Food has become quite the talking point as teams and leagues enter their new ‘bubbles’ to resume play. The Penguins are no different when it comes to caring for a large group of professional athletes who need to eat well-balanced meals to maintain their condition.
And now the team has pulled back the curtain just a bit to show how players are being fed while practicing for their play-in series against the Montreal Canadiens.
From the Penguins:
When players around the league were allowed to re-enter their respective practice facilities on June 8 to begin Phase 2 of the Return to Play plan, one of the many changes in protocol was no food was allowed to be consumed on-site. Any meals provided to the players had to be individually packaged in to-go containers for out-of-facility consumption.
If you ask anyone in the Pens’ organization, they will tell you the nutritious meals prepared daily by chef Geoff Straub of Parkhurst Dining and his sous chefs, Bob Schiffhauer and Chris Culp, go a long way towards keeping the players in peak physical condition. This is one of the many ways the Penguins try to build a competitive advantage on the ice, so finding a solution to ensure the players continued to enjoy such quality food stood high on the priority list.
In a pre-pandemic world, the Penguins would enjoy daily breakfast and lunch buffets cooked and served on site in the lounge by Straub and his staff. These days, players have to think ahead about what they want to eat during the upcoming week.
At the beginning of each week, the players are text a menu that includes three breakfast and two lunch options per day. All of the chefs work together to produce the menu, which Figurski then types to make sure it looks good when it’s delivered to the players’ phones.
The chefs would prepare the meals as the players were wrapping up practice and conducting media interviews in the locker room. Now, all meals are done in advance, in large part because of all of the post-cooking work that goes into getting the food into the players’ hands, which you’ll read more about below.
While no part of the process is as time consuming as actually cooking and baking the food, the Parkhurst team is really putting in the overtime when it comes time to package the meals. To ensure contactless pickup, the crew has to go through a multi-step packaging process daily.
Each meal, whether it’s breakfast or lunch, is packaged in tin containers that have each player’s name, and during Phase 2, his group’s color. Because most players ordered both breakfast and lunch, all meals were then placed into bags that, you guessed it, had the same labels on them so players knew which ones to grab.
The NHL protocol for both Phases 2 and 3 states that team chefs cannot have contact with the players or “player access personnel.” This means that once again, Straub’s crew, like all team chefs around the NHL, has had to get creative to distribute its food.
Every day, not long before players leave, but before they exit the building, Straub or someone from his staff must first load all the bags with meals into coolers, then lift those heavy coolers into their company van. They then circle the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, dropping off the coolers in the rear of the facility at each player’s respective exit.
This entire process is surely exhausting, but it is just one of the several steps that organizations must take in this new world to fully ensure player safety.
And while the Penguins are just one club out of several who are battling challenges in the sports world, the road to finishing seasons is will continue to be a bumpy one, as seen with the NBA and WNBA and their bubble trouble.
Let’s hope for a smooth and seamless transition if/when the NHL resumes play.