Little-known fact: If you're a discerning foodie forever on the prowl for interesting tastes and treats, you can find an entire Seattle food festival waiting for you inside CenturyLink Field during Seahawks and Sounders FC home games.
"Seattle is an international, multicultural city, so it's important that our food selection reflects a strong local influence," says Seisuke "Seis" Kamimura, executive chef at CenturyLink Field. "Food is a huge factor in Seattle's identity."
Kamimura, a former high school linebacker in West Chester, N.Y., and a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, most recently served as executive chef at RN74 Seattle, a wine bar/restaurant operated by celebrity chef Michael Mina. Today he oversees dozens of chefs and cooks who prepare food—a few thousand pounds of it—for CenturyLink Field crowds on gamedays.
"I love what I do," says Kamimura, known to friends and colleagues as Chef Seis. "There are so many facets to this job. There's a lot of training and teaching I get to do, and with 20 years of experience I really enjoy sharing the knowledge I've gained with a new generation of chefs."
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The horseshoe-shaped Main Concourse wraps around three-quarters of the stadium, and its end points lie close to where the Hawks Nest towers above the north end zone. The Main Concourse is one flight of stairs higher than the Field Level. That's the atrium-like, street-level space on the stadium's west side, where the primary Seahawks and Sounders FC Pro Shop is located. Three more tiers rise above the Main Concourse. In ascending order, they are the Club (200) Level, Suite Level and Upper (300) Level.
Beyond hot dogs, nachos and traditional stadium fare, all of which he monitors attentively, Kamimura takes special satisfaction in showcasing local specialties for a huge new audience.
"The international district is Seattle's Chinatown," he says, "and Pioneer Square has so much history to it. I'm a big fan of the restaurants in the area, and representing a few of their specialties inside the stadium is a great way to expose lots of people to the diversity of food choices this city offers."
In December, CenturyLink Field's management team chose Sportservice (a division of Delaware North Companies, a global hospitality and food service provider in Buffalo, N.Y.) as the stadium's new concessionaire, beginning operations with the 2013 soccer season. The company provides concessions and catering to more than 50 sports, entertainment and convention venues and has done so at the Olympic Games, the World Series, and baseball and NHL all-star games. It even operates Kalaloch Lodge in Olympic National Park.
Sportservice elected to update the stadium's existing community concessions program and installed Kamimura as executive chef.
Several local eateries coordinated with Sportservice, providing recipes and ingredients to create a slate of new in-stadium food offerings. Restaurant staffs also worked with Kamimura's team of chefs to help stadium cooks master the proper presentation for each item.
The result: an all-gourmet roster of 10 new items infused with local flavors, all available inside CenturyLink Field this season. Here's a look at the lineup:
Fried Cotto Salami Sandwich, from Salumi Artisan Cured Meats
Salumi, as downtown gourmands know, is an Italian deli and Pioneer Square fixture operated by the husband and wife Armandino and Marilyn Batali. Since opening in 1999, the deli has been well-known for its broad assortment of gourmet meats. This specialty sandwich, featuring handmade cotto salami and revved up with garlic and peppercorns, is served on bread from Macrina, a popular local bakery cited by Bon Appétit in 2011 as one of America's top 10 best bread bakeries.
Chef Seis: "Armandino is a master salami-maker who really focuses on quality. You're not going to find the meat he prepares anywhere else."
Where to find it: Near Section 105 on the Main Concourse in stand known as The Best of Pioneer Square and International District.
Smoked BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, from McCoy's Firehouse
McCoy's is another well-known Pioneer Square eatery, anchoring a historic brick building that has stood for 120-plus years. Known for its collection of firefighter memorabilia, the restaurant opened in 1998. The tender brisket sandwich is served with McCoy's own Firehouse barbeque sauce.
Chef Seis: "That sauce has a nice tanginess, and the meat has a smokiness to it that makes it really tasty."
Where to find it: Also at The Best of Pioneer Square and International District near Section 105, Main Concourse.
Tailgator Sausage from Uli's Famous Sausage
An exclusive creation for CenturyLink Field, the all-pork Tailgator is made fresh at Uli's location at the Pike Place Market, then grilled and served at the stadium. Uli's founder, Uli Lengenberg, is a certified Meister (German master butcher) from Westphalia, Germany, an area known locally as "Sausage Country."
Chef Seis: "Uli is a unique personality, and he's made the Tailgater especially for us. It's a cheddar and beer sausage, and pickles and cabbage go really well with it."
Where to find it: At one of two new portable Tailgater carts inside CenturyLink Field, one on the Main Concourse and another on the Upper (300) Level. The sausage is also served at the new Brougham Beer Hall (Main Concourse, southwest corner of the stadium near Section 128).
Kau Kau's BBQ Pork
Famous for its slow-roasted barbeque pork, Kau Kau has been a Chinatown/International District favorite for nearly 40 years. The CenturyLink Field dish is served on steamed rice. The Seattle Weekly selected Kau Kau as the home of Seattle's best barbeque in 2012, and Sprudge.com named it one of Seattle's top five Asian restaurants.
