Professional athletes are essentially mutants. They were blessed with longer legs and stronger arms. They run faster than us and jump higher. They’re good mutants, though, like the X-Men. Their superpowers allow them to do things we can only dream of and that’s why we spend so much time paying attention to them and the games that they play. When you look behind the scenes, though, the mutants have help. They have trainers and coaches and all kinds of support staff that help them get even better. That’s where Chris Miles comes in. He’s a chef who caters to Major League Baseball teams playing in the Spring Training Cactus League in Arizona. He’s the guy who feeds the beasts who go into beast mode.
Miles is a straight-shooter who got into the baseball catering business 12 years ago after spending time in the corporate world as a restaurant manager. His Phoenix-based company, Cookin’ on Wood, takes care of every player coming to training camp (both major and minor league) for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs. After the regular season starts and the teams leave town, Miles sticks around and feeds the boys during pretty much every other league that continues down in Arizona from February through October.
I caught up with Miles during a Diamondbacks game at the tail-end of Spring Training to get the skinny on just what it’s like to be responsible for the culinary needs of all of these baseball mutants.
So let’s talk about the Diamondbacks. How do you create the menus for the team?
We look at a variety of things. Whether it’s a home game, a road game, a split squad, a night game, a day game, that type of thing. We work with people in the clubhouse, we work with the front office and we work with the trainers to develop menus that best fit what they want the players to be fed.
Can you tell me about a typical menu?
Breakfast is basic egg dishes, egg whites, a variety of breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos, eggs to order. A lot of fresh fruit, fresh dark berries, smoothies, steel-cut oatmeal, that type of thing. The biggest challenge, I would say, would be variety. Y’know, eating every day, you’ve got to keep it fresh.
Lunch we do items off the grill, such as turkey burgers, chicken sandwiches. That type of thing, as well as a lot of fresh vegetables. We try to stay away from the starches and heavy, fatty red meats. More lean cuts of chicken and turkey.
What’s the biggest challenge for you in preparing for not only a Major League club, but extended team members as well?
Variety, it’s just variety. Think about it — you’re coming in here to eat every single day. If I was to feed you steak and lobster every single day, it would still get old. So variety is, no question, our biggest challenge, especially at breakfast. There’s only so much you can do with an egg.
Do you find that any one position more than another is a little more demanding? Are the catchers a little more finicky?
I wouldn’t say demanding. There are players who are very into their personal nutrition. There are players who are trying to eat specifically for what they’re trying to accomplish. There are players who have become gluten-free, that’s become very popular. Not a lot of sugar. Players are just more aware of their diets these days, they’re just trying to eat healthier.
What’s the most difficult request you’ve ever gotten?
A low-fat chocolate sundae.
How did you accomplish that?
I don’t think we did. (laughs) Honestly, they’re pretty easy. The chefs understand that when a player walks through, we know what he likes. A lot of soups, mostly broth-based soups with vegetables, we stay away from the cream-based. You get to know, after fifty days of serving food, what players like to eat.
What the most popular thing that you serve?
Turkey burgers, hands-down.
How many pounds of turkey burgers do you serve? How many hot dogs?
No hot dogs. That’s a bad word.
Why is that?
If it was a hot dog that was made with quality ingredients, then it would be okay. But we try to stay away from pre-prepared foods and all that kind of stuff.
So turkey burgers…
We go through two cases a day, so that’s, y’know, that’s 60 times 50 days. It’s a lot of food.
For you as a chef, what’s the most interesting thing that you cook? I can imagine cooking turkey burgers every day gets old for you.
We go down to the Dominican once a year. I take all my fellow chefs to learn Dominican food to help appeal to the Latin contingency. So Pollo Guisado — it means stew. Concón — it’s a rice that’s kind of charred on the bottom. It’s kind of a delicacy to them. We call it “oh, we overcooked the rice,” but they like it.
Like a soccarat in paella?
Exactly, yeah. So, that’s popular even amongst the non-Latin players. It’s one of those things that we try to put out there that’s different.
Now that Spring Training is over, does it feel kind of like the end of summer camp?
Yep, that’s exactly what it feels like, saying the goodbyes and that whole thing. The fun part for us now is that we get to go to Chase [Field, regular season home of the Diamondbacks] and watch the finished product and say, “Remember when we fed him and he came in?” And now we’re watching them do their profession. It’s kind of a cool little deal.
And you’re a part of that!
Yeah. We think that we’re a part of the spoke of the wheel that’s going to help them succeed.
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