At The U.S. Open, Perfect Matches

Tennis tourney's chef orchestrates food, drink with help from summer harvest

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: August 7, 2018

Levy chef Jim Abbey has been in charge of the culinary experience at the U.S. Open for the last 12 years. (Courtesy Levy)

Planning a culinary experience for the U.S. Open, says Craig Appel, is like conducting an orchestra.

“It’s like a well-planned piece of music. We’re writing an incredible symphony, and we play it over and over, so that when we play it to an audience, it’s routine,” said Appel, regional vice president of operations for concessionaire Levy. “Jim is the conductor.”

Jim Abbey is the executive chef for the tennis tournament, which will draw nearly 800,000 people to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, N.Y., during its two-week run Aug. 27-Sept. 9.

It’s the 12th year that Abbey has orchestrated the food and beverage offerings at the U.S. Open, and guests can expect dishes like the Burrata Con Mango, with burrata cheese, mangos, chilies watercress and cilantro pesto.

Abbey works with dozens of chefs throughout the year, prepping for the tennis match crowds, feeding not only the guests but also the athletes.

The National Tennis Center has 60 concession stands, 98 luxury suites and five restaurants, including the Mojito Restaurant & Bar with menu items inspired by chef Marcus Samuelsson, including the Lobster Taco with smashed avocado, pickled chilies and fresh lobster.

Fresh and local are two words that are constantly being used to describe food at the U.S. Open.

“I think our food is also about summertime and the end of the summer harvest,” Abbey said. “We create menus from what’s local and available at that time.”

Abbey and his team partner with local farms and use only the produce that is harvested around the dates of the U.S. Open.

Satur Farms on Long Island grows mixed greens, wild arugula and a number of other produce items for the tennis matches each year.

“It’s salad stuff. It’s all healthy stuff for the athletes and the attendees,” said Paulette Satur, who has owned the farm for 20 years with her husband, Eberhard Mueller, a chef who used to own a restaurant in New York City.

“Those greens coincides with our local season,” Satur said. “When the tennis matches are in session, we’re in high production, and you can’t get better than that. It’s a perfect match.”

The U.S. Open goes through thousands of pounds of Satur Farms produce during its two-week run.

The fact that the farm can pick the leafy greens that morning and get them to the venue for lunch and dinner adds an incredible amount of nutrition to the meals, Satur said.

“We seed baby leafs every five days to have it be that particular leaf,” she said. “Knowing that the nutrition is still intact is important. The nutrition decreases drastically as the days go on.”

The lobster, fish and other ingredients also are locally sourced. Abbey has gone to the fisheries that supply the fish and developed important relationships with owners, he said. He’s also visited Satur Farms.

“The look on his face, seeing the leafs on the field and knowing it was going to be on the plates … just really connected the farm to the food service for him,” Satur said.

Having great food for spectators is incredibly important, as many of them are visiting the New York area from around the world, Abbey said.

“They may not make it to the city, but we make them feel like the city is brought to the U.S. Open,” he said.

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: August 7, 2018