The title of executive chef for Weidner Field — home of Switchbacks FC — could seem unusual at first blush. But sports fans who think stadium food is all hamburgers and nachos are forgetting that corporate boxes and special events call for a more sophisticated hand.
And when attendees at Weidner Field’s May 21 grand opening event feast on octopus arepas, pork belly tacos and donuts flambé, they’ll get a taste of new Executive Chef Amy Parrott’s skills — honed at venues like Denver’s Pepsi Center and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara (home of the 49ers).
A native of California, Parrott’s move into the culinary world was a fortuitous accident. When she moved to St. Louis, Missouri to be with family, Parrott, who’s 6-foot-3, took a job as security guard at Novak’s Bar & Grill. It wasn’t long before she started asking about helping the kitchen staff — and the bar manager suggested Parrott take culinary classes.
After completing a two-year course at St. Louis Community College, ranked by Best Choice Schools among the 50 best culinary schools in the nation, Parrott moved back to Colorado and took the most interesting job offer — as catering cook at the Pepsi Center.
Parrott’s Weidner Field position — her first as executive chef — is the culmination of more than a decade working with corporate hospitality giant Levy, a specialist in large-venue management. Besides eight years at Pepsi Center (where she rose from catering cook to sous chef to banquet chef) and Levy’s Developmental Champions program that took her briefly to Santa Clara, Parrott has worked events including the 2012 NASCAR All-Star race in Charlotte, North Carolina; the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Denver; Microsoft corporate conventions in Seattle and Denver; the 2013 NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska; 2013 NBA All-star game in Houston; 2013 Wells Fargo PGA Championship; the 2015 Utah Jazz playoffs; and the 2019 NCAA College Football Championship. Last year, she helped open the El Paso Chihuahuas baseball stadium in Texas.
Parrott’s position as events chef at CU Boulder may be the closest she’s come to traditional catering, though the university job offered plenty of variety in events. Following a slow pandemic year, Parrott’s new job is far ranging: she’ll oversee catering for concerts booked at the Weidner Field; Colorado College and Cheyenne Mountain High School graduations; match day hospitality; and private events including weddings. They’ll all come under the banner of 6035 Hospitality, a collaboration between the Switchbacks and Levy that aims to make Downtown a destination for events, focusing on local ingredients and suppliers and Colorado’s craft beer community.
Parrott talked with the Business Journal about what’s ahead.
Does the average Switchbacks fan have the slightest idea what’s involved in an executive chef job?
Most people attending a game are going to think of food service as your basic hot dog or nachos, and our team is responsible for every bit of food served at the stadium. But there’s so much more. There are executive boxes, special clubs, catered parties, and the incredible range of themed meals and events I discovered during my earlier years with Levy.
When people attending the opening discover the foods we’ll have at special stations, it’s not simply a matter of the tastes they’ll enjoy — the presentations themselves will be a blast. How many people have heard of flaming food presentation outside of Bananas Foster, for example?
Does the executive chef have responsibility for the standard concessions? We often think that third-party contractors do that kind of thing.
Oh, we work with some outside vendors, such as Pikes Peak Brewing, Cowgirl Kettle Corn, Cool Beads Ice Cream, Sugarplum Cake Shoppe, but it’s all under Weidner direction. And it’s not just a one-way street — I learn a lot from all the contractor vendors about how business looks from the small cart-based vendor’s perspective.
Will this be an unprecedented pace for you, or did some of your earlier Levy posts prepare you for this level of business?
Oh, there’s no question I’ve hit this level and then some in the past. At Pepsi Center we had to prepare as many as 280 events a year. And at single large events like the 2012 NASCAR race, we had pans of food literally stacked on pallets. Here, the Switchbacks themselves have around three events per month, plus the occasional concert or private event, so this is definitely a pace I can work with.
I also have experience in unique food preparation. For one Christmas party at Pepsi Center, we had ice cream bars dipped in liquid nitrogen, which sort of exploded when people bit into them. So having fun in preparation and presentation is nothing new.
You mentioned clubs at Weidner. Are these clubs that would be open all the time, or are they tied to specific events at the venue?
They’d be open primarily for sporting or concert events, certainly not a Monday-to-Friday, 6-to-midnight type of club. There is designated room on the northwest end of the field for a restaurant, but this would be an independently managed business, not something our chef’s team would manage in any sense.
So will other nearby projects, like the pedestrian walkway connecting America the Beautiful Park to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, have any effect on the people you’ll see coming to Weidner?
Oh, I think so. Even with all the construction present over the last couple years, the southwest part of Downtown has been in a world of its own, separate from the rest of Downtown. But that is changing. The Switchbacks fans coming to games will be parking at the stadium, but the walkway and the museum itself will help expand foot traffic all around the area. I’ve already seen people who have visited on foot from Downtown, and that could help all businesses associated with Weidner Field.
You also worked in university events while with Levy at CU Boulder — but what were you doing before you took this position at Weidner Field?
Well, like so many others in the hospitality industry, I spent several months in lockdown during the pandemic. This executive chef position is a blast not just because it is inherently fun, but because it’s such a relief to be working so hard and so creatively again.
I think I drove my wife a little bit crazy during lockdown; now it’s back to long hours in the kitchen. And everything associated with opening a new stadium venue is special because of the newness. Every pan is new!
So are you looking at this appointment as another feather in your cap, or as more of a culmination of a long career at Levy?
Well I definitely think I want to be here for a while, and part of that is due to the level of community support. I mean that not just in terms of the big patrons, but the people you meet every day on the streets. After my appointment was announced, I had people stopping me everywhere downtown, congratulating me, asking me questions. I have to think an executive chef position at a place like the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara would have a lot more anonymity. Being present as Weidner opens is a special opportunity, and this community is very supportive.