By Graham Kates, @GrahamKates
Last Sunday when Eli Manning was leading the Giants to a comeback victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, fans at the Giants’ MetLife Stadium were chowing down on Food Network meat sandwiches and mac and cheese.
The Food Network is selling its signature sloppy Joe — ground beef, with slab bacon, tomatoes, pepper jack cheese and fried onions — as well as Joes with regional twists, hot dogs and other food at six NFL stadiums this season.
While the offerings are regionally inspired, Food Network Chef Charles Granquist said he and his staff took pains to not seem trite.
“We didn’t want to go into Buffalo and say, ‘We’re making wings.’ People in Buffalo can already get great wings. We tried to show that we really put thought into it,” Granquist said in a recent interview.
The version served at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium is a take on the beef on weck, a sandwich that’s popular in Western New York. It’s topped with grated horseradish and served on a weck roll.
Other versions include: Chicago (topped with giardiniera and provolone cheese), Cleveland (topped with cole slaw), New York/New Jersey (topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers and oregano) and St. Louis (topped with provel cheese and smokey onion relish).
The dishes were all developed in the Network’s test kitchen (the same place where Bobby Flay honed his craft for all those Throwdown episodes) and then adapted for concessions by concessioner Delaware North, said Granquist.
Granquist said the kitchen, where a team of chefs is almost constantly firing up rows of cooktops to test anything from recipes for shows to cookbook entries, “is the heart and soul of the Network.”
A few feet from Granquist, Mirriam Garron (from the aforementioned Throwdown with Bobby Flay) was testing Ethiopian injera recipes.
“Since we don’t have a show going on right now, this is a time when you’ve got a lot of recipe creation going on. Mirriam’s learning about Ethiopian cuisine, so if something comes up down the line, she’ll be ready,” Granquist said.
That kind of experimentation led to the creation of the Network’s popular Buffalo mac and cheese (macaroni and cheese, tossed with grilled Buffalo chicken and topped with blue cheese and bread crumbs), said Michael Baru, the director of New Business at Food Network.
“Sometimes there’s a really great recipe that makes us say, ‘Geez this food would work great in stadiums, it’s perfect.’ The mac and cheese is an example.”
Baru said offerings like sloppy Joes and the Buffalo mac and cheese, would have been difficult to sell before the stadium boom of the last two decades.
“The commissaries (in old stadiums) were all in the basement, they were an afterthought, and why it was always hot dogs in warmers,” Baru said. “Now, the newer stadiums have full kitchens behind the concessions stands. We can make and serve things like sloppy Joes fresh.”