Home food advantage



As this year’s UK men’s basketball team plunges into March Madness, it holds one perfect record few know about.

“The team is 33 and 0 eating our food,” Director of UK Dining Services Ray Schmidt said, referring to the pregame meals his dining team provides.

On Tuesday, Wildcat Lodge chefs prepared a NCAA send-off meal: steak, hamburgers, fried shrimp and the two team favorites, chicken penne alfredo and red velvet cake.

UK Dining Services Executive Chef Scott Kohn finished a sculpture of a wildcat made of paraffin wax and beef fat to decorate the entry to a room already modestly decorated with UK pompoms and a big blue “K.”

“We have to watch Mr. Enes (Kanter) because he likes to eat everything,” Kohn joked, gesturing to the wildcat, which he said was the result of 100 hours of labor, but would probably taste disgusting.

As head chef for the men’s basketball team at Wildcat Lodge Susan Wade fired up the grill, she talked about a part of the winningiest team in college basketball’s daily schedule that no one sees: what they eat — and how much.

“I usually cook for approximately 40, but have about 20,” Wade said. “We have one player we cannot fill up. I don’t think we ever could. He had three plates last night.”

According to Schmidt, UK Dining Services provides meals for the men’s basketball team four to five days a week depending on travel and training schedules and communicates with coaches and strength trainers about specific dietary needs. The dining team also provides a set pregame meal to the team before all home games. It provides pregame meals for the football, women’s basketball and volleyball teams.

The pregame menu features steak, chicken, no sweets and a well-loved twice-baked potato casserole, which the players once missed so much they called from Hawaii asking for the recipe.

The dining team knows the players–and knows them well. Listening to the staff members talk about their ploys to get the players to eat a balanced meal sounds a bit like parents describing their fussy children.

Wade said the basketball team’s favorite vegetable is “French fries.” Schmidt said when it comes to getting the players to eat vegetables, “Cheese sauce is key.”

Smoothies are a sure-fire way to provide the quota of fruit, as well as hydration, that players need each day.

“Doron (Lamb) likes mango smoothies,” Faye Edwards, a UK Dining Services catering department employee at Wildcat Lodge, said. “I think he’ll have three at a time.”

Getting the players to eat protein is no problem.

“We use the grill a lot,” Schmidt said.

Wade said the players have their steaks well-done, and, “Josh Harrellson really likes hamburgers.”

Players have a universal love of meat, but the Lodge does not generally serve pork because of Kanter’s religious eating restrictions.

For dessert, the team likes cookies, cupcakes and cobblers, but the players don’t eat much chocolate.

Wade said last year’s team ate more sweets, and John Wall was a pretty particular eater who had to have “a special ham sandwich” before every game. She added that Wall loves Raising Cane’s chicken fingers.

The Wildcat Lodge snack fridge sits in the team’s cozy dining room and is stocked every day with Powerade (no Gatorade, of course), juice, milk, V8, lemonade, fruit punch and Uncrustables. That’s right; Uncrustables.

“They love those,” Edwards said.

In case you haven’t noticed, the team’s dining preferences aren’t fancy.

“They’re not into fine this and that,” Schmidt said. “They like cheeseburgers. They don’t like it doctored up. They just want chicken. They don’t want to see a frufru dish covered in edible flowers.”

Head coach John Calipari has only eaten with the team a few times because he views the meals as player bonding time. Schmidt said the idea of the team meals is to encourage camaraderie rather than have players eat scattered around campus.

Some perhaps unexpected camaraderie also occurs between the dining staff and players. Edwards and Wade say they love their jobs and the players themselves.

“I think of my son, and he’s a big sports fanatic, and I always think ‘I hope when he goes off to college someone takes care of him like that,’” Edwards said. “It’s good to take care of the boys.”

She knows that “DeAndre (Liggins) likes peach cobbler” and Brandon Knight loves penne with alfredo.

Wade knows when the players have a birthday and makes each of them his favorite cake; last time she even sang. She said Jarrod Polson “is so sweet” and “not picky” and swears “he’s grown two inches since he got here.” She thinks Kanter is the biggest eater, but “Eloy (Vargas) can put it away too. And he’s not particular.”

“It’s just like when you came to college,” Schmidt said. “You missed momma’s cooking.”

After a stay at Wildcat Lodge, however, players might miss something else.

“One time DeMarcus (Cousins) came back,” Wade said. “He came through here and said he missed my cooking.”