Fueling the Fury
Las Vegas Raiders fans might not know of Gary LaMorte, but he is integral to the team’s success. LaMorte, 43, heads Honest Hospitality, a group of 30 chefs who prepare every meal for the players, coaching staff, and administration of the NFL team. With the New York native’s culinary background, it’s almost like he was a perfect fit for this gig. We caught up with LaMorte to discuss learning on the job, his past work for celebrity chefs, and his goals going forward with the Raiders.
How did you get into food?
Growing up in Yonkers, New York, we shared our favorite childhood memories together eating. My dad would cook for special occasions. That triggered something important. There was an admiration of how special that was.
I got hired at a restaurant on the edge of The Bronx and Yonkers, an Italian steakhouse. It was very romantic in a mafioso manner.
That’s a time and place that doesn’t exist anymore.
The FBI raided the house of (John) Gotti and they released a list of the member names they found. The restaurant closed the next day.
How did cooking become your path?
I was consistently in food as a kitchen manager at a busy restaurant. I realized if I didn’t do something pretty drastic that that was going to be my life. It wasn’t bad but I wanted more.
I got an associates in culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America and a bachelor’s in hospitality management. I went from pretty humble beginnings to the culinary Olympics with the ACF National Culinary Team because of the formal education and being brave enough to step away from everything I knew to do it.
How did you end up in Las Vegas?
I moved to Las Vegas to work at Robuchon but chose to work at Bouchon.
The food wasn’t the same caliber as Robuchon but it was a better run operation, and culturally I had more to learn. Thomas Keller is a thorough technician. It was pretty obvious that what he was doing was better than everybody else, which was operations, standards, and details.
After a stint with Vegas legend Andre Rochat, you went to work for Michael Mina.
I went from being the chef of a Michelin restaurant to taking a step down to a corporate sous chef role at The Mina Group. I ended up becoming the first VP of Culinary Operations.
You have a passion for details. Why is that something you have been able to focus on more than others?
The challenge of finding success every day requires extreme detail orientation because when the major products you are working with are organic – the food and your coworkers – there’s a lot of moving parts. Understanding how to control and manage the things that you can, really well, is the only way to leave enough breathing room and operational capacity to manage through the really tough stuff.
Is there a similarity between the cultures in the kitchen and on the field?
There are really strong similarities in the two types of operations. The NFL is incredibly demanding. It’s the highest highs and the lowest lows from week to week. It takes a tremendous amount of emotional stability and team commitment to continue finding success throughout a season that’s going to kick your legs out from you pretty regularly.
What are the biggest adjustments going into year three with the Raiders?
We’ve doubled the amount of dishes we’re going to be offering for next season. We have multiple development chefs that are testing new recipes and dishes every single day.
We’re prepared to adapt to the new coaches. We’re fortunate in the fact that our department is probably going to be consistent. Our number one goal is to be a headache free operation for them.
What is the difference in diet when teams are winning versus when they are losing?
Everybody comes in with the highest hopes and expectations for the year. As you get into the season, if you continue winning, you’ll continue on with that mindset of “we’re going all the way,” and eat accordingly.
When you lose a game, it damages that expectation. Our emotions are connected to our food desires. People look to food for celebration or consolation.
How do you modify food for someone who is recovering from an injury?
You’re always in recovery in professional sports. Whether you’re recovering from a good workout or a great practice or a minor injury, you’re looking for the same type of thing.
We, as a normal diners, look at food on daily or weekly blocks. The performance athletes look at food four hours at a time. Your body is not looking for things once a day or twice a week. To repair properly, your body is looking for those building blocks many times throughout the day.
Frequently, athletes will be eating proteins five times a day, and as much antioxidant fruits and vegetables as possible.
Is it different for, say, a running back then for a lineman?
The people in the extremes are almost naturally there. The people that we need to focus on are the ones in the middle.
Some of players, their frames are going to hold up to 260 pounds of muscles and that’s where it stops. And then they need another 25 pounds of leverage.
Has there been a dish you’ve prepared that was a surprise hit for the players?
Towards the end of the season, we used an old Andre-esque recipe for lobster thermidor, led by Chef Chris Bulan, and the guys went crazy for it.
What are the goals of Honest Hospitality going forward?
I want to create a charity for hospitality workers and their families, to support them in times of trauma, create a support structure for people that don’t have it.
I want to continue creating good jobs for people, which is the thing I’m most proud of at the Raiders, the quality of daily existence of the people that work there. Culture, schedules — it takes a team.