouts, radicchio, cabbage, cranberries and toasted pepitas.

Other menu items come from a problem that’s arisen. This year, for instance, Centerplate replaced its Philly cheese steak option with a hot Italian beef sandwich. People liked the cheese steak, Durbin said, but it wasn’t working.

“The process of making it, it was taking a lot of space” on the food carts, he said, and “it was really messy.”

Workers had to hand out utensils to customers because the au jus would seep clear through the bun. The hot Italian beef sandwich is easier to eat and assemble on the food cart but still has a lot of flavor from the spicy sweet peppers on top, Durbin said.

“A lot of thought went into that sandwich from the bread all the way to the peppers,” Durbin said. Centerplate tested 10 different breads before settling on one.

Because the hot Italian beef sandwich has been popular, Durbin said they are considering making a hot Italian beef nacho next year with kettle chips. Another menu item football fans could see next year is beer cheese nachos.

Durbin said he was approached this year by a Kentucky Proud beer cheese maker, but it was too late to get it on the menu.

About 85 percent of produce that Centerplate uses at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is sourced from Kentucky. However, in late fall and winter, the company has to compensate for the lack of available produce locally by flying in ingredients from California, Mexico and elsewhere.

Durbin said most people don’t realized that the stadium does business year-round. In addition to football games, Centerplate caters roughly 150 events, such as weddings, proms and trade shows, at the stadium each year.

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