Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Erin Wishon's All-Star menu pitches way more than hot dogs

Posted By on Wed, Jul 4, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Chef Erin Wishon is gearing up for big crowds at the K.
  • Chef Erin Wishon is gearing up for big crowds at the K.
Erin Wishon is about to throw a legendary barbecue. Aramark's executive chef plans to cook 50,000 pounds of meat for All-Star Week, in the Southern Pride smokers behind the right-field fence at Kauffman Stadium.

"We've got to show people what Kansas City is about, and I embrace the barbecue," Wishon says. "We do everything in-house. We make our own sides and sauce, and smoke everything on hickory and cherry."

Because she expects an estimated daily crowd of 50,000 people (that's more than twice the average of the 21,000 who attend a regular-season game at home), Wishon has been crafting the menu since late January, when she began overseeing the 550 people who prepare and serve food at each Royals game.

"Hot dogs and nachos are probably 95 percent of what we serve," she says. "They are in every suite. Even the commissioner will be having hot dogs. But the other 5 percent can be extremely high-end."

That means, for instance, a smoked-duck salad with candied-peach-and-jalapeño jam - dainty bites more commonly found on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art than under tents in the Truman Sports Complex parking lot.

Wishon, who admits that she eats no more than a token hot dog each year, didn't have ballparks on her career radar. The Omaha, Nebraska, native graduated from Northwest Missouri State in 2000 with a degree in food-service management and a minor in business. She envisioned a career as a food-and-beverage director or a pastry chef. But over the year she spent at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, it became clear that she was going to be a savory chef.

"It was too much of a science," Wishon says of making pastry. "I liked cooking a bit more on the fly."

Her first brush with baseball was as a sous chef at Fedora on the Plaza, which became the short-lived George Brett's. She had accepted a position, in 2005, as the chef de cuisine with Aramark when the Isle of Capri casino called and offered her a job as its executive chef. She oversaw the kitchen there for four and a half years before Aramark lured her away in 2010. Wishon started that summer and was immediately sent to St. Joseph, where she helped prepare team meals for the Kansas City Chiefs' training camp.

"Those guys are very healthy in general, but anything with cheese and butter, that's definitely gone first," Wishon says.

At Arrowhead, with its 70 concession stands, she helped launch the Mobile Melt, a food truck that allowed her to indulge her love of pastry with a signature sandwich of peanut butter, chocolate and bacon. During the past two seasons, she has handled every task from selecting products to designing menu items to cupping fries during concession rushes.

"It's like you went to Overland Park and someone said, 'Take this block and run all the restaurants on it,' " Wishon says.

And, as on every good block, there's a lot of variety. At the Kauffman concession stands, Wishon is making a dent in all those ribs, beef and pork with offerings such as the "Cheesy Corn Brisket-acho" (tortilla chips topped with smoked brisket, barbecued beans, cheesy corn, coleslaw and barbecue sauce) and the "KC Rib Eye Stack Sandwich" ( a seasoned rib-eye with cheddar cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, pickle and barbecue sauce, all in a bun).

"You'll be full," Wishon promises.

In the suites, fans can fill up on shrimp-cocktail shots with heirloom-tomato gazpacho and peach cobbler in mini Mason jars. Outside the park, she has worked up a series of gala menus for tent parties before the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game. Ice bars and ornamental fountains guarantee that this won't be a standard tailgate. The All-Star Game logo is being branded into the rib-eye steaks and even featured on chocolate-covered strawberries.

"It's a great idea, but I'm sure after 5,000 berries, we'll all be crying and covered in chocolate," Wishon says.

Once the game actually starts, Wishon won't know the score until after it's over. She'll be making sure that all 650 gallons of barbecue sauce are ready or that the crispy avocado tacos (with the fruit tempura-battered), from the KC Cantina Food Truck behind right-center field, are indeed crunchy.

"I want people to walk around the stadium and go, 'Wow, that's good,' " Wishon says. "I want people to be surprised that food in a ballpark could be that good because it's not just hot dogs and nachos. All the eyes are on us. We've just got to make sure we knock it out of the park."

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