Florida-native Tim Hendren was just 13 years old when he began working in restaurants, a vocation that would continue on weekends throughout high school and into his college years. Working at a number of bars and restaurants to help pay his own way through college, Tim gained experience working in fast-paced environments with a variety of culinary styles, and soon the moonlight gig evolved into a passionate career.
In 2009, Tim left the southeast to join his family at Grand Teton National Park in Jackson, Wyoming, where there was an opening as a pantry cook. What was originally meant as a summer cooking job turned into a four-year stay as Tim worked his way up from team lead to sous chef and eventually executive sous chef.
When he wasn’t spending his summers in Wyoming, Tim worked at various restaurants around the country, ranging from a high-end hotel in West Virginia to Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Florida. According to Tim, he lived in nearly 20 different states before settling in Detroit last April to serve as Levy Executive Chef at Ford Field, home of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions.
It’s a team sport
Being executive chef at an NFL stadium is a year-round gig. As soon as the season starts winding down, Tim and his team begin designing menus for the next season, sometimes debuting dishes toward the end of the year as a “test run” to see how new concepts resonate with fans.
“The whole operation is very collaborative throughout the stadium,” says Tim. “The entire Ford Field culinary team helps create every single dish on the menu.” Even after the season, Tim and his team test new ideas during other events hosted at Ford Field, whether it’s Monster Jam or any of the sell-out concerts that come through the stadium.
Inspiration behind a chef’s menu can be sourced in many ways but for Tim, nothing gets his creative juices flowing more than the team around him.
“One of the best things about being a chef is the diversity in the kitchen,” says Tim. “We’re always bouncing ideas off each other, whether it’s in our kitchens at Ford Field or across the nationwide Levy family. There are many different backgrounds, palates, and preferences, which leads to some pretty great collaboration.”
Tim also maintains it’s important for a chef to be inspired by their own journey and background to ensure their own uniqueness is baked into the menus they develop. “I often draw ideas from the fresh, homemade meals I had with my family growing up, as well as the many places I’ve lived and worked,” says Tim. “Being exposed to various styles and regional preferences helps expand your skillset as a chef while staying creative and adventurous.”
Tim says he’s been fortunate enough to have a number of mentors throughout his career that took the time to help him evolve as a chef, an approach he continues with his team today. “That’s something I’m always trying to do with our chefs here,” explains Tim. “It’s about breaking out of the box and embracing new flavors and ideas because that will make everyone on the team better, and hopefully lead to a better experience for our guests and fans.”
Making the familiar feel brand new
When you’re serving over 65,000 fans each Sunday, Tim understands that while many come for the great food and drinks, some fans simply want to grab their hot dog and watch the game. Whatever the case, it’s still about making each game a special experience for every single fan.
To achieve that, the team works hard to embrace their “Authentic Michigan” mantra and the Motor City’s exciting food culture.
“With so many fans, you have to respect their favorite tastes and flavors,” explains Tim. “That said, we really love the process of putting a unique take on something familiar to create an entirely new dish while sourcing locally as much as possible.”
This season the Ford Field team has cooked-up several dishes that are perfect examples of the unique-spin approach. First, there’s the Dueling Waffle Taco, which features both a peppered bacon BLT waffle taco with maple aioli and a Nashville hot chicken taco with spiced honey, available to fans in the South Club area.
For Detroit’s Coney Dog lovers, there’s also the Mix & Mash cart—a fresh spin on the loaded potato concept. Fans can choose between sweet, Idaho or mashed potatoes, which are then topped with a traditional Coney Style hot dog (diced onion, ground beef, cheese and mustard).
No matter what you’re craving, Ford Field has many new and innovative options for fans this season, including Crown Royal Brined Wings (cooked overnight in Crown Royal Whiskey) and in-stadium locations of the famed burger restaurant Wahlburger’s, in both the North and South Club areas.
Tim says his team’s main focus is to help give fans the best experience possible at Ford Field. “If we do our part, hopefully the experience of delicious food stays with our fans and they keep coming back for the game and the food.”