Stephen Tilder, executive chef at Chase field.EXPAND
Stephen Tilder, executive chef at Chase field.
Chris Malloy

How One Person Feeds 48,519 Baseball Fans at Chase Field in Phoenix

The Diamondbacks have advanced to the MLB playoffs. The home team will host a wild-card game at Chase Field on Wednesday, October 4. That means the stadium’s flat-top grills, popcorn machines, beer men, and deep fryers will live to see another oily day of 2017.

Chase Field has a reputation for food.

Good food. Huge food. Crazy food.

Back in 2015, the stadium debuted a beloved monstrosity known as the Churro Dog. For you those out of the know, this dessert lines three ice cream scoops on a churro that stretches across a long, split doughnut shaped like a hot dog bun. The “snack” took the media by storm, going viral.

And it spawned a Chase Field arms race of ever-wilder ballpark eats. One that the ballpark’s latest chef, Stephen Tilder, has embraced.

As executive chef, Tilder oversees food at Chase Field. He's responsible for everything from concessions to private suites. Tilder is a busy, tough man. Though he has a recently busted shoulder that prevents him from cooking with his left arm, he is showing up in spades this week to prep for the wild-card game.

Tilder has a unique culinary mind in that he can track food numbers that utterly dwarf those of your neighborhood restaurant. He has the right brain for food, and also the left. The man gushes about bacon-wrapped sandwiches the way some people talk about sunsets or emeralds.

The role of executive chef — which Tilder's held for two years — is a demanding one. The chef must coordinate for a stadium that fits 48,519 people, all hungry, and many well on the way to drunk.

In fact, there's much more to managing food at a ballpark than dreaming up crazy shit that your average mortal wouldn’t eat unless stoned at 2 a.m.

Apple pie nachos awaiting hungry baseball fans at a Chase Field restaurant.EXPAND
Apple pie nachos awaiting hungry baseball fans at a Chase Field restaurant.
Chris Malloy

In a three-game series, Chase Field goes through 1,200 pounds of chicken breasts between its restaurants, suites, and catering. And another 900 pounds of chicken wings. Those figures don't even include concessions, where more than 700 people work very hard. Four semi rigs shuttle in the beer consumed in a three-game series.

How does Tilder keep track of so many consumable moving parts?

He does not vary from his routine. He keeps lists and obsesses over numbers. During games, he orbits the stadium, going from concession to concession, restaurant to restaurant. He speaks with his chefs. As a result of fastidious monitoring, Tilder says he can predict food sales based on attendance, day of the week, and who’s in town to play the D-backs. He orders food to cover anticipated sales.

Tilder makes a claim that, though bold, illustrates how the equation's variables lead to predictable overall food numbers: “I can call sales for a Game Seven within $100."

The logistics are even more impressive given that certain vendors only deliver on certain days. The main vendor only delivers three days a week. A bakery might deliver on one or two. The delivery finagling alone gets pretty nuanced in light of the "hundreds and hundreds" of menu items Chase offers.

One of the many concession stands at Chase Field.EXPAND
One of the many concession stands at Chase Field.
Chris Malloy

During each offseason, Tilder sets the menu for concessions. He brainstorms recipes, tests them, and revises until new items taste right. For each new food item, Tilder must train his staff on how to make the creation, be it the Churro Dog 2.0, Enchilada Dog, or whatever will follow these favorites.

One of his latest masterpieces is the Bacon-Wrapped Pretzel Baguette. A local bakery, Strictly From Scratch, provides a pretzel baguette, baked specially for this sandwich. Tilder fills the roll with Swiss cheese and Black Forest ham. The sandwich gets swaddled in 12 strips of bacon, then baked. It comes with a pair of dips: jalapeno ranch and honey mustard.

This bacon-corded monster is just one of hundreds and hundreds of food items. For the 2017 season, Tilder debuted more than 30 new offerings.

One of Tilder's latest creations: the funnel cake chicken sandwich.EXPAND
One of Tilder's latest creations: the funnel cake chicken sandwich.
Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks

Tilder doesn't stop there. The most admirable thing about the whole process is that, somehow, the chef finds a way to source some foods locally. He uses local bakeries, sausage makers, and even farms. Because he operates on such a massive scale, Tilder is often able to score custom ingredients that catapult his crazy creations to new heights. He sources a specially made chicken enchilada sausage that he stuffs into a telero roll and covers with tortilla chips. He has the key hookup for that one-of-a-kind pretzel baguette.

His culinary team even makes most sauces and dressings from scratch. He's particularly proud of his salsa, the recipe and production courtesy of a few dedicated employees from Sonora and Mexico City. For a three-game series, Tilder oversees the making of 500 gallons.

The food operation is so massive and ambitious, both in terms of sourcing and imagination, that one could feel that the most impressive thing happening at Chase Field isn't baseball. That said, there’s a crucial game to be played this week, and we'll likely see some fireworks on the old diamond.

For that playoff game, Tilder has some of his own culinary fireworks planned.

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