CHICAGO (CBS) — To some, ballpark food is almost as important as the game itself.
“I think it goes hand in hand especially in an iconic ballpark like this,” Wrigley Field Executive Chef David Burns said.
Burns is in charge of preparing the food and the menu for the masses at the Friendly Confines. A Chicago native, Burns previously worked at local restaurants Le Bouchon and La Sardine. He’s a former French chef, so ballpark cuisine was a new challenge for him.
“I’ve been cooking for about 22 years,” Burns said. “It took me a little while to get adjusted to the ballpark food, but by having these chef tables, and our freedom to play with, we can still have that fun.”
With a staff of more than 750, he makes sure concessions are fresh, menus are prepared and the premium and suite food top notch for events and home games at the stadium.
“For a 1:20 game, we get here about 6:30 in the morning and I go around the ballpark to make sure everything is in, I talk to the purchasers, other managers, keep constantly moving,” Burns said. “I run the whole show.”
On this day, he’s busy in the kitchen in the Audi Club, a banquet of food served daily to season-ticket holders and club members before the game.
“We have four different chef tables,” Burns said. “We have themes. We have a carving table. We always do a fan favorite table as well. We also try to do healthier tables. We can change the theme all the time.”
And with all due respect to peanuts and cracker jack, ballpark food has changed over the years. That’s why Burns says he’s always thinking of new ways to bring variety to the menu.
“Creative items prepared more to order, as opposed to the rolled hot dog that’s been sitting in the warmer,” Burns said. “We want to be ahead of our competition. Now they’re putting higher end restaurants in these ballparks. We have a couple new kitchen areas in the bleachers were we can prepare food to order. We are also working with more local people. We have Hot Doug’s in the bleachers now. We will be more modern with the new renovations.”
But the staples are still the favorites.
“What are the most popular items?” Burns said. “Oh, hot dogs, no doubt that and nachos and the soft pretzels. Those are still are biggest sellers.”
If you’ve been in one of Wrigley Field’s many suites, the Levy Restaurants’ dessert tray is a fan favorite.
“It’s a wow experience,” Burns said. “When that cart comes up to your suite, the door opens, people are like wow. We have four of five different cakes, dessert bars, little bags of candy, ice cream. It’s a standard in our company.”
From the Joe Maddon Italian hoagie to the traditional Wrigley Dog to the two-pound Big Slugger Nacho’s, food brings people together. Add an iconic ballpark, and Burns says it’s about making memories and traditions. He says he’s just glad to be the one helping to create the experience.
“Families coming for the first time, the dad who’s been here many times who’s bringing his son for the first time, getting that hot dog, going to the seats, talking about when he was a kid what he had,” Burns said.
And like baseball, gorging on our favorite ballpark foods is another one of America’s pastimes.