OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Ravens arrived at the team’s training facility for offseason workouts, cranes loomed overhead and men in hard hats wandered the grounds. A $45 million renovation to upgrade the team facility was underway, a project that would bring a new locker room, new meeting rooms and new offices for the business side. But there was one room that needed to be finished first, in time for the players’ arrival at training camp: the new cafeteria.
“This is where everybody congregates, like a kitchen in your house,” Tenille Moore said, as she gave The MMQB a tour of the cafeteria one day during training camp. “Anyone can come in here, from the grounds crew to the janitor to the players. Anyone.”
Moore works for The Classic Catering People, a company that has run the Ravens’ kitchen since the team was founded in 1996. She’s the Ravens’ Director of Food Services, a role she’s held for about 10 years.
A lot has changed since she started. She points out the new amenities: the sitting area that can accommodate 150 people (up from 90); the flat-screen TVs; the new outdoor patio; the gas fireplace. The room looks more like an upscale Italian restaurant than a mess hall—that is, if the restaurant served everything from Italian to kale chips, comfort food to pickle juice.
The first thing you notice when you walk in is a wall of refrigerators and cabinets that is a strictly players-only area. It’s technically called the “Players Performance Fuel Bar,” where the players can grab a pre- or post-practice drink or snack. The fridge is stocked with things like beet juice, green tea, honey water, coconut water and yogurt. Moore and her staff prepare a number of snacks in-house: carrot-cake energy balls; spicy avocado tuna wraps; vegetable spring rolls with peanut sauce; apple slices with peanut butter, walnuts and coconut; homemade kale chips; avocado deviled eggs; little shots of pickle juice; shots of turmeric; and cottage cheese with strawberry flavoring.
This is what an NFL cafeteria looks like in 2017, as teams around the league place more emphasis on nutrition and healthy eating. “Ten years ago, we would’ve done burgers, hot dogs, fries,” Moore says. “We took out the fryer. We don’t have that anymore. We’re all about introducing them to new foods and teaching them the best way possible to eat.”
The teaching is done apparently through conditioning over time. The Ravens don’t monitor what the players eat for the most part, Moore says. The team simply makes sure that the cafeteria is stocked with mostly healthy options, and the nutritional info of all these various foods and products is uploaded to the players’ iPads. Only if a specific player needs to lose or gain weight does the team design a food program and give them guidelines.
The players typically eat here four times a day—breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a heavy snack after practice. And the players’ favorite snack, by far, is peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, always made with regular peanut butter and grape jelly, made fresh daily.
“We have three or four people who make the PB&J’s,” Moore says. “They know when to start in order to be ready.”
And once they put the sandwiches out, they go fast. Moore estimates that the players eat about 150 PB&J’s a day—roughly 750 over the course of a five-day game week.
There are, of course, more filling options available. The new cafeteria has a salad bar, a deli bar, a buffet line of hot dishes and a rotating special dish. When The MMQB visited for lunch, the buffet line had rotisserie chicken, pasta, grilled flank steak with roasted corn salsa, chicken caprese with a balsamic glaze, grilled asparagus and wild rice. And the special dish was a bite-sized crab cake sandwich.
“It’s a smaller portion, so it’s a little healthier,” Moore says. “Although, we do use top-quality crab. We probably have one of the best crab cakes in Maryland, but not many people get to have it because they don’t eat here.”
The kitchen tries to use healthy ingredients in every dish. If they make chicken pot pie, for instance, they’ll use whole-wheat croutons to make a crust. But if the staff gets too fancy with its dishes, the players will ignore them.
“We had polenta the other day—no one got it,” Moore says. “They ask, ‘Should we try it?’ This is how we explained it to them: It’s like the Italian version of grits. You don’t want to get too detailed with what anything is. You just say, ‘It’s good, try it! Just give it a chance!’ And then they liked it. We’ll show them how to plate it up. We had a chicken with a mushroom sauce, so that went well over the polenta. Once you teach them that, they kind of get it. But a lot of these guys aren’t used to that.”
Serving a team of 53 players, Moore has learned that their preferences vary widely. Take Joe Flacco, the Ravens’ franchise quarterback. “He is one of the players who’s not picky whatsoever,” Moore says. “He’s kind of simple, but he’ll branch out and try things. He’s funny. He’s one of the players who’ll come up and ask for recipes. He likes to talk about the food. ‘How do you guys make those pancakes? I want to make them for the kids at home.’”
Ray Lewis was a bit more picky. “He loved his tuna melt sandwiches,” Moore says. “Then everybody wanted a tuna melt sandwich. We were so sick of tuna melt sandwiches.”
Others have even stranger requests. The veteran safety Lardarius Webb “is just happy to get some grapes, in a little bowl.”
“That’s all he really wants, and he doesn’t really branch out,” Moore says. “But he’s so happy to get those grapes in the bowl. He’ll go around, look [at the buffet] and he’ll be like ‘Hmmm, can I get grapes?’”
Meanwhile, Terrell Suggs, the veteran lineman, only asks for about four or five egg whites and saltine crackers. “Suggs is usually the loner,” Moore says. “He’ll just sit by himself and eat his crackers and egg whites.”
If this all sounds too healthy, the players do get a few indulgences. The staff stocks chocolate pudding in the Players Performance Fuel Bar, alongside the green tea and coconut water. “We get the best chocolate pudding,” Moore says. “They’re not kids, but we give them ‘kid’ snacks.”
Also, after the Ravens win a game during the season, the kitchen puts out a sheet cake around lunchtime on the day of their next practice. It’s a classic sheet cake, nothing extraordinary about it; the kind of cake you might eat at your cousin’s wedding. They do change the flavor up, so one week it may be chocolate, vanilla, or red velvet. Sometimes it’s decorated with the score of the game. (Nothing derogatory, Moore says.) But after months of drinking beet juice and eating kale chips, one would imagine that eating a slice of victory cake must taste pretty sweet.
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