For Ryan Stechschulte and KZ ProVisioning, feeding the Minnesota Wild is a job and a passion
Deep in the bowels of the Treasure Island Center in downtown St. Paul, chef Ryan Stechschulte stands over two enormous metal pots of gourmet goulash and talks about Minnesota Wild hockey. If the TRIA Rink practice lair is the Batcave, Stechschulte is Alfred Pennyworth—a cultured culinary man who feeds the guys who skate the ice and take the hits.
Stechschulte’s stated ambition is to make the Minnesota Wild the fattest hockey team on the ice.
He’s kidding, of course—every meal he and his team at KZ ProVisioning serves up for the Wild’s players is designed to keep these lean, fast-moving, calorie-burning engines functioning at top capacity, but the wisecrack conceals a kernel of truth. Stechschulte takes pride in making food that is seriously, ravishingly, straight-forwardly delicious. And he makes a lot of it, too.
“For every player we have on the team, I prepare one pound of protein,” says Stechschulte. As chef de cuisine for KZ ProVisioning, he feeds the Wild whenever they’re practicing at home or playing home games, a contract that works out to about 115‒120 meal events over the course of a six-month hockey season. And he knows that a pound a person sounds like a lot of food. “Most people couldn’t even digest that properly,” he says. “But [the players are] 24, they’re 23, they’re just coming off the ice—they’re hungry.”
KZ ProVisioning is a joint project of Spoon and Stable and Bellecour’s Gavin [K]aysen and food personality Andrew [Z]immern. It harnesses the former’s glowing fine-dining reputation and the later’s connections to stadium food and celebrity culture.
“When we started, we wanted to make Spoon food for them,” Stechschulte says. “We wanted to make Bellecour food, but then we realized that’s not what they wanted. They wanted rustic, they wanted homey food.”
Operating out of the Wild’s surprisingly beefy and beautiful kitchen at the TRIA Rink, Stechschulte turns out comforting favorites: mountains of goulash, hills of curry rice, stacks of waffles covered in apple butter, dozens of roasted chickens.
Also popular with the team: a whole-grain granola energy bar built from a honey-date puree folded over raw nuts, grains, and seeds.
“Four or five games into the season Chris Stewart walks into our little catering room and says, ‘We should have those bars in the locker room every day.’ And I said, ‘OK, we’ll do that,’” recalls Stechschulte. “Now if for some reason we forget to bring them or something happens, I’ll have half a dozen guys like, ‘What are you doing? Where are our bars, man? We’re hungry!’”
He cooks everything from 30-person lunches to fuel practice sessions to 120-person functions, with miscellaneous gigs in between. The company also tackles holiday parties and cooking lessons, often led by Zimmern, for the players’ friends and families while the guys are on the road. The uniting factor is making food that’s accessible to all.
“Most of these players aren’t chef-driven—their palate isn’t my palate,” Stechschulte says. “So you don’t really go that far out of traditional kind of Midwestern food. Mushroom stroganoff is really great. Beef goulash is really great. A whole roasted chicken with potatoes and rosemary lemon is really, really great. It’s about the simplicity of the dish, made with the best protein we can find.”
From Costa to ’sota
“I’d just cook for two or three people a day, or sometimes it was seven people—not much,” he recalls. “That was my first kitchen—a propane burner stove in a kitchen without proper tools, without proper knives, in the mountains in Costa Rica. And I thought: ‘This is it. This is so much fun.’”
At 23, after bouncing around doing hospitality work in his native Michigan and at Colorado resorts, Stechschulte and a friend decided to try living somewhere “like real people,” rather than living out of their cars. So they moved to Minneapolis.
“I had no idea!” he says. “I’d never set foot in Minnesota.” It was the unexpected generosity of strangers—once at a grocery store where he was a dollar short on paying his bill, and another time when a woman he’d just met helped him drive a couch to his apartment from a suburban thrift shop—that convinced him to stay. “I tried to give her money for gas and she said, ‘You just do something nice for somebody else.’ And I was like: ‘This is it. Who does that? I just came from Detroit!’”
A series of culinary jobs soon followed, with stints at Lucia’s and the Nicollet Island Inn turning into a line cook job for chef-entrepreneur Gavin Kaysen, who in 2014 was in the process of opening Spoon and Stable in the North Loop.
The Hockey Connection
The origins of KZ ProVisioning stem from an organic relationship between Kaysen and the Wild. Kaysen (who grew up playing hockey for traveling teams in Bloomington) got a chance to attend a Wild game and go behind the scenes. The food that the team and the families were eating was a mishmash of stadium fare and items from a rotating cast of restaurants. Kaysen pitched the team on an upgrade: constant attention from Stechschulte.
“When we were looking into creating this arm of our business, the goal was: Who are we going to put into place who is not only responsible and can do the job and the tasks at hand, but also somebody who will be able to have fun with this group?” says Kaysen. “As much shit as they give him, he has to be able to give it back, right? They call it ‘chirping’—if they’re going to chirp him, he’s gotta chirp back, too, right?”
