Friday , July 06, 2018 - 5:15 AM1 comment
OGDEN — Rob Walton is sitting a couple rows behind the Lindquist Field home plate around 5:30 p.m., relaxing, getting some needed fresh air and talking to some of the stewards who pass by.
This is usually how the Ogden Raptors’ team chef spends his time before the games. The players are in the clubhouse, eating a pregame snack he prepared for them earlier.
By the end of the first or second inning, Walton is perfecting his craft inside of his custom-modified kitchen trailer parked on 23rd Street just beyond Lindquist’s left-field wall.
Walton is the engine under the hood, so to speak. He’s cooking the food the players will eat just minutes after the game ends.
“It’s moments out of the oven when they’re eating it,” Walton said.
It’s the result of a top to bottom organizational philosophy by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ogden’s parent club, decreeing the players eat healthy and well.
The Dodgers enlisted Walton to help them achieve their organization’s goals.
But he wasn’t always a private chef.
‘SHE’S MY HERO’
Just as little kids grow up watching their professional sports idols on TV, Rob Walton looks up to his own heroes — Jeff Smith and Julia Child.
He took some cooking classes and was mainly a cook for himself and his family while working as a real estate investment banker in Denver.
Then his wife Hilary was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
About five to six years ago, they sold the real estate business and moved to Salt Lake City after Hilary’s MS progressed to the point where it didn’t come and go anymore.
“She ended up pretty permanently in a wheelchair and the big worry for us was that at a certain point here about three years ago she had exhausted every known drug and treatment that her doctors could provide and she was still declining physically,” Walton said.
A year or two before they moved, Hilary and Rob came up with the idea of Rob becoming a private chef. The career change was mostly so that Rob could take care of Hilary as much as possible.
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Hilary lived an active lifestyle: distance running, skiing and the like. As the disease progressed, Rob says, she couldn’t do some of those things anymore. The other big worry was cognitive decline.
“(At the time) the doctor said the current trajectory has her in full Alzheimer’s memory loss in about 10 years,” Rob Walton said. “She doesn’t know who anybody is and that’s ...”
He paused for a few moments as his eyes filled with tears.
“That’s what freaked us out,” he continued.
The exact cause of MS is still unknown, though in recent years, pioneering treatments have emerged.
The Waltons learned of one such procedure called hematopoietic stem cell transplant, which is basically hitting the reset button on the immune system.
The process involves chemotherapy to kill off the diseased immune system, followed by injecting the patient with new stem cells to resurrect the immune system disease-free.
Rob and Hilary went to the Philippines for two months in December 2015 for the procedure, then came back to Salt Lake. They chronicled her journey in a blog titled “Hilary’s New Start.”
“She is now not in a wheelchair in any way — it’s incredible,” Rob Walton said.
He said Hilary has undergone four MRIs of her brain and spinal cord in the past two years, none of which have shown evidence of MS.
She walks with the aid of devices on her legs called the Bioness L300 Go, which looks like a knee brace, yet stimulates the muscles with electronic pulses.
There’s still a long way to go for her recovery after suffering its effects for the better part of 10 years. There are potentially new advances in MS treatment on the horizon, which has Rob optimistic.
“Our job was to make sure Hilary didn’t decline to the point where there was nothing to save,” Rob said.
THE HEALTHY LINE
For the first couple years in Salt Lake, Rob’s clientele was mainly families who were vacationing in Park City and Deer Valley.
In October 2014, the Dodgers instituted a program throughout their entire organization, including the farm teams, decreeing that they would feed their players healthy, fresh, organic food.
The team spends millions of dollars acquiring players. Why feed them junk food?
“What I see is a night in and night out readiness, I think is the biggest change,” Raptors performance coach Thomas Gentile said. “Guys are not dropping night in and night out from an energy standpoint, guys look more ready to go.”
The Dodgers pitched Walton the idea of being Ogden’s chef for all the Raptors’ home games and road games in the Pioneer League South (Orem, Idaho Falls, Grand Junction).
The idea was birthed by Gabe Kapler, who was the Dodgers’ director of player development from 2014-17 before he became the Philadelphia Phillies’ manager this season.
Kapler is well-known as an avid weightlifter and a health nut, and he’s been described as having an “impossibly sculpted” physique.
Form the big-league level all the way down to the rookie league, the philosophy is the same. Feed the players well and the results will be good on the field.
Walton subscribes wholeheartedly to the idea, even if it’s an incredibly busy job.
“I don’t mind the 15 to 18 hours a day every day during the season. You have to have somebody that is whetted to the team. I’m a part of this team and the boys know that. The boys appreciate what I do,” Walton said.
WHAT’S ON THE MENU
The Raptors play 76 games in a regular season and Walton is cooking for around 60 of them this year.
Every morning before a game he buys food for three meals: lunch, a pregame snack and a postgame dinner. The Dodgers want each player eating around 6,000 calories per day.
It translates to absurd amounts of food, such as 50 pounds of mashed potatoes at a time, 30 pounds of meatloaf or around 12 pounds of fresh vegetables per meal.
One such pregame “snack” before a recent game consisted of 5 to 8 gallons of high protein smoothies, 36 hard-boiled eggs, 5 to 6 pounds of roast turkey cut into chunks, 10 pounds of oranges, five pounds of apples, two containers of organic peanut butter and a container of organic almond butter.
Walton is a chef aiming for creativity along with the massive quantity.
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“He is a phenomenal human being, very respectful and very well-liked guy by all of us. He’s a great person and his food’s even better,” Gentile said.
For dinner one night he cooked porketta, the Italian Christmas roast. He butterflied it open and rubbed the inside with parsley, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper before covering it with a latticework of bacon.
That was served alongside mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and a cherry crumble for dessert.
The next day, he used another pork loin that he had roasted the night before and cut it up with two black forest hams, swiss cheese and pickles to make Cubanos.
It all comes out of the custom trailer, the mobile full-service kitchen parked right outside the stadium. That’s where the other magic happens on game days.
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