Chow Time: Steelers executive chef Corey Hayes has a big job and a matching appetite




A hulking Steeler is ready to chow down. And let's be honest: He doesn't care so much about the low-carbon footprint of the chicken, or that the lettuce is locally and sustainably grown.

He just eats. And eats.

But Corey Hayes, executive chef for the Pittsburgh Steelers, does buy local to serve up heaping portions of comfort food that he learned to cook from his grandmother growing up in Athens, Ga.

Chef Hayes is a lot like the gladiators he feeds.

He's a big guy with a big appetite.

With a baby face softening a shaved head and a solid frame, the 280-pound chef power cooks and power eats. "I can hold my own. I can probably eat some of these guys under the table. There is nothing I don't like to eat."

Inside the cafeteria at the Steelers training facility on the South Side, where grown men can down 10 fish tacos and dozens of wings at one sitting, eating is not all about gluttony. The chef's cafe, part of Parkhurst Dining, has added healthy options for the health-conscious Steeler.

Chicken is sometimes flour-coated and baked instead of fried. Turkey bacon is served instead of pork bacon. The chicken marsala is baked, instead of browned in a half inch of oil on the stove.

But Chef Hayes, 31, wouldn't compromise on his specialty, collard greens, insisting on regular bacon. He couldn't bear to use turkey bacon in his authentic Southern recipe.

On a recent day, the players lunched on Italian hoagies -- not exactly health food but made from ham that comes from Hatfield Quality Meats in Hatfield, Montgomery County, and capicola, sopressata and prosciutto from Parma Sausage in the Strip District.

Most pro football players don't sing the slow-food mantra of local sustainable food. If you ask them, they might say it is nice to eat an apple from a local farmer. But most football players aren't talking about it the way the students did at Carnegie Mellon University, where Chef Hayes worked as a sous chef for Parkhurst Dining.

Buying local is important for Dan Rooney, owner of the team.

About 20 percent of the food used at the Steelers training facility is locally sourced, but most is not organic, said Jamie Moore, Parkhurst's director of sourcing and sustainability. Parkhurst recently switched from Styrofoam to biodegradable paper products -- and initially some of the Steelers balked. It's not that they had anything against going green. But the shape of the new cups made it harder for players to dip their food into ranch dressing.

"They go nuts over ranch dressing," even slathering it over lasagna, Chef Hayes said. "Whatever floats your boat."

And hot sauce. They can't get enough of the stuff.

Chef Hayes also grows his own herbs just outside his kitchen. What's the herb of choice of Steelers? "Football players don't have a favorite herb," he said. Then he added: "Pepper."

Inquiring minds might want to know -- how many chicken wings can Big Ben down? Does Hines Ward have a secret food vice? Does Troy Polamalu have a sweet tooth?

Chef Hayes' mouth is as tight as a pressure cooker lid. No names, he says. You are more likely to get strategy for an upcoming game from Coach Mike Tomlin than eat-and-tell secrets from this chef.

He will speak only in generalities about the eating capacity of some 70 Steelers on the active roster, injured list and practice squad. He also cooks for coaches and staff, as well as the University of Pittsburgh Panthers (120 players and coaches), in the cafeteria-style service.

The Steelers and Pitt players once went through 10 gallons of ranch dressing in one day and 300 pounds of wings in one night. "They just love their wings," he said. The players can consume 120 chicken breasts in one day.

Many Panthers can out-eat the Steelers because they are younger, Chef Hayes said. Sometimes, a Panthers coach will tell Chef Hayes to direct a player to something healthful, such as a chicken breast and salad. But the Steelers make their own nutritional decisions. "They are adults."

Chef Hayes grew up cooking in Georgia, and he always played football in high school.

He came to Pittsburgh to attend the then-International Culinary Academy (now Pennsylvania Culinary Institute). He felt at home in the city. "I call Pittsburgh the northern South," he said. He likes to hunt and cook game at home, so he started hunting in Western Pennsylvania and cooks deer, geese and squirrels at home. "Squirrel are awesome," he said. "They are like sweet chicken."

He worked in Giant Eagle's gourmet department and then Roxy's Cafe at South Hills Village. This is his fourth year with the Steelers.

He can cook gourmet food, but the players and Dan Rooney like simple comfort food.

"If I do beef roulade with mushroom burgundy sauce, Mr. Rooney will say, 'That is too crazy.' He doesn't want me to go too far."

STEELERS HERB-ROASTED CHICKEN

PG TESTED

This recipe was adapted from one shared by Corey Hayes, executive chef for the Pittsburgh Steelers. We cut back a bit on the fresh rosemary, and his ovens tend to run hot, so we raised our temperature and cooking time to what's reflected below.

  • 3- to 3 1/2-pound frying chicken
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil, tender stems and leaves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, stemmed and chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse chicken and pat dry.

Mix together all herbs, garlic, salt and pepper.

Place chicken on a greased baking dish or roasting pan. Rub chicken with olive oil, then rub with herb-garlic mixture.

Roast for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours until browned, crisp and no longer pink inside when you cut between thigh and body and a meat thermometer registers 180 degrees.

Serves 4.

-- Chef Corey Hayes



STEELERS COLLARD GREENS

PG TESTED

  • 1 bunch (about 1 1/2 pounds) of washed, trimmed collard greens
  • 2 gallons of boiling water
  • 1 pound slab bacon, diced
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Seasoned salt to taste

Bring water to a boil. Add diced bacon, and let cook while cleaning and washing collards. Tear collards into large pieces, add to pan and let simmer 4 to 6 hours until tender. Add vinegar and sugar. Season to taste with seasoned salt.

-- Chef Corey Hayes


Cristina Rouvalis can be reached at crouvalis@post-gazette.com .




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