Stechschulte tells the story of defenseman Ryan Suter spotting a Purina pet food factory while on the road, and snapping a photo of the place. Laughing, Stechschulte recalls: “He sent it to me and said, ‘Is this where you get your food?’”
“If they’re on a streak of wins, then it’s fun, and we’re chirping each other,” he says. “But if we hit a string of losses, we do everything we can with our food to not make them think about that loss. If we can bring them out of that, and help them not think about it even for a minute, then we’ve done our job.
The food that KZ ProVisioning creates for the Wild may look simple on paper, but in reality it is built on a solid foundation of scratch cooking fundamentals and premium ingredients. In terms of quality and presentation, it could easily be served at a high-end rustic restaurant just about anywhere. Well, most of it, at any rate.
“And after a long stretch of road games, when the guys come home, their favorite meal is sloppy joes,” says Kaysen.
Kaysen says the program with the Minnesota Wild has another year to go, at which point he and Zimmern will look at renegotiating terms with the Wild to renew their contract while looking at possible roads for expansion to other major Minnesota sports franchises.
Eat Like a Hockey Star
“It was on the menu [at Spoon and Stable] for about two years running because it was so popular,” says Stechschulte. “We’d get about a goat a week, marinate the whole animal, and braise the whole thing. I’d pick the meat and that would be enough for pasta for 5–6 days.”
The recipe starts with a toasted spice rub, and builds flavors from there.
“Then we do a braise,” says Stechschulte. “And that one’s pretty simple—once the meat’s rubbed down, we sear that beef, and then we build a sauce. Most people would use those vegetables they braise with as part of their final meal. And that’s totally fine, but I feel like you lose a lot in translation; there’s a lot that goes mute. So I like to build another set of flavors, where there’s a whole second list of vegetables we’re cooking: roasting tomatoes, fire-roasting peppers, caramelizing onions, garlic, and paprika to refortify all of those elements inside of the goulash.”
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Recipe for ‘Wild’ Beef Goulash
Step 1: Prep the Beef
4 pounds beef (chuck roast or shoulder)
1 tablespoon caraway seed
1 tablespoon fennel seed
2 teaspoons whole white peppercorn
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorn
1 teaspoon coriander seed
2 tablespoons paprika
1½ tablespoons mustard powder
½ cup kosher salt
½ cup honey
2 tablespoons water
Toast all whole spices (caraway through coriander) in a skillet on medium heat until just fragrant, about 1–2 minutes. Remove from skillet, grind in a mortar or spice mill, and add back to skillet with the additional ingredients (paprika through water). The rub will quickly become a thick paste. Remove paste from heat and rub onto the beef shoulder. Refrigerate at least two hours.
Step 2: Braise the Beef
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
5 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 bottle red wine
8 cups chicken stock
In a large pan, sear the marinated beef on all sides. Remove the beef once there is a nice fond in the pan and place the beef in an oven-safe braising pot.
Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the large pan and cook on the stovetop until they begin to caramelize. Add the tomatoes, deglaze with the red wine, and reduce by half. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Pour the stock and mirepoix over the beef, cover with foil, and place in a 350 degree oven for 3–3½ hours.
Remove the beef (it should be tender, but not shredding) and place onto a cutting board. Strain the braising liquid and reduce to thicken.
Step 3: Goulash
3 onions, diced
1 head of garlic, minced
6 roasted red peppers, diced
7 Roma tomatoes, roasted, skins removed, and diced
4 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons toasted smoked paprika
1 bottle of red wine
While the beef is braising, caramelize the onions in grapeseed or other vegetable oil. Once they’ve almost taken on a full caramel color, add the garlic and red peppers. Cook until the garlic begins to perfume. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, paprika, and wine and cook until the mix turns to a thick slurry. Begin to caramelize the mix. Once there is a fond created, add the beef braising liquid. Season with salt if needed.
Chop the beef into half-inch cubes, removing any fat or thick membranes. Add to the goulash and heat through. Serve with sour cream dumplings.
Sour Cream Dumplings
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, toasted for 5-7 minutes in a dry skillet on medium, whisking frequently
1 cup sour cream
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
1 ½ tablespoons salt
Combine the mix in a standing mixer. Roll by hand to about nickel size and desired shape and then boil – once the dumplings float to the top, cook for 4 minute. Cooked dumplings should have a dry interior. Shock in an ice bath, drain, and toss in extra virgin olive oil and reserve for service.
- Add desired portion of goulash to sauce pan and heat to warm up.
- Add butter (about 1 tablespoon for every serving of goulash) to help tighten up the sauce.
- Once sauce has reached desired consistency and goulash is piping hot, add dumplings, stir until warm (about 1-2 minutes), plate, and top with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche.