Big League Stew

Baltimore Orioles’ new clubhouse chef is teaching the team about fresh food and healthy eating

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

"Eat your vegetables!"

It's something many a parent will command of their child. On this very day, in fact. That battle is one for ages, waged in kitchens big and small. Just ask Jenny Perez, the clubhouse chef for the Baltimore Orioles, who since taking the job in June has tried to teach a group of on-the-go millionaires about the world of fresh food and healthy eating.

Ballplayers, it turns out, are like everybody else. Sometimes they need someone telling them to eat their veggies too.

The Baltimore Sun has a fascinating story about Perez and her efforts to change the menu in the Orioles clubhouse. She already has a few influential people on her side, like MLB home run leader Chris Davis and vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, who recruited Perez to join the O's. From The Sun's story:

Except for the retired jerseys on the wall with names like Robinson and Palmer, the dining space — open to only players and staff — looks like any workplace lunchroom. There are refrigerators stocked with juice and soda, racks of Utz and Sun Chips, multiple coffee pots. But the items on the buffet counter are clearly cooked with love — platters of plump shrimp nestled in stir-fried vegetables, a heaping tray of black beans and rice, bright pink strips of salmon topped with handmade pesto ...

A glimpse behind the counter offered a sense of how Perez keeps the Orioles players coming back. The shelves were lined with pink Himalayan salt, Calimyrna figs and barrel-aged mango white grape balsamic vinegar. Perez is a stickler for using interesting salts and oils that, she argues, obviate the need for butter and cream. She rises early to scour local farmers’ markets for her ingredients.

“See how green and nice and ripe everything is,” said first baseman Chris Davis, one of the team’s leading health nuts. “It’s made by real humans.”

Davis used to bring his lunch to the ballpark every day because he regarded the team-provided options as “atrocious.”

“I think this is something everybody loves,” he said of Perez’s revamped menu.

As you see in the video above, Perez scours farmers markets for ingredients, using them to cook up dishes such as lamb-stuffed round zucchinis, quinoa salad and almond smoothies. That's not typical clubhouse fare. It's bistro food aimed at a crowd that's more accustomed to cold cuts. (Click the links above for recipes you can try at home).

Perez came to the Orioles on the recommendation of health-conscious second baseman Brian Roberts, who frequented a Baltimore restaurant where Perez used to work. First, she started cooking privately for Anderson and then she was brought on to cook for the entire team. Roberts told The Sun:

“I’ve seen a lot of changes here in the last year. I think in general, baseball has probably been behind the curve. But I think the guys in here are starting to understand the benefits.”

We should note the Orioles are the team Adam Jones plays for, he of the Popeye's fried chicken obsession and food-heavy Instagram feed. As Anderson will tell you, nobody is forcing Jones to put down his drumstick, but they are making it easier for him and his peers to find healthy options:

“If they want hot dogs, they’re going to have hot dogs. But the opportunity to eat well is here, and that’s what’s important.”

And if Chris Davis is slugging all these home runs and eating more like Popeye than eating at Popeye's, maybe his teammates (and players beyond Baltimore) might take a cue.

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