Eric Borgia shows off his famous Nonna Fusco’s Meatball Sandwich. Credit: New York Jets
For Super Bowl Sunday, Eric Borgia wants to cook like you do at home, but the only difference is he has 80,000+ fans at the table. In 2010 Borgia started as executive chef at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Jets and New York Giants, and on Feb. 2 the stadium will house its first Super Bowl.
“A lot of the menu we created based on what we believe people in this region would be eating in their own Super Bowl parties at home,” says the chef, who is going on his 12th year working for Delaware North Companies Sportservice and has served as private chef to VIPs, including rock legends the Rolling Stones, at the Super Bowl in 2006.
Could you explain the idea behind "Home Food Advantage"? It goes back to when we initially opened this building. We took a food tour around all of New Jersey and Manhattan and all the boroughs to see what people are eating, what restaurants are popular and we wanted to incorporate all those flavors into the stadium. Everybody knows that hot dogs and chicken tenders are popular sporting events food, but New York is the restaurant capital of the world, so we had to basically turn up our game for this stadium to feature all these New York great foods that are available to these people.
How does New York and Northern New Jersey fare shine through in the menu? Basically it’s the flavors of the region. Things like our new “hot corn beef hoagie” — corn beef and pastrami — is a Manhattan staple, so we had to incorporate that into our menu. Things like the New Jersey boardwalks, with all the seafood, we incorporated. Things like Junior's Cheesecake. We figured out all these iconic flavors and brands of New York and New Jersey and we wanted to incorporate them into our stadium and the Home Food Advantage, so to say.
Did you alter your menu when you found out that Seattle and Denver are playing the Super Bowl? We bet they have some food traditions too. They do. Being that this is the first time the Super Bowl is being held in New York, we thought it was important for them to eat like a New Yorker that day and that’s what we are doing. It’s the perfect platform for us to showcase the flavors of New York City.
What’s the most popular dish at the stadium? We have a lot of new items right now. We think that the hot corn beef hoagie is going to be very popular because all of the famous New York delis and so we have a spin on that. We think that our Nonna's Meatballs are very popular and we think that the Fulton Seafood Combo attributed to the Jersey Shore will be popular, as well our tacos. A lot of the street foods is where we think people will flock — with the smells and the visual.
Are people ready to be challenged on their sport foods or do they still ask for hot dogs? Both! I think people are defiantly interested in seeing all these food types that are available and hopefully try one of the new items as well as the hot dogs later in the game. People still want a hot dog. You can have the guy who spends the most money on the ticket or the guy who spends the least on the ticket. The chances are they both want a hot dog.
You're cooking for more than 80,000 people. How do you prepare for the big day? We wrote some of these menus over a year ago, and now we are in full production. Things like the meatballs we have already made and cooked and froze. Even though we [do] so much preparation now, there is still a majority of the items — like all our sandwiches, anything that’s on bread, all our salads, all our vegetables — that’s all day of and day before. We want to deliver the freshest possible product. All the breads will be delivered the day of the event. A lot of stadiums will take their bread deliveries on Friday or Saturday and then ship it out to their departments, but being that we are in New York doing what we are doing, bread is very important to our guests.
How many people are working in the kitchens? Two hundred cooks, 50 of those are chefs, 20 local chefs, 30 visiting. Probably around 30 kitchens, but there is one main commissary and basically every one of our departments — whether it’s catering, concessions, premium suites — they are all based out of the same kitchen. And then as we get closer to the event day all these foods move up throughout the building. I mean, a 2.1 million-square-foot restaurant is what we have here.
What will your Super Bowl day look like? To tell you the truth it’s really about the day before. The most important things we can do all happen the day before, and then the day of it we have 2,400 employees and basically it’s in their hands to execute it and to engage the guests and to sell all the food we have been working on. Our real work is done by that day and hopefully I get to watch a few plays, who knows.
Make Borgia's Nonna Fusco’s Meatballs at home: (makes 12 to 16 meatballs)
Ingredients 2 lbs. ground beef, veal, and pork 2 whole eggs 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs ½ cup grated Locatelli brand or other Pecorino Romano cheese 2 cloves fresh chopped garlic 4 leaves fresh chopped basil 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley 4 oz. marinara sauce 1 cup dry white wine ½ teaspoon dry basil ½ teaspoon black pepper ½ teaspoon kosher salt
Mix all ingredients together well. Let sit about 1 hour. Form meatballs with ice cream scoop. Dip hands in wine to finish rolling meatballs. Place on greased (olive oil) pan. Bake 365 degrees for about 25 minutes. Remove and let cool. Add marinara sauce. Simmer for about 2 hours.