When Wilbert Sauceda took on the role of executive chef for the Greenville Drive shortly before opening day a year ago, he feared he was biting off more than he could chew. The accomplished Honduran-born chef—whose restaurant résumé includes working with Michelle Bernstein in Miami and helming the kitchens at Rick Erwin’s West End Grille and The Lazy Goat—had never pitched his culinary talents in a ballpark. Now he covers all the bases from providing dinner to season-ticket holders in Fluor Field’s suites to hosting holiday parties, weddings, and festivals under the umbrella of West End Events, the event-planning arm of the Greenville Drive. As the team prepares to kick off its 15th season, Sauceda’s food is already knocking it out of the park.
What does your role as executive chef for the Greenville Drive entail? We [the chef and his small team] control the premium service, including the Champion’s Club, all the suites, and the rooftop, and at the same time we do West End Events.
You’re admittedly not a baseball fan, so what attracted you to this job? I wasn’t even looking for a job when I heard that the Drive was looking for an executive chef. I’m not into baseball, but I’m a big believer that once you get in, you need to express yourself and find what this place really needs or what they need from you. One of the biggest reasons I decided to come here is it is a secure job. There’s a family-friendly feel. Frankly, three days before I started I thought, ‘Holy cow, what am I getting into?’ But they promised me this is a job where you have a life.
So how do you spend your time off when the team is on the road? This is when it comes to the life balance. I pick up the baby, feed the baby, give the baby a shower. If I have a Saturday off, we [the chef, his wife, Kelsey, and their three-year-old daughter, Evelyn] plan something as a family.
What differences do you notice between working in a restaurant kitchen and overseeing events at Fluor Field? This is a whole different animal. This is massive—7,000 people a day. And the kitchen is amazing. [It was expanded as part of the Fluor Field update in 2017]. There’s more freedom to do whatever you want, and you don’t have the pressure of dealing with all the tickets at the same time . . . and all the drama. It’s more professional here, because you know what’s coming. I’m a big fan of not running out of food, no matter how many covers we have. If we have 300, I’m prepared for 600.
You recently designed an extensive new catering menu for West End Events. Is there anything else new this season at the ballpark in terms of food? On the new menu we created, we have dinner [for season-ticket holders in the suites]. You can order a 16oz rib eye, or a 10oz filet mignon, a nice piece of salmon, shrimp and grits. So we have a menu beyond hamburgers, hotdogs, and nachos. This year we are able to serve dinner starting with the first game.
How does your cultural background and growing up in Honduras influence your cooking? My cooking comes from my grandma’s flavors. It goes back to where I grew up. I was raised by my grandparents on a farm, with chickens, pigs, and my dog and cat. Simple as that. All those memories, all those flavors that I remember in my nose. There’s one bread my grandma used to make; it’s that smell that woke me up in the morning, like a tortilla being made fresh.
What does the opening of baseball season mean for you? Knowing that I came two weeks before the season last year, I’ll be so prepared this year. I’ll be waiting for tickets. It kind of caught me off-guard last year because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I came with that mentality: work seven days a week with no days off. It’s the same system every week. Every day you start from scratch. No stop. When the season is open, I don’t believe in days off. When the season finishes, we have a lot of events, but then we have a lot of time off.
Are you finding that this job allows you more time to spend with your family? My family comes here all the time. They told me [when he interviewed], ‘Just bring your family so they can see you while you’re at work.’ We have an open door to the field for employees’ kids. Can you imagine as a parent having this entertainment for free? It’s about the quality of time you have with your family. That’s value. You can’t get that value anywhere else.
Photography by Paul Mehaffey