The Chicago Blackhawks are fueled to succeed. During their thrilling runs to the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015, the Chicago Blackhawks made nutrition a priority.
Through the 2012–13 campaign, the Blackhawks' fuel was coming from the JW Marriott Chicago, which made a sports nutrition program for the club. The hotel’s “banquet culinary program” makes partnerships with groups that stay at the hotel, which also includes visiting NFL teams taking on the local Chicago Bears. “Sports teams tend to have a specific set of dietary requirements set forth by their nutritionist or dietician,” says JW Marriott chef Russell Shearer, who takes pride in the program’s ability to meet the high standards of those professional athletes. “We work closely with the team to provide the necessary nutritional content.”
Steve Conklin, director of sales and marketing at JW Marriott Chicago, says teams provide a run down for the hotel’s culinary team to work with, but that the hotel itself instills some ground rules to keep the athletes in check. One way is with an alcohol ban—and even a lockdown on (gasp) mini bars. “The hotel has to be committed [to the program],” says Conklin. “Once you understand that their needs are very consistent, you either do it or you don’t. There is no middle.”
According to Chef Shearer, the culinary program for teams staying at the hotel differs by each sport, with the common purpose of helping athletes recover from their latest workout while also preparing for the next. When it came to the Blackhawks and their quest for the Cup, it became essential to keep the players energized to push through those final rigors of a long (and draining) hockey season.
“Hockey is an endurance sport. For the Blackhawks that meant that their menu comprised high-quality carbohydrates, lean proteins, and nourishing vegetables,” says Shearer. “During the Hawks’ Cup run consistency was key; changing the preparations or ingredients could have a detrimental impact on performance as the players' bodies attuned to a certain diet.” Shearer noted menus that sourced local produce such as asparagus and salad greens, and beef from regional Niman Ranch farms in Illinois and Iowa, as well as seasonal fish like wild Alaskan halibut. (Certified sustainable, of course.)
The Blackhawks even had their own secret recipe for a recovery and pregame drink, a magic potion that included an array of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Suffice to say, it sounds like a recipe the Bruins would have loved to get their hands on following that triple-overtime stunner stolen by Chicago.
What’s next for JW Marriott’s athlete-friendly eating program: “Sports science and physiology have made great advances in injury prevention and coaxing the maximum potential from the human body,” notes Shearer. “I believe that as returns diminish from science-based training, the way we fuel athletes will be more important than ever. It is our job to provide healthy and inviting foods that meet these ever-changing needs.”
Shearer pointed to the adaption of differing diets, such as Paleo and even—gasp—vegan, as signs of what’s to come for the hotel program. The chef also mentioned crafting future menus to balance acidity and alkalinity in an athlete’s body, which have an impact on speed of recovery.
Ready to get down to the specifics? Read on for two great recipes straight from the source.
For an Asian-style twist on the typical wing dish, Chef Shearer brings in a mixture of honey, rice wine vinegar, ground Szechuan peppercorns, and most importantly, Shichimi Togarashi, a spicy Japanese seasoning blend. “The Togarashi gives the familiar heat while the honey and vinegar play in the realm of sweet and sour,” says Shearer. “The peppercorns add a light citrus essence and tantalizing sensation. All together, it redefines the wing experience."
1 lb fresh chicken wings
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp + 2 tsp kosher salt
3 qts canola oil
½ cup rice wine vinegar
¾ cup local honey
1 ½ Szechuan peppercorns
2 tbsp Shichimi Togarashi
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ cup scallions, cut on bias for garnish
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1) Place chicken wings in a bowl, toss with ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Then place in fridge for 20 minutes.
2) While the wings are sitting and marinating, in a heavy bottom pot (6qt) add 3 quarts of oil, attach candy or frying thermometer and heat oil to 250°F over medium heat. A countertop fryer can be used for this step as well; follow manufacturers directions for operation.
3) Once the oil has reached 250°, remove the wings from the fridge. Drain off any liquid that has accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Add the wings to the oil with tongs making sure not to splash hot oil. Check to make sure that wings are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once all of the wings are in the pan, adjust heat to maintain 250°. Cook for 20 minutes stirring twice throughout the cooking process. This first cooking confits the wings, making them very tender. At the conclusion of the 20 minutes, turn off the heat and remove the wings with a slotted spoon and allow them to drain on paper towels to remove excess oil. Place wings in a container large enough to fit them in a single layer. Place in fridge uncovered overnight. When oil is cool, clear it of any debris. Cover once cool.
4) The next day, bring oil to 350° over medium heat. While oil is heating mix the wing sauce. In a mixing bowl whisk 2 teaspoons of salt with rice wine vinegar until salt is dissolved. Add honey, Szechuan peppercorns, Shichimi Togarashi, and sesame oil. Whisk to fully incorporate.
5) When oil is hot, remove chicken wings from fridge. They are fully cooked at this point; this second frying is to crisp the skin and heat the wings thoroughly. Carefully add wings to pan, avoiding any splashes of hot oil. Fry for 5 minutes (time will depend on size of wings) or until skin is crispy and golden brown. Remove from oil with slotted spoon, toss with sauce, plate, and garnish with chopped scallion.
Note: If you are pressed for time the wings can be cooked the day of from raw in 350° oil. Ensure wings have reached an internal temperature of 165° before serving. Toss with sauce as above.
Meal will serve 4
Seared Halibut with Kale and Carrot Slaw
A light, yummy, and healthy dish inspired by the Hawks' stay.
2 tbsp organic apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp + 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, peeled and finely diced
1.5 tsp agave nectar
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cups organic green kale, destemmed and cut very fine
1 organic carrot, peeled and shredded
1 lb wild Alaskan halibut cut into 4 oz portions
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1) In a bowl, mix apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, shallot, and agave nectar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2) Add kale and shredded carrot to apple cider vinaigrette. Toss and set aside.
3) Heat a heavy bottom saute pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season halibut with salt and black pepper, when pan is hot, sear fish taking care not to crowd the pan. Turn halibut when it's golden brown on first side, about 4 minutes. Cook for another 3-4 minutes to desired doneness.
4) To serve, place kale and carrot slaw on plate, top with seared halibut.
Meal will serve 4