American Airlines Arena Chef, Eric Chopin, Feeds 13 Million Plus Homeless
|Photo by Riki Altman|
|Concession master, Chef Eric Chopin|
Chef Chopin was born in Brittany, France, and began his culinary career at 14 years of age working as a charcutier. After graduating from Belliard Cooking School, he worked throughout Paris, then landed a gig with Club Med Europe, and eventually made his way to Colorado in 1983. While there, he won a gold medal in the Colorado Pastry Championships. His next moves were to beautiful Cali-forn-i-a, then Washington D.C. and Atlanta before he landed at the American Airlines Arena, where he became the executive chef over a year ago.
In his current role, Chef Chopin is responsible for the two kitchens that pump out enough food to satisfy the 13 million people expected to go through the Arena during a 1,300-event run. Some come for hot dogs and a soda, while some partake in dishes like shrimp Provencal in the VIP areas. A fraction of the traffic keeps kosher or is vegetarian, and he caters to them, as well.
New Times: How did you end up with this gig?
Eric Chopin: I was supposed to be the chef at the Staples Center, but then all that stuff happened with Michael Jackson. Then they told me there's a big project in Miami. They already had in mind that they were going to go after LeBron so they really wanted to revolutionize and do something different.
What are your hours like?
I come in at 9 or 10 in the morning. On game days the earliest I leave is midnight, 1 o'clock. When the game is finished, it's not the finish for us. Everything we bring out we have to bring back in.
And then we give a lot of food to the homeless people. The truck comes up from the Camillus House.
After every game?
Every game. I don't want to throw food away. Every pizza, hot dog, chef's table stuff...
How often do you refresh the concession menu?
We try to change it every year. People are looking for more healthy food. And I try to match the ethnicity of the people coming to the events.
What was your aim?
Little bit more healthy. More local produce, also. In Miami the seafood is okay and the citrus, then you get a lot of good cheese companies from Georgia.
We didn't taste any seafood dishes, though--why is there none available in the concession offerings?
In the arena, it's hard to get any seafood. The only stuff we can get is shrimp. It's hard [to serve] because of the smell.
What aspects of your French training or background are in what we ate today?
Basically the influence of using fresh produce. Everything you ate today we peeled it, we cut it ourselves, we selected it. We don't buy it from a box. In France, the food in the grocery stores is not wrapped in plastic.
Did you create all the recipes?
Levy has its signature recipes. The veggie burger is a signature dish. That recipe works.
Which is your favorite?
We did the tacos. We really worked on that one. We braise all our meat in house, very slowly overnight.
Are you a basketball fan?
I wasn't until I came here. The players are shooting for the championship so we have to hit a home run with the food. [Editor's note: We didn't call him out for the baseball reference.]
Why do you like this kind of environment?
It's exciting. Some days I arrive at the arena and I don't cross anybody. The day after, it's 18,000 people. It's like we are players--we need to be ready in time. When the game starts, you have to be ready.
Tomorrow we'll share the AA Arena's recipe for a vegetarian Asian wrap!