Kentucky Derby Chefs Race to Finish

Feeding the tens of thousands of spectators at the annual "Run for the Roses" is never easy. In fact, the chefs spend a year planning what to cook and making sure it all gets done on time. Joe Corcoran of member station WKYU reports on how it all gets completed.


It is no easy task to feed the thousands of spectators at the Derby. Chefs spend the entire year planning what to cook and making sure it all gets done on time.

Joe Corcoran of member station WKYU reports on the race to finish all that gourmet food.

Unidentified Man #1: Still got enough food?

JOE CORCORAN: With a normal crew of 60 turning out hundreds of meals a day, the main kitchen at Churchill Downs is never quiet. During derby week, the staff swells to 700. In perpetual motion at the center of it all making sure the prime rib is rare and the pastries are creamy, is Executive Chef Gil Logan.

Mr. GIL LOGAN (Executive Chef, Levy Restaurants, Churchill Downs): There's nothing in here that I haven't done wrong. That's how I learned, I've made it - I've screwed up, burnt, broken everything there is to do in the kitchen, I just don't do it twice. There's no book you can go to tell you how to cook food for 40, 50,000 people.

Unidentified Man #2: Come on. Let's go.

CORCORAN: Just for the derby weekend, Logan's ordered food by the ton, the way supermarket shoppers buy it by the pound. Eight thousand pounds of shrimp, 8,500 pounds of prime rib, eight tons of potatoes, two tons of green beans, 18,000 pounds of turkey breast.

Mr. LOGAN:: So, this is as far as I know, it's the largest premium feed that's held annually in this country. I don't think there's anyone else who does it on the planet - that does a premium feed like Derby does.

CORCORAN: That's why his Executive Sous Chef, Jo Jo Doyle, calls himself the busiest man in Kentucky.

Mr. JO JO DOYLE (Executive Sous Chef, Levy Restaurants, Churchill Downs): Well, when you have to coordinate over a million dollars worth of food to come in seven days, it takes a little bit of, you know, coordinating.

CORCORAN: Gil Logan's been head chef at the derby for 6 years. It takes more than a few weeks of 18-hour days to intimidate a man who began his culinary career at the age of six, pulling the heads off shrimp on the outer banks of his native North Carolina.

Mr. LOGAN:: If you got a recipe for four, all you need is a calculator and some more space, and some more people. The ratios don't change, you know, classic vinaigrette is three to one. That's going to be three to one if it's three cups to one cup, three giant 64-gallon trash cans.

CORCORAN: Logan brings in some high-powered help. He calls in chefs from sports venues, including the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Sam Carlson's(ph) in charge of food services for NASCAR. He says a different track means a different kind of food.

Mr. SAM CARLSON (Food Services, NASCAR): The food's better. That's a higher quality food, or you know you got a higher quality patron. I mean, the food is always good quality where it's going to fit our next level, I didn't mean quality so much, but we're taking the food to the next level, and it's anywhere from three to four times the price.

CORCORAN: But all the chefs claimed the derby is actually fun. And even after the last horse runs and the final dishes are consumed, there's not much time to rest. It won't be long before Gil Logan begins to prepare the menu for next year's Kentucky Derby.

For NPR News, I'm Joe Corcoran in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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