Carolina Hurricanes Game Day – Great Hockey, Great Hospitality, and Great Food

As a huge hockey fan, I was more than ecstatic when I was able to spend the entire day behind-the-scenes with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Carolina Hurricanes are an American professional hockey team within the National Hockey League based in Raleigh. I was lucky to have Chris Diamond, Director of VAB Catering for the Carolina Hurricanes, as my personal tour guide for the day. He showed me just what all it takes to get the food ready for game day. Talking with Chris, meeting the chefs and seeing the staff in action all gave me an even greater appreciation for everything they do to make game day go smoothly for us as patrons. After a day with them, it’s clear they are known for two things; delicious barbeque and genuine care for each other and the community. I realized that although the Carolina Hurricanes in its entirety sounds overwhelming and daunting, they are comprised of people who care more about each individual’s experience than just having warm bodies to fill the seats of the arena. They really embody Southern charm and hospitality while being an integral community member here in the Triangle.

Carolina Hurricanes Game Day - Practice

Carolina Hurricanes Game Day – Practice

Chef Braxton - Saute Station for the Team and Media

Chef Braxton – Saute Station for the Team and Media

Chris Diamond - With Their Famous Fresh Popcorn

Chris Diamond – With Their Famous Fresh Popcorn

We started our morning in the main kitchen, located underneath the arena.  Delicious wafts of barbeque met my nose with both shock and awe.  Shocked to see not one, but two huge smokers filled with over 100 pork shoulders smoked with hickory wood.  In awe when Chris told me they smoked around 50,000 pounds of meat and sold over 80,000 sandwiches last season.  The kitchen crew takes their food seriously, but isn’t afraid to have a little fun along the way, evident by the names Executive Chef Michael Flood dubbed the smokers – “Sho Nuff” and “Big Mama.”  The barbeque sauces are also made in house, giving fans a choice between a vinegar-based Eastern sauce or a Western tomato-based sauce.  Chris says you always know when it’s sauce making day, as the aroma carries throughout the arena.

Chef Kevin - With BIG MAMA, One of the Onsite Smokers

Chef Kevin – With BIG MAMA, One of the Onsite Smokers

Just off the main kitchen is the bakery.  Yes, I said bakery.  In an entertainment arena.  Please let that sink in while I give you more information about the large quantity of baked goods coming out of this tiny space.  A couple of years ago, in an effort to reduce costs and improve quality of product, the decision was made to make as many of the breads and sweets in house as possible.  As VAB Catering is an independent company working exclusively within the walls of PNC Arena, they had the leeway to induct this change.  Shipping in bakery ovens (more racks in a convection oven to allow for more items to be baked at a time), a proofer (helps dough rise) and dough roller (efficiency in making product – this was previously done painstakingly by hand!) were instrumental in allowing the kitchen staff to produce over 75% of the baked goods and sweets in house.  So the next time you’re biting into The Carvery’s house-smoked brisket sandwich, South Street Cheese steak, Sliced pizza or a Metro Deli sandwich on rye bread, you’re eating the product of perfection rolling fresh out of the bakery.

Elizabeth - Demonstrating the Dough Roller

Elizabeth – Demonstrating the Dough Roller

Phillip - Working With Fresh Bread Dough

Phillip – Working With Fresh Bread Dough

We ventured on through some back hallways until we came upon the huge cooler of beer, the envy of any beer lover.  This refrigerator is full of beer kegs from national brands to local breweries of Lynnwood Brewing Concern, Aviator, Foothills and Deep River, to name a few.  Chris says the inclusion of local options in their roster of beer choices was another way to form partnerships with local businesses and give customers what they want.  “With so many great local breweries within North Carolina, we knew the demand for craft brews is there,” he continues.

Beer Keg Room - Ready for Game Day

Beer Keg Room – Ready for Game Day

As we walked upstairs to the main concourse, Chris told me there are over 40 menu items offered throughout PNC Arena, which shocked me.  I knew the level of quality and care put into the meal options were great, but I didn’t know it was on this high of a level in an arena that serves such a large volume of people, too.  Despite this, Chris told me he sees the same thing every game night.  He says, “People come in with their tickets, find out where their seats are and eat directly across from wherever their seats may be.  Very rarely do I see fans walking around the concourse to see what other menu options are available.”  I have to admit, I was one of those fans.  Only last season did I witness and experience the deliciousness that are the Pulled Pork BBQ Nachos from the North Carolina BBQ Company stand, one of VAB Catering’s original concepts.

BBQ Nachos - NC BBQ Company, Sections 104, 115, 123, 130, 306 and 326

BBQ Nachos – NC BBQ Company, Sections 104, 115, 123, 130, 306 and 326

Pulled BBQ Sandwich

Pulled BBQ Sandwich

Pork Shoulder - Shredded Fresh To Order

Pork Shoulder – Shredded Fresh To Order

With over 15 original concepts developed by VAB Catering, there is certainly no lack of creativity or variety of food options.  No matter where you are within the arena, there is something to pique your interest from savory to sweet.  Be sure to check out our handy guide that will help you the next time you’re perusing for some good eats at the arena.

Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @ChefTessaRD.

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