Chef Seis: "Their pork is out of this world—sweet but not cloying. People are going to want to try it for sure."
Where to find it: Also at The Best of Pioneer Square and International District stand near Section 105 (Main Concourse). The stand also features items from Thai Place, another popular eatery in the Chinatown/International District.
Rain Shadow Meats Porchetta Sandwich
This specialty sandwich from the Pioneer Square butcher shop (Rain Shadow Meats) features slow-roasted pork loin and belly, crispy pork skin and sauce verde.
Chef Seis: "The meat from this sandwich comes from Oregon. It's really high quality, and it's hand-rolled for us."
Where to find it: At the new Brougham Beer Hall, near Section 128 on the Main Concourse
Other tasty items new at CenturyLink Field this season:
- Skewers: Chicken, steak or veggie skewers served with Pike Place Market-inspired dipping sauces. Find them on the new Skewers Cart, Main Level, one of six new specialty carts at the stadium this year.
- Street Tacos: Traditional Mexican-style street tacos served with a variety of salsas. Find them on the new Taco Cart, Main Level.
- Dungeness Crab Roll: Fresh local crab served on a Macrina Bakery roll. "It's basically a Pacific Coast version of an East Coast lobster roll," Kamimura says. The loaded sandwich costs just $12. "We butter the bread and grill it to order," Chef Seis adds. "It's really a great value for Dungeness crab." Find it in one of two Catch! locations near sections 214 and 230 on the Club Level (accessible only to fans holding Club Level tickets) or on a cart on the Field Level.
- Fish Tacos: Made with fresh halibut. Find them on the Taco Cart, Main Level.
- Potacho Grande: A vegetarian mashup of potatoes and nachos. Available on the Taco Cart on the Field Level, at Viva La Dolce stands near Sections 113 and 131 on the Main Concourse, and at Taco Ma's locations on the Upper Level (near Sections 305 and 339).
Kamimura also calls out the Sizzling Szechuan Noodles with chicken or beef (available only on the Club Level) a dish that is a CenturyLink Field best-seller. "It's really, really tasty," he says. "People are always coming back for more."
Freshness is a fundamental ingredient in the stadium's new specialties. "The meat is always fresh on game day," Chef Seis says. "That's one of the great things about our partnerships. We don't get food the day before; we only get it the day of the game. We're always sweating the details on the day of a game. That's a really cool thing that we feature in our local foods."
What about beer and wine? The stadium features more than 40 different beers, including more than 20 in-state craft beers, several of which are brewed within 20 miles of the stadium: Georgetown Brewing Company’s Manny's Pale Ale, Mac & Jack's, Dick's Brewing Company, Fremont Brewing Company’s Universal Pale Ale, and Elysian Brewing Company’s Men's Room Original Red.
You’ll find this great collection of brews, 14 of them on tap, in the stadium’s new Brougham Beer Hall, located in the southwest corner of the Main Concourse near Section 128. The pub-like setting, already a popular gathering spot, also offers several regional wine favorites, including Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Chardonnay, DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc, and Browne Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.
Just how good is the selection of craft brews at CenturyLink Field? The stadium ranks No. 1 in the NFL in a survey published by CNBC/Yahoo Finance.
Need help locating a concession stand that serves what you're seeking? Consult the online CenturyLink Field concessions guide.
Planning for 68,000 fans with growling stomachs can be a challenge. So does the stadium ever run out of food? Matt Krauss, Assistant General Manager and Director of Operations for Sportservice at CenturyLink Field, says it's possible to run out of some items when the unexpected happens, such as the one-hour delay caused by severe weather in the first quarter of last Sunday's 49ers game. Naturally, this happened with a record crowd filling the stadium.
"It was sort of like having two halftimes," Krauss says. "People were shoulder-to-shoulder on the Main Concourse. You could barely move. By the late third quarter or early fourth quarter we ran out of pizza. Some of these specialty items ran out, too. Kau Kau, for instance, only gives us a certain number of pounds because the restaurant can only provide us with so much. We urge guests that if they want to get Kau Kau, they should get it before halftime because we can't guarantee that it will last that long."
"While I was in Chicago (representing Sportservice at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox) I figured that we went through enough soda in one year to be the equivalent of 1.4 seconds of the water flowing over Niagara Falls. I haven't been in Seattle long enough to come up with any goofy trivia numbers for this stadium. But I'll work on it."
The early response to the new menu offerings—introduced at the first preseason game against Denver on Aug. 17—is encouraging.
"We're still trying to perfect it, but so far this first rollout of a major menu change has exceeded our expectations," he says.
"This is just a starting point for us. The hot dogs and Bud Light will always be the core of our business, but we're always looking for the newest and greatest thing. We always want people to have lots of choices, and it's only going to get better."