by Nick Hart | AHL On The Beat
Now that 2017 is coming to a close and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ season is more than a third of the way gone, it’s easy to start pondering who has been the team’s most valuable player so far.
If MVP voting was held today, would scoring leader Daniel Sprong earn the most votes? Maybe the steady production at both ends of the ice from Kevin Czuczman would get some love at the polls. Perhaps sleeper scoring sensation Ryan Haggerty could snag enough votes to earn the honors.
If you ask the Penguins themselves, they have a completely different answer. An independent candidate, if you will, wins in a landslide.
“Chef Steve, I think he’d probably get everyone’s vote,” Garrett Wilson said.
Steve Schappert, known familiarly around the locker room as Chef Steve, is with the Penguins before and after every practice and home game preparing them breakfast and lunch. He’s not necessarily cooking up the players’ favorite meals, but ones that will help fuel them to victory night in and night out.
Schappert and Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Joyce got together at season’s start to set a series of guidelines for what Schappert could prepare and what he should avoid. For example, Joyce prefers if many common food allergies, such as peanuts, are left out as much as possible. He also has a strict “no cheese” policy, much to the dismay of players like Jarred Tinordi. Chef Steve finds away to work within Joyce’s guidelines and still send the players home happy every day.
“I think his food speaks for itself,” said Casey DeSmith. “I think it’s pretty amazing how he makes stuff taste so good, but at the same time it’s really healthy. Like there’s no butter, not much salt, no cheese, stuff like that. Those are a lot of things that are in people’s favorite food.”
Schappert’s creativity in making a delicious final product hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Penguins. Wilson is also quick to point out that not only are Schappert’s dishes not only satisfy the taste buds, but he rarely repeats a recipe, either. There’s a constant variety in the locker room, (unless it’s game day, in which case the superstitious nature of the players limits the menu to chicken and pasta and side salad.)
Passionate about the food industry since he was 14, Schappert’s long life experience in the kitchen has helped him stay on his toes and diversify the team’s daily meals.
“When I was 17, I knew I wasn’t going to be a pro baseball player,” Schappert said. “I threw my arm out my senior year, and I fell back on cooking and I loved it… I’ve worked in every position in a restaurant, all the way from dishwasher, picking spinach, working my way up.”
Schappert is the one passionate about the food, but Joyce is the one who is passionate about the nutrition. Joyce understands that he can’t police his players’ diets 24/7, “they’re big boys and make their own decisions,” as he puts it. But having an ally like Chef Steve in his corner for two meals a day is a huge step towards winning over the players and getting them to buy into an all-day commitment to nutrition.
“There are certain spices and foods that can promote muscle recovery,” Joyce noted. “[Schappert] will put a turmeric in a quinoa salad, because it’s a potent anti-inflammatory. Once tissues get inflamed, that’s when injuries start to happen, so we try and stay ahead of that.
“Garlic, for example, has really strong anti-microbial properties. Now is the time of year guys get sick a lot, so you want to put those anti-microbial properties in play to prevent sickness or fatigue. Steve makes this garlic, it’s sauteed, and it just melts in your mouth. It’s amazing.”
Mmm… Healthy and delicious. They said it didn’t exist, that it couldn’t exist. Yet by all accounts, Chef Steve has found a way.
Schappert, an employee of Metz Culinary Management, doesn’t just limit himself to practice days at Coal Street, either. He began working with the Penguins at the start of the 2016-17 season, but early on in 2017-18, Schappert has made several trips (on his own) to Hershey, Lehigh Valley and Binghamton to serve the players post-game meals to help properly replenish their energy meters before the next contest.
“He’ll do anything for you,” DeSmith said of Schappert. “Not only things like showing up in Hershey, but like he’s just a nice guy to have around every day. He’s the best.”
Some players have even approached Schappert for some personalized Chef Steve tips for home cooking. Haggerty recently picked Schappert’s brain on the best way to prepare the four wild pheasant breasts he has at his house. Wilson remembers attending a cooking class Schappert instructed last year.
Whether it’s as chef, caterer, nutritionist, or teacher, Schappert has made an asteroid’s impact on the landscape of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s season and helped them achieve much of their success this season. Don’t be surprised if at the end of the year, the team’s annual awards ceremony features a trophy inscribed, “MVP: Chef Steve”.