Geoff Straub, executive chef for Parkhurst Dining, is making transparency his mission at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex—the hockey facility where the Pittsburgh Penguins practice and eat most of their meals. According to Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, 42% of consumers say their definition of health has changed over the past two years, with a majority—54%—now calling for more menu transparency, and 47% saying they are more concerned about additives in their food.
While the training table menu is Straub’s main responsibility, he’s also in charge of the complex’s concessions and cafes frequented by fans and the many youth hockey teams that play on the ice. When Straub came on board this fall, he literally cleaned up the menu, eliminating all processed foods and making everything from scratch—including the ketchup. Here’s how he’s winning the healthy eating game.
1. Eat like a hockey star
The kids look up to the Penguins as role models, so Straub adapts training table dishes to the cafe. For a new grain salad, he combines high-protein kamut with roasted carrots, caramelized onions and spinach, calling it Salad 87 after Penguins star Sidney Crosby’s jersey number. “The kids eat it because he does,” says Straub.
2. Benching the fryers
Straub removed fryers from the complex’s kitchen, so there are no french fries or onion rings available. Instead, he serves baked brown rice chips and quinoa chips as sides. Antibiotic-free chicken fingers are hand-breaded with panko and pan fried, and another kid favorite—pizza—was reformulated with a crust made from protein- and iron-rich spelt flour that’s milled in-house. “It took a while to win the kids over, but eventually they became fans,” says Straub.
3. Tailgating with a healthy twist
Professional hockey players need re-education too, especially the younger guys, says Straub. Since hockey season starts around the same time as football season, he held a “healthy” tailgate party as one of the team’s training meals. On the menu were grass-fed beef burgers, organic hot dogs, kale slaw and sweet potato salad. “I wanted a fun way to show them that healthy eating can be more than steamed veggies and broiled chicken,” Straub says. The tailgate idea really took off, he adds, and these items now are served at the concession stands.
4. Going with the grain
“Everything around the entree counts, so we have developed salads and sides that have the highest nutrient level to help the body recover and repair itself,” Straub says. That high-protein kamut is also turned into a risotto, for example, and roasted vegetables with pesto and a lentil salad are other new sides he has introduced.
5. Cleaner condiments
As for the from-scratch sugar-free ketchup, Straub makes two versions with a base of tomatoes sweetened with either agave or honey. Winning over diners was a challenge—especially in Pittsburgh, where Heinz ketchup rules—but it’s well-received now, he says.