Josh Farmer, executive chef for the South Bend Cubs, has been working on making ballpark fare better than fair. Owner Andrew Berlin wants the food to be stellar.
As noted in my recent review of the food on opening night, the food at Four Winds Field is better this year than it used to be, and far better than much of what’s sold at concession stands. It’s already left the offerings at Notre Dame Stadium behind.
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Farmer, who started the job a week before opening day, and Nick Barkley, director of food and beverage for the South Bend Cubs, are far from done.
Farmer’s the first executive chef the minor league baseball team has ever had, Barkley said, though it’s a position that has long been needed. Farmer worked at restaurants in Indianapolis and South Bend before joining the team. On Wednesday, he was sporting team apparel, not a chef’s toque.
“I’m loving it,” Farmer said. “I thought it would be so cool to come to a baseball park to work every day.”
He’s overseeing production of food for the concession stands and carts throughout the stadium, and developing new products.
After I wrote that the stadium needed better desserts, he went to work and has two items nearly ready for sale in the stands.
He’s created a bearclaw made with almonds, marshmallow and chocolate inside a puff pastry crafted to look like a playful paw. “It’s a work in progress,” he said.
The version I tasted this past week didn’t have much marshmallow flavor and needed a dipping sauce. I suggested salted caramel, the current fad in the dessert realm. Farmer was considering a brûléed marshmallow creme sauce.
The second new item is a waffle sundae. Through a partnership with Carbon Golden Malted Waffles, a historic South Bend company, the team will be able to offer waffles in the shape of a paw, topped with vanilla ice cream, blueberry and strawberry purees, whipped cream and chocolate.
It’s already a pretty good sundae, but I think it would be even better with some crunch from waffle cone bits or nuts.
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Both items will be made at the stadium, and the bear claw will be heated to order and served warm. They’ll cost around $5, give or take — the same amount as a waffle cone or a helmet with ice cream. It’s also close to the price of a Ben’s Soft Pretzel.
I’m guessing there are a lot of vendors who would love to have a perch in the stadium, particularly with sellout crowds. I’m wondering if there’s potential for a Chocolate Charlie sundae or confection since Claey’s Candy is literally across the street.
And, of course, there’s Rise N Roll Bakery. The Middlebury bakery opened a Mishawaka store last week, and using the cashew nut crunch or cinnamon caramel donuts in some way would likely be a hit. Barkley said he plans to reach out to the bakery.
Barkley likes the offerings at the stadium, but said they’ll continue to evolve. Popcorn, dubbed “Cub Corn,” is a likely addition.
The stadium also has tastes of Wrigley Field, where the Chicago Cubs play, including Old Style beer and Italian beef sandwiches.
Barkley doesn’t plan to do gimmicky foods that some minor league ballparks employ. Those are about publicity, not sustained sales. He’d rather have someone return to the ballpark for a burger than be shocked by it.
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His goal is to be a dining destination. “We want people to come here to eat,” he said, noting they want the best food possible, not just ballpark food.
The food is already pretty good. The ownership and management cares enough to work on it, and hiring an executive chef was part of that. Just like the baseball, it’ll be fun to see what happens.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.