Behind the Scenes: Feeding a Frenzy
For the 15,000 fans attending Winnipeg Jets games, the team competing on the ice takes centre stage. But little do fans know, there’s another team working behind the scenes to make every visit to the MTS Centre a memorable one.
Centerplate, led by Executive Chef Roger Wilton, has been the MTS Centre’s Event Hospitality partner since 2004, when the downtown venue first opened.
“It’s all about the fans,” says Wilton. “We want every single person who steps inside the MTS Centre to be delighted by the experience. Last season, on a typical Moose game-day that meant serving between 6,000 to 7,000 fans. Now we have over 15,000 guests every game”. Fortunately, with the hospitality team Wilton has in place, they are more than up to the challenge.
On game days, Centerplate gives Jets fans a number of ways to make their trip to the MTS Centre special.
Fans have the opportunity to have a sit-down meal at the Exchange Restaurant on the event level, where Wilton and his staff provide a menu of roughly 20 food choices, served in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
The suite level offers a more extensive menu, about 40-45 food options, served conveniently against the backdrop of the on-ice action below.
And, of course, there’s the most popular food and beverage source of all, the many concession stands located around the main and 300 level concourses, serving up traditional fan favourites, local flavors and new chef-designed creations.
However, Jets fans are not the only ones on Wilton’s list of people to delight on game day.
“We serve the media, which is about 75 to 100 people each game,” says Wilton. “We also provide meals for True North personnel who are working the game, as well as for the Jets players’ wives and girlfriends.”
Like a winning team on the ice, Wilton and his staff rely on extensive preparation, organization, and a dash of creativity to manage the hospitality during a Jets game. The challenge – during the game, food and beverage orders are arriving from locations around the MTS Centre simultaneously, with orders sent to one location, the main kitchen.
“Orders come to the kitchen from all over the centre electronically, and we place all of the information in a central area of the kitchen. At that point it’s like a finely tuned machine, every member of our team playing their own role” says Wilton. “After preparing the food, a huge key is tagging every item, because we have food being delivered to so many locations.”
With fans, media and working staff all expecting perfection, it takes a team of 45 to 50 cooks working throughout the day and night of a game to ensure that everything goes according to plan. And still, there’s one other group of people that Centerplate must cater to.
“When in town, we feed the Jets players on a regular basis,” says Wilton. “On game-day, the meals become specific. Each player has a preference as to what exactly they like to eat before a game. Some are a little superstitious. And we’ll try as hard as we can to get whatever they want.”
There is, however, one important condition. For the Jets, Wilton will only prepare nutritionally-sound food.
“Coach (Claude) Noel, and (Strength and Conditioning Trainer Lee Stubbs) keep an eye on what we prepare for the players,” says Wilton. “We don’t cook with butter, and nothing is deep-fried. Everything is as natural as possible. We use fresh food, and stay away from frozen foods as much as possible. The players stick to the main staples - chicken, pasta, fish and vegetables.”
As high performance athletes, the Jets players and their training staff are on a constant lookout for the latest and greatest food and beverage choices to give them an advantage on the ice.
“Right now the players are big into coconut water,” says Wilton. “It’s great for hydration, and delivers a wide array of nutrients that the players need. They drink it all day long.”