Falcons players swap sticks for spatulas

by Megan Cahill | AHL On The Beat Archive
Springfield Falcons players are known for their skills on the ice, but can they handle the heat in the kitchen?
Forwards Sean CollinsCorey Cowick, and Michael Chaput were drafted to drop the gloves and pick up aprons as they entered the MassMutual Center Centerplate kitchen to test their cooking game in the Springfield Falcons Cooking Challenge.
Not knowing what to expect, the players were reserved heading into the challenge.
“I was a bit nervous, I didn’t want to give anybody food poisoning,” Cowick reminisced. “I knew it was going to be a higher level meal than I’m used to making, but I was excited to have some fun with it. My cooking skills are very basic, but I don’t starve. I’m not an extraordinary chef by any means. The meat gets cooked.”
“We thought it was going to be a pretty cool event,” Collins added. “A little competition between the three of us. I was nervous, though. My cooking skills are adequate. I keep things pretty simple.”
“In the summertime I do a lot of grilling,” Chaput said. “Other than that, I don’t dabble too much.”
Under the supervision of Centerplate Executive Chef Alan Judkins and Lead Cook Thaddeus Weaver, the players prepared a specialty low fat and gluten free dish of Mexican grilled chicken topped with a southwestern watermelon, corn and black bean salsa, garnished with freshly pickled red onions, all served over baby spinach in a radicchio cup.
Chef Alan prepared the dish once, explaining the proper spice proportions, chopping style and cooking technique. From memory, the Falcons forwards imitated the meal.
“I watched him go through it and made some mental notes,” said Collins. “It was difficult getting the portion sizes and spices right while doing three or four things at once. We didn’t put anything down on paper, it was all just watching Chef Alan put everything together.”
“I’m not bad in the kitchen, but Chef Alan gave us some good tips that helped me out,” said Chaput.
As if cooking in the professional kitchen wasn’t challenge enough, the dishes were put to the test under a panel of judges. Judging was based on the presentation along with, of course, taste.
“The hardest part was watching the judges eat the food,” Cowick explained. “And getting the rubber gloves on with wet hands. Getting those on was actually ridiculously hard.”
“I was a little bit nervous when I found out there was judging,” Collins said. “You see the TV shows, so it was nice to have those other opinions, but I was definitely nervous.”
After a blind tasting, Cowick was eventually named the cooking challenge victor, offering the judging panel a well put together dish that combined quality presentation with flavorful taste.
“I didn’t burn it and I didn’t put a ton of cayenne in it,” Cowick said, when explaining what made his dish stand out as the winner.
This cooking challenged helped to introduce a new concourse item in a unique fashion, while giving players the opportunity to show off their skills outside of the rink.
“This organization is about providing a fun and entertaining atmosphere, especially at Falcons games,” said Springfield Falcons President Sarah Pompea. “While hockey is the focal point, coming to a Falcons game is all about the experience. The Centerplate food offerings definitely help build that experience. This was just a natural fit for introducing a specialty item.”
Centerplate is a staple within the MassMutual Center, preparing food options for not only Falcons games, but all other events, from conventions to private parties.
“Centerplate was thrilled to be part of this collaboration with the Springfield Falcons,” said Centerplate General Manager Diane Leader. “It is rare that our respective teams get to interact with one another on such a personal level. These types of joint creative ventures only serve to enhance our guests’ experiences at games.”
The cooking challenge also helped kick-off a Falcons food month, featuring a partnership with Friends of the Homeless, a nonprofit organization located in downtown Springfield, which provides emergency shelter and resources for the homeless. Over the years, the Falcons and Friends of the Homeless have built a longstanding relationship, with the team donating time and resources to the organization.
This month, along with volunteering their time, the Falcons donated a full week of meals for Friends of the Homeless clients.
“I went to Friends of the Homeless for the first time a couple years ago,” said Collins. “It was a great experience to do something good for people. I liked conversing with everyone. There were a few people who are pretty big hockey fans.”
Cowick, along with fellow players, most recently visited Friends of the Homeless around the holidays, when the team served dinner and brought along personally donated winter and toiletry items.
“It was a great experience,” Cowick said. “Everyone there loves the Falcons and you can see how much it means to them that we took time out of our day to come down. We talked to so many people and the thanks they truly gave us was really touching.”
The Falcons have a strong dedication to the Greater-Springfield community and consistently take the time to support local organizations and charities, like Friends of the Homeless. 
“The amount of thanks we got from people taking the meals was incredible,” said Cowick. “Everyone talked to us about how big we are in the community.” 
The team will be able to put their newfound kitchen skills to work when the players continue to volunteer their time, serving dinner at Friends of the Homeless later this month alongside front office and Centerplate staff.