Some chefs are simply in their element when covers are flying in and a record number of guests are rotating in and out… and then there’s the next-level world of sports entertainment dining.
With more than 68,000+ attendees at a single event who are really ready to chow down while cheering on the Seahawks, Taylor Park knows how to keep the masses happy. As Executive Chef at Lumen Field, Taylor oversees a veritable empire of food programs at the stadium, from messy-but-good concession creations to modernist fare for VIPs – and everything in between.
This week, Spiceology’s Test Kitchen Chef Matt Broussard and our Sr. Director of Innovation Tony Reed will be onsite at Lumen Field to kick off a Tailgate Takeover series where fans can hit up an exclusive food truck before the game and help support local Seattle nonprofit FareStart.
To get a lay of the land from the insider himself, we sat down with Taylor for Spiceology’s Periodically Inspired interview series that dives deep into a chef’s delicious creativity. Read the full interview and get to know Taylor below:
What does a typical day for you look like?
“It starts by arriving at the stadium and then checking on product coolers, checking in on my sous chefs – I have one for premium fare and one for concessions – and seeing what I can take off their hand so they can be on the floor and out of the office. I get the pulse of what’s going on through them – how the food is turning out, staff morale, things like that.
My day also includes checking on menu needs – I get approached pretty quickly on any changes by staff and the chefs. We have a great team here, like our Catering Director Michelle. Together we try to make things seasonal and up to date. It’s fun, it’s a lot of camaraderie.
Because our staff is still limited, I’m in the kitchen more than usual; I’m hands on as much as I can, during my day I can look at two to four hours of working next to people on the line, and the rest of time I’m taking care of logistics.”
People around you, music, books, travel – where do you find inspiration when you create new dishes?
“Anywhere from surroundings, going out to eat, watching TV. My wife was a pastry chef and she’s really my muse – by the way she’s going to kill me for saying that (laughs). But she has a great palette for flavors. And honestly sometimes I’ll just randomly think of something and think, hey that could be good!”
When did you first find a love of cooking?
“I started dabbling in high school with cheesecakes and then found out I could get paid for them. I found a love for confections first. I attended the Johnson & Wales culinary program in Rhode Island and then did an all-encompassing internship at The Cloister in Georgia. I ended up baking, but the kitchen needed help so I stayed on longer. It was fun, but it was way too exact for me. When you’re working a hotline, you can improvise more. Baking was too precise. I was like “Ahhhhh!” (laughs) I didn’t have the patience for it.
I got my BA degree in Nutrition, and I started out with healthy cooking and spa cuisine stuff. Fast forward and I had a passion for moving out west – I worked all over the Seattle area, but it was also the recession, I was starting a family and I needed something more stable. I started as an executive sous chef in sports entertainment in 2012. I was traveling all over the country for events. Then I was at T Mobile Park for five years, but baseball is a hustle, and I was looking for something… less revolving around baseball (laughs). I made the move to Lumen Field and never looked back.”
What’s your dish ideation and creation process?
“It transpires in different ways, I do dream in food, or I’ll write menus down that sound interesting. Sometimes you know something will just work. Inspiration comes in all different forms, including my staff. We’re all new right now; we’re working on collaborating more. Right now it’s my menu but I give them carte blanche. It’s mine but yours, as long as it looks and tastes good. I don’t want to be that guy who insists their chefs do a dish a very specific way – I want them to grow. It’s always interesting to see someone’s concept of your dish, and most times it’s great.”
How do you approach plating a dish? Do you consider plating an art?
“I compartmentalize where and what I’m doing. I’m a “keep it simple” kind of guy. But sometimes you go the state fair route: big, messy and delicious. I look at a dish and ask what’s going to make it fun, and – as much I hate this term – but what will make it “Instagram worthy”. I want to make a dish look like it’s worth its money. We want to make sure diners are not disappointed. I have the super fine dining experience with catering and those precise, bite-size foam apps, but sometimes I just need a solid chicken tender at the concessions.”
What advice would you give a chef still in culinary school?
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because that’s where you’ll learn the most. You have to create meals, and the first couple will probably be bad (laughs) Or maybe you think they’re good at the time, but in retrospect, they might not be (laughs). Don’t be afraid to be adventurous or to fail – in hindsight you’re always measuring your own growth.”
Do you feel competitive with other chefs?
“I’m gonna have to say yes. It makes you strive and makes you go. I’m not going to trip anyone up – it’s more fun and bettering oneself. It’s a friendly competition – no sabotage (laughs), and it helps you grow and get out of your comfort zone.”
How do you see restaurants operating in 2022?
“I’m praying that whatever is keeping employees away from restaurants – whether it’s Covid or financial – I’m hoping that changes and they find that passion. I’m hoping there’s a large group of people that find that passion again.”
What’s one of your favorite ingredients to cook with and why?
“I’m a big fan of fresh produce, in general – it keeps us lively. It’s a great way to stay motivated – like how can I use this produce and keep its integrity? Take heirloom tomatoes – you want to showcase their beauty and flavor. Also, a farmer puts a lot of work into growing the produce – crops can be fickle, it just takes so much time and effort. So I want to honor that labor and treat it properly.”
What would you consider a defining trait of the Seattle food scene and chef community?
“Camaraderie more than anything else. As big as the city is, we all know each other. There’s always a degree of knowing each other – it’s a small tight-knit community. It’s why I love working at Lumen Field – I’m constantly meeting new chefs and making new introductions. Chefs become friends very easily with each other, especially when you show hospitality to one another – those small signs of gratitude go a long way.”
Favorite dish to cook for yourself?
“I’m a sucker for a whole roasted chicken.”
Favorite dish to cook for friends and family?
“I do a lot of sous vide at home, it’s always a crowd-pleaser and then I sear that off on cast iron.”
What’s a spice you consider under-valued?
“My roots are as a nutritionist, so I’d say cinnamon. It’s one of my favorite spices, and you can use it on steak or in Hispanic foods, plus it has anti-inflammatory benefits.”
What are your breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant recs when in Seattle?
“For breakfast, let’s see – I never eat breakfast (laughs) – today I had an apple. But one of the best breakfasts out would be Biscuit Bitch. Head to Ray’s Boathouse for lunch – it has a great outdoor deck and fantastic food. For dinner, I’m a Canlis alum – they’re a fantastic family to work for.”
Check out all the delicious eats by Taylor and his team happening over Lumen Field over at their Instagram.
*All photos via @lumenfield on Instagram.