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How Chef Chris Zielinski of MLSE Helped Turn the Scotiabank Arena into Toronto’s Largest Kitchen

On March 11th, the NBA made the decision to suspend its season, and the NHL and MLS quickly followed. This meant no more games, events, or shows at Scotiabank Arena, BMO Field and Coca-Cola Coliseum, which are owned and/or operated by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE).

When the leagues came to a halt and suspended their seasons, we saw a great need in the community.

As the Culinary Director at MLSE, I oversee all our kitchens across our venues and the amazing staff and chefs that work at each of them. Although there was a stoppage in games and events, we had three venues full of unused food that we did not want to go to waste. I quickly reached out to Second Harvest, a long-time partner of MLSE’s, to whom we’ve donated saved leftovers in the past to give to their community agencies.

The week that our venues stopped hosting events was the week the food and beverage team kicked into high gear. We collected and donated over 27,000 lbs. of food for Second Harvest and this led MLSE to create Bringing Toronto Back To Its Feet.

Bringing Toronto Back To Its Feet is an initiative dedicated to supporting and helping our city during this challenging time. A big part of this initiative is a large-scale meal program to support and thank Toronto’s frontline health workers and their families, and to protect the city’s most vulnerable population that rely on community agencies and organizations like Second Harvest for their next meal.

We may not be hosting thousands of fans, but we do want to give back to those who’ve always cheered and supported our teams and our city. As chefs and foodservice professionals, we have a sense of obligation to feeding people. Whether they are attending a game or simply don’t have the means to make a meal, the joy of preparing food remains the same in many ways – this has been very meaningful for myself and my team. Everyone needs to eat, and this is our way of showing how we care and support our community.H

Chef Chris Zielinski of MLSE, photo by scotiabankarena.com

We transformed Scotiabank Arena, which normally serves as a gathering place for fans to be entertained and cheer on their teams, into Toronto’s largest kitchen. The numerous food preparation facilities were leveraged, as well as the arena floor, which was used to prepare and assemble the meal packages.

BMO Field and its facilities were added a week later. Within two weeks of the program initiation, we surpassed the benchmark of 100,000 meals prepared. With our team of dedicated volunteers, who include MLSE employees from different departments, such as food and beverage, events, finance, marketing and our long-time partners Pinnacle Catering, we are preparing up to 13,000 meals a day.

For our frontline workers, “Thank You” meals are ready-to-heat entrees that feed up to four people and can easily be warmed up in an oven within 25 minutes. For our community agencies, we are sending fresh and healthy single dinner portions. Our founding partners, Scotiabank, Tangerine, Rogers, and Bell joined the effort without hesitation and have helped the program significantly through financial support. BMO joined a week later as a lead partner to help financially as well.

In addition to the founding partners who initiated the program, a number of other important supporting partners provided financial assistance, services, or food donations including Sobeys, Sysco, Maple Lodge Farms, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Maple Leaf Foods, McCain Foods, Unico/Primo, Mars Wrigley, Coca-Cola, Weston Foods, Pinnacle Caterers, Mackie Movers, Nestlé Canada, McCormick Canada, Smucker’s, Pizza Pizza and Diageo Canada.

We want to take this opportunity to highlight and thank these partners for their donations:

  • Maple Leaf Foods: donating plant-based protein products for a vegetarian alternative
  • ACE Bakery: 1,000 buns
  • Sysco: helping with deliveries and transportation
  • McCain: donating 9,500 potatoes on a weekly basis
  • Sobeys: provided financial donation
  • Dairy Farmers of Ontario: vital donation of these ingredients: milk, cheese, yogurt and butter
  • Unico & Primo: donating an assortment of their products including pasta, sauce, beans and Gallo olive oils

The generosity of our partners goes beyond financial assistance and include thousands of pounds of donated food as well as transportation services to help with deliveries across the GTA.

It is wonderful to see the MLSE community come together to help our city in a way that takes advantage of its resources and enlist the help of partners. Although it is just food, we believe a healthy and delicious meal can mean everything to a person at this time.

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