Scotiabank Arena turns into gigantic cuisine as MLSE strives to cook 10,000 meals a day

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scotiabank Arena, where maple leaves and predators live, turned into a gigantic kitchen.

On the same floor of the arena where Cowie Leonard sank his buzzer to propel the Raptors past the Philadelphia 76s last May, there is now one large food production line.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, together with its partners, expects to cook 10,000 meals a day so they can reach out to Toronto healthcare workers and their families, as well as the most vulnerable sections of the city through community facilities and shelters.

MLSE plans to launch the program five days a week, at least until June, providing half a million dishes.

“It will make sense,” said Michael Freisdahl, President and CEO of MLSE, who sees the project as a way his company can meet the need for a community in difficult times.

Program to hit 50,000 meals a week

The operation began with 2,800 meals a day and has grown steadily.

“We learn on the go,” said Dan Morrow, MLSE Vice President of Food and Beverage. “We learned that cooking 5000 pounds of pasta is time consuming.”

One day at the beginning of this week, they took 17,000 liters of chilli and matched the volume of rice with giant 120-liter pots constantly on the way. Another day is 100 liters of marinade and 1,700 pounds of chicken legs.

Currently, about 20 chefs and about 50 others are involved in the operation – MLSE managers with experience in the food industry, such as the general manager of e11even, a chic MLSE restaurant located next to the Real Sports bar-restaurant.

The total number of employees will increase to 90, a third of which will be chefs when they collect 50,000 units a week.

Social distancing helped by the size of the place.

Chris Zelinsky, MLSE culinary director, is no stranger to feeding thousands at night of the game, from a simple slice of pizza to striploin for $ 95 and a seafood tower for $ 150.

But usually he has a much larger team to do this. The need for social distance has reduced the number.

“One thing here, you will see that many people are very passionate about their work,” Zelinsky said. “They are passionate about this business.”

“This team simply worked unrealistically to solve all the problems, coming up with how to make the process problem-free and safe,” he added.

Chris Zelinsky, MLSE Culinary Director, prepares food in the Scotiabank Arena’s kitchen. (Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment)

The need for social distance is determined by the size of the place.

The operation currently uses five cuisines, with most of the food prepared in the main arena kitchen. For example, they used the Hot Stove Club to cook and cook potatoes.

There are nine kitchens in total, and as the number of dishes increases, more come into play.

In the past, a large kitchen would be filled for 40 people. Now the number is limited to eight.

“Usually we just accumulate here, and everyone works shoulder to shoulder. But that doesn’t work anymore, ”Zielinski said.

They also set up routes in the arena to control traffic and food, from the loading dock to the kitchen and cooking line.

For Zelinsky, this, of course, is an “omen.”

“We don’t know for sure, but I can tell you that we talked a lot about how we will deal with this as soon as we get back to business, because, obviously, this will be a different set of circumstances. We don’t even know the answer to this question, but we will be ready for any version. “

“It’s time consuming”

Cooks remain in the kitchen. Others take food from the kitchen to the floor of the arena to collect and pack it into the food.

“This is a laborious process. Cleaning, slicing, and roasting 40 bags of carrots weighing 50 pounds takes time, ”Zelinsky said.

On the floor of the arena, more than a dozen tables are arranged in two rows.

Food is delivered from the kitchen, and food is collected at different stations and packaged in portable containers with stickers.

Music comes out of the arena’s speakers, but this is the only remainder of the games or concerts that regularly filled up the space for 19,800 seats.

Most light sources are turned off, so the upper levels of the arena disappear in the dark.

Employees put on gloves and masks, collecting food. Hand sanitizer dispensers are nearby. Most of the doors in the arena were propped up to reduce the need to touch surfaces.

Meals also for hospital staff

MLSE started discussing this idea about three weeks ago, relying first on some familiar names at Bell Canada and Rogers Communications, both co-owners of MLSE, as well as major sponsors of Scotiabank and Tangerine bank.

Others are also involved, including the Team Toronto Foundation, Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni Association, Sobey’s, Sysco, Maple Lodge Farms, Ontario Dairy Farmers, Maple Leaf Foods, McCain Foods and Coca-Cola.

In addition to shelters and community organizations, food will be delivered to hospitals during the shift to catch people returning home after a long working day and provide food for four.

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