Spotlight: Stephen Tilder

Cody FitzpatrickMarch 20, 2020
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Photography by Thomas Ingersoll
Photography by Thomas Ingersoll

Hot Dog da Vinci

Ballpark food is an American tradition that predates portable cameras. But Stephen Tilder, executive chef at Chase Field, makes stadium cuisine for foodies of the Instagram age – like the world-famous Churro Dog or the Big Tot Dog: “You get the soft bun, snap from the dog, crunchy tater tots, creamy cheese, a little bit of heat from the chili. It’s like layers of happiness in your mouth,” he says. Since starting with venue-hospitality vets Levy Restaurants in 2005, Tilder has overseen food operations for the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Coyotes and, now, the Arizona Diamondbacks. His recipes have served as showstopping complements to classic stadium fare. “We do high-end all the way down to popcorn,” he says. “To me, this is like one big banquet every day.”

How did you get into this unusual line of work?

I started out in mom-and-pop places in Pennsylvania when I was 15… Then I went to culinary school. I was the executive chef of Palmbrook Country Club for six years up in the Northwest Valley. From there, I came aboard with Levy and found my dream job.

What are some of the craziest dishes you’ve made with the Diamondbacks?

The churro dog [in 2015] – that was the No. 1 trending item on Twitter. It blew up. It was a simple creation; however, it was something that was never done before. It was a Long John doughnut as a hot dog bun with a churro in it and frozen yogurt and whipped cream, chocolate and caramel sauces, and it looked like a hot dog in a bun. To this day, we sell a ton of them every year.

Any national attention?

Last year, I collaborated with Sports Illustrated, and we did three 18-inch monster hot dogs. One was a Reuben Some Dirt on It, which was a take on a Reuben. Another one was a breakfast dog that had bacon, fried eggs, hash browns, country gravy… Then we had a giant 18-inch stretch bratwurst that had some coleslaw and house-cured pickles and fried mac and cheese.

What’s a game day like?

There’s a lot of moving pieces [so] that, if you’re not on top of your game, it’ll show. However, I have an amazing crew that has been with me forever, and they rock it out. On any given day, we can be cooking 500 pounds of chicken wings, 400 pounds of chicken breasts. We make all of our condiments from scratch, so we can have 500-600 gallons of salsas, sauces in the cooler. It’s a lot of detail, a lot of pre-planning.

What about at home?

My wife and son are vegan, so at home I cook vegan because I don’t wanna cook twice. My son loves to cook. We cook really creative vegan: a lot of curries, a lot of ramen, a lot of ethnic stuff. I think people don’t realize how many flavors can be imparted into food. It’s not just going to the grocery store and buying vegan meat crumbles. I make an avocado-based pudding for dessert that’s better than any pudding you’ll ever have in your life. We do tofu that’s sesame-seared and really dry and almost like meat. There’s so many different things that you can do where you honestly can’t even say that you miss meat.