A little-league baseball dad is hitting homers at Ambassador Park in Saanich. But he’s doing it from the concession stand, not the batting cage.
Dave Roger, executive chef at the Marriott Victoria Inner Harbour, has been coaching and volunteering with Lakehill Little League for about seven years, ever since the eldest of his two sons, 12-year-old Maddox, started playing.
This year he and his wife, Lauren, took over the operation of the concession stand and switch hit the menu. Old-style ballpark burgers and hot dogs are still there. But what’s now called “Chef Dave’s Dugout” features a few special items.
Now, fans can dine on offerings such as “Wild Pitch B.C. Salmon Burger.” It’s made with a filet of fresh, wild-caught salmon, red onion marmalade, lemon-pepper mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce on a brioche-style bun.
Chicken on a bun is now “panko crusted chicken breast with spicy bacon jam, tomato and lettuce.” And that’s real breast of chicken. Even the chicken strips are real pieces of meat and not ground meat pressed into shapes.
There’s even a three-bean, all-vegetarian chili to be had by the bowl or on that all-time ballpark favourite, the chili dog.
Even the french fries are special. The traditionals are still available but now there are sweet potato fries with a chipotle sour cream dip.
“It’s been great,” said Ted Austin, who is stepping aside this year as president of Lakehill Little League after eight years. “Dave has brought a whole new element to it,” said Austin. “People love the food, they are over the top about it.”
Chef Dave said he had often pitched in over the years to cook and serve in the old concession stand. And he has nothing but praise to the food and the volunteers who served it.
But the professional in him thought it might be operated with a thought to putting Lakehill Little League and Ambassador park “on the map.”
After all, ball park franks and burgers are always good. But the professional chef was itching to offer other foods with a little gourmet twist.
“It’s kind of a lifestyle thing for me,” said the Royal Oak dad. “It’s what I do, it’s in my blood.”
Now every day, Chef Dave’s Dugout has a featured item. This week has already seen a panko-crusted breast of chicken and a pulled, smoked pork poutine with cilantro.
Roger has been able to put his longtime experience, skills and connections into arranging the menu and managing the inventory to keep waste down.
“I’ve been writing menus for so long, I know where the price point is going to be,” he said.
Roger admits the menu is a little on the heavy side for volunteers to handle. But he has been able to bring in some professional cooks and still keep costs down.
After all, the most expensive item, the salmon burger, sells for $6.75 and menu combos are set up to be had for about $10.
But Roger insisted putting food with a gourmet twist into the concession stand is not about turning the venue into some sort of money-minting, high-end restaurant.
It’s really about doing something special for the ball park, a place, a community and a group of families that have come to be very special to him, his wife and their two sons.
It’s just when parents and families spend so much time during the three-odd months of baseball season at a park, they deserve a bit of variety in their meals.
And if kids and adults from the surrounding neighbourhood come down, hang out, enjoy a few innings and grab a great bite, then that’s all good, too.
Lauren, who also has a hospitality background, said with sons Maddox and nine-year-old Braxton both playing, Roger coaching and cooking and herself volunteering, their whole family is at the park almost every day during baseball season.
And there have been no regrets.
“We spend so much time there and it’s really fun,” said Lauren. “So we really wanted to bring in the surrounding neighbourhood.”
“We have some grandparents who come regularly and they have told their friends and they now come down regularly,” Dave said. “They enjoy the food but they also like the atmosphere.”
“It’s such a nice thing to come down and watch a baseball game,” Lauren said. “But people have better taste now, they want good food and for things to be a little gourmet.”