- Former Palace chef Lamar Nolden takes over stadium’s kitchen
- Former ski resort chef Tim Hendren to succeed Nolden in 2019; Joe Nader left in November
- Stadium’s top chef oversees food for Lions games, concerts, private events
Former Palace of Auburn Hills executive chef Lamar Nolden (left) is training Tim Hendren to take over as executive chef of Ford Field, home to the Detroit Lions and multiple events throughout the year.
Ford Field has a new executive chef for Detroit Lions games and concerts.
In fact, it has two top chefs.
Former Palace of Auburn Hills executive chef Lamar Nolden, 47, was named to same role at Ford Field role earlier this year by stadium concessionaire Levy Restaurants, but he will handle the job only until another recently executive hired chef is trained to take over. The succession plan is in place because Nolden will subsequently concentrate on his full-time job as the regional executive chef overseeing concessionaire Levy’s contracts in Michigan and its University of Arkansas athletic department account.
At some point after this football season, the Ford Field top chef role will be assumed by Tim Hendren, who was hired earlier this year from an upscale Denver ski resort where he managed several restaurants as executive chef. Nolden will spend this season training Hendren to take over the job that’s as much traffic cop as chef — the stadium has 65 game-day kitchen staff and hundreds of others handling food and drinks for nearly 70,000 fans, players, coaches, staff, and media on game days. Concerts and events can be just as big.
“We know Lions fans expect the best from us, and their partnership ensures we will do just that,” Levy said in a statement. “Tim is an extremely accomplished chef in his own right, so he and Lamar together are really a powerhouse duo that will push our culinary offerings above and beyond.”
Changing of the guard
At Ford Field, Nolden replaces Joe Nader, who had the job from 2005 until November when he and his No. 2 chef at the stadium, Scott Breazeale, left to launch their own upscale chocolate business and expand a growing meal prep service for area gyms. Nolden spent time working with Nader last season, and was then interim executive chef when Nader left.
Nolden since 1999 has worked for Chicago-based Levy, which has been the Ford Field food and beverage concessionaire since the 64,500-seat NFL stadium opened in 2002. He was a sous chef at Ford Field when it opened before moving on to manage Levy food accounts throughout the country. Levy in 2009 got the concession contract for the Palace of Auburn Hills and its sister venues, and brought Nolden to the arena as executive chef in 2014.
After the Palace closed because the Detroit Pistons left for the new Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit — its food is managed by rival concessionaire Delaware North Sportservice of Buffalo — many of Nolden’s sous chefs and staff jumped to open roles at Ford Field. Nolden remained to oversee Levy’s sister palace properties while also helping Nader at Ford Field.
His strategy is simple: “It’s all about being organized. Focused. And just surrounding yourself with a great team. If you don’t have a great supporting cast, you’re bound to fail,” he said. “My main goal is to light a fire under our culinary program.”
That includes training his eventual replacement.
“The guy is really upbeat. He fits in perfect with Ford Field,” Nolden said of Hendren, a longtime chef for Colorado’s Vail Resorts Inc. whose holdings include Michigan’s Mount Brighton.
Hendren wasn’t available for comment.
Nolden, a Trombly High School graduate who began his chef career washing dishes at Italian restaurants, spent 2017 handling the food service for the closed-Palace’s sister venues: DTE Energy Music Theatre, Meadow Brook Music Festival and Freedom Hill. Prior to returning to his native Michigan, he spent years running the food operations for Levy’s NASCAR track accounts and its contract with TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Nebraska from 2010-14.
Preseason training for kitchen staff
This summer, he’s been putting the Ford Field kitchen staff through its preseason: a Kenny Chesney concert last Saturday, and this weekend’s Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert.
“These concerts are our test runs getting us ready for the preseason and regular season,” Nolden said. Most of the building’s food work is for Detroit Lions games. The first of two preseason games is Aug. 17, and the eight regular-season games begin with a national spotlight that will draw an especially big crowd — Monday Night Football on Sept. 10. The building has never hosted a Lions playoff game, but Nolden and Hendren would handle that if Detroit makes the postseason.
Nolden’s business plan for the Ford Field kitchen is to use more fresh local produce, source protein from local farms and create sausages and special blend hamburger patties in-house.
Menu planning began as soon as last season ended in January, he said, and fans will see new items such as the “Impossible Burger” that’s a plant-based patty that Nolden said “eats and tastes like it’s ground beef.” It will be served in the Corner Lounge, Bud Light Zone and the 129 suites.
“We took into consideration, when we were writing the menus, a lot of the feedback from the fans from they were looking for,” he said. “What the fans are going to see is the quality of the food improve, the freshness, and the speed of service.”
The team will unveil its high-profile and unique menu items during a media food tasting next week. Teams have begun putting on such events to showcase their creations and “wow” items (think big blue donut) in recent years as the competition for fans’ discretionary spending dollars has increased.
Upgrades around the stadium
The Lions spent $100 million in 2016-17 to upgrade the stadium’s interior, and that included the addition of new clubs and event spaces that put more pressure on the kitchen staff. Nolden and Hendren are in charge of managing those growing food and beverage needs, which require days of planning and preparation each week. The stadium renovation included a new kitchen on the north side of suites and clubs, which eases pressure to cook and transport food around the venue.
Ford Field will have additional digital point-of-sale systems to ease ordering and paying during games this season. Nolden wasn’t immediately sure how many new POS units have been installed. They’ve been added to food stands in batches over recent seasons.
In addition to 10 Lions games, Ford Field hosts several concerts each year and major events such as monster truck rallies and motocross. It also hosts small to large private events, such as the annual Hob Nobble Gobble fundraiser attended by 2,000 people. Nolden and his staff must handle all of it.
Levy also keeps a restaurant inside Ford Field open during the week to feed the 900 people who work daily in the stadium, which has thousands of square feet of commercial office space for companies such as advertising agency Campbell Ewald.
In addition to feeding fans, the stadium kitchen staff feeds the game officials, network TV crews, reporters in the press box, the players and coaches and owners of both teams, visiting dignitaries and VIPs, and league officials. Even the walking beer vendors, who work for a third-party specialty firm called Rocket Man, get a little box lunch assembled by the kitchen staff and delivered before the game. There’s also postgame food, and the food for private events, catering and all meals at the Lions’ headquarters and training facility in Allen Park.
A typical game includes basic stadium food staples such as 6,000 hot dogs, 4,000 individual pizzas and 3,000 orders of nachos.
Returning to Ford Field is nostalgic for Nolden.
“When we first took over this account, the roof wasn’t even on the stadium yet,” he said. “It means the world to me to come back.”
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