Michael Lockard hustled around Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday afternoon, discussing strategy on his cell phone and checking off a “hit list” of final preparations for what he called “probably the most extreme event” in his especially cutthroat field of competition.
The big event was still four days away, but after a whole year of training, he could already see the finish line: “I feel like I’m sliding into home plate.”
“Plate” being the operative word: Mr. Lockard, 35, is the top-ranked chef at this year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament.
And if you thought the action on the courts was intense, check out what goes on in the kitchens, where scores of cooks from around the country scramble to feed some 650,000 people in just two weeks.
The stats are simply mind-boggling: “Last year, we did 230,000 hamburgers and hot dogs, 30,000 pizzas, 5,000 pounds of pasta, 13 tons of steaks, 77,000 pounds of chicken breasts, 4.5 tons of crab and lobster,” said Bill Wilson, director of operations for Chicago-based concessions behemoth Levy Restaurants, which oversees all food service at the Open, as well as at a number of other high-profile national events, including the Kentucky Derby, the upcoming Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa Bay, and all the Pepsi Center activities at this week’s Democratic Convention in Denver.
“It got to the point last year where we had depleted almost all of New York of crab and lobster,” Mr. Wilson said. “Our fish purveyors had to go to secondary markets outside of New York just to get it.”
The Open is also one of the most physically grueling gigs in the grub biz: In 2006, one overworked and utterly exhausted chef stumbled into a walk-in freezer and fell asleep—standing up, no less!—before being dramatically rescued from a possible frosty death by some of his colleagues.
Yet, year after year, some 250 chefs and restaurant managers, plus about 1,500 hourly workers, sign up for the formidable 14-day marathon of meals.
“As a chef, there’s no other experience like it,” said the Open’s top toque, Mr. Lockard, who previously worked at such esteemed Manhattan eateries as Le Cirque, Aureole and Metrozur, before signing on with Levy in 2007 to help manage and redevelop the sprawling culinary real estate inside the National Tennis Center in Flushing.
“We have five different restaurants—not including the dining rooms for the players, the umpires and media,” Mr. Lockard said. “And we have all these concession stands.”
An entire “Food Village,” in fact, which, in addition to offering the usual sports-stadium staples of hamburgers, hot dogs and fries, includes separate stations for sushi, Thai shrimp, curried lamb handi, penne rigate pomodoro, carne beef tostadas and cold Maine lobster rolls.
Heck, there’s even a trendy new wine bar this year in the tennis center’s south plaza, where chef Tony Mantuano of Chicago’s famed Spiaggia restaurant serves up small plates of prosciutto and flaming ouzo shrimp with glasses of prosecco and rosato.