It takes more than Philly cheesesteaks to get to the Super Bowl. Nutrition is a major part of athletic performance. For football players, this means major amounts of calories, lots of nutrients and, for the Eagles, lots of flavor, comfort-food favorites and a must-have breakfast fried rice.
FM talked with Jason Buniak, senior chef manager with Flik Hospitality group for the Philadelphia Eagles, to find out what it’s like to feed the hunger for football greatness. During the season, Buniak and the Flik culinary team make three—sometimes four—meals every day for the entire organization, including staff, coaches and players.
Q: Congrats on the Eagles’ success! What has the atmosphere been like?
A: This season’s been great. The positivity around here is exciting and everyone comes to work with something to look forward to. It does make a difference. A good vibe throughout the season just keeps the entire building lifted.
Q: What kind of cuisine have you been most excited about making for the team recently?
A: Most recently, barbecue and Tex-Mex. Just this season, we got a brand-new, custom-made smoker.
Q: What kind of smoker is it and what kind of meats have you been smoking?
A: It’s an outdoor, double-barrel smoker with shelves. We’ve been doing a lot of different stuff: your basic brisket and pork shoulders, pork ribs and also beef ribs, turkey cutlets, chicken wings, salmon, trout and short ribs. For the pork belly banh mi, we marinate the pork belly first, then do a dry rub and smoke it.
Q: What’s your most-requested menu item?
A: The most talked-about item that we have to have every Friday before a game is breakfast fried rice. As soon as they report in training camp, they’re asking for it. We render bacon, sauté onions in the bacon fat, add soy sauce and mix it all together with rice and scrambled eggs.
Q: Any other winning dishes on the training table?
A: Brandon Graham’s [Eagle’s defensive end] favorite is when we do the hibachi menu. Breakfast tacos are big. We have shrimp a lot, because it’s quick and easy and the guys like it. We have a taco or fajita bar once a week and they love our pasta bars. That’s usually the pregame meal Saturday night. We had a Cajun pasta bar that was really popular. Gyro bars are also a big hit.
Q: Football players eat a lot, right?
A: Yeah, these guys aren’t your average everyday Joe. When someone walks up to the breakfast station and asks for six eggs over-easy, that’s not weird for us; that’s normal.
Q: But you’ve been working to make healthier food?
A: You find a balance. You can’t force nutrition on anyone. You’re just going to make for an unhappy situation, so we try to come up with as many healthy options as possible but also the comfort foods they get back home…what mom used to make. Even for standard comfort-food recipes, we can make it a little healthier, a little bit of a cleaner recipe. I have a Flik R.D. at my disposal for nutrition tips. We talk to players and ask them, “What do you want to see and what have we done that you’d like to see again?”
Q: What are some requests from back home you’ve gotten?
A: Last season we were playing Cincinnati and we sometimes do a “devour the competition” theme with dishes from the opposing team’s city. We have a player from Cincinnati and he had a Cincinnati chili recipe from his grandma that we used.
Q: What’s the range between picky eaters and more adventurous players?
A: It’s a 53-man roster, so tastes are definitely varied. From plain and not wanting to try new things to guys who will try almost anything. And then guys who want to see it done just like mom used to make, especially if they’re down in the dumps. It’s definitely a challenge to get everybody happy, but when you’re winning, it helps.