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The Zest: Hard Rock Stadium Chef Dayanny De La Cruz Is Super Bowl's Food MVP

On the first Sunday in February, 50,000 football fans, members of the media and others will descend upon Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium for Super Bowl LIV. And they’re bringing their appetites with them—which makes Dayanny De La Cruz the true MVP in our book.

De La Cruz is executive chef of Hard Rock Stadium, meaning she and her team are responsible for feeding everyone in the building on game day. She’s employed by Centerplate, a company that handles food and beverages for more than 300 venues across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. De La Cruz is the first female chef to lead a Super Bowl’s culinary program.

HUNGRY FOR MORE? Read the full Super Bowl speciality menu.

Born and raised in Nagua, Dominican Republic, she attended culinary school in Michigan. Before coming to Hard Rock Stadium in 2017, she was the executive sous chef for the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena.

On Super Bowl Sunday, De La Cruz is responsible for everything from the Key West-style hot dogs available on the stadium’s concourse level to the $5,000 Oysters and Pearls Package in the suites, which includes oysters, caviar, Dom Perignon champagne and a keepsake pearl bracelet.

No matter what a customer’s budget, De La Cruz wants them to experience a taste of South Florida. The menu leans heavily on local ingredients and Latin flavors like cilantro and garlic. Some items are permanent fixtures on the Hard Rock Stadium’s menu; others are only for the big game.

“Chef D,” as she’s nicknamed, began planning for the Super Bowl six months ago, creating menus, tasting food, delegating tasks and pricing items. On game day, she’ll have the support of hundreds of her Centerplate colleagues from across the country.

“I have the biggest support system in the building,” she told The Zest podcast. “This is not just about me.”

THE ZEST: Listen to more chef interviews and find recipes for your Super Bowl party.

And she’ll need the extra hands. On a typical game day for the Hard Rock Stadium’s home team Miami Dolphins, Chef D’s fitness tracker logs about 11 miles through the venue’s kitchens and walkways. On Super Bowl Sunday, she expects to walk about 16 miles.

In addition to feeding all the fans and media, De La Cruz’s staff feeds the athletes themselves. She’s already accustomed to catering for the Miami Dolphins. “They love pasta. They love eggs,” she says. “So the pasta station and omelet station get hit pretty hard.”

Then there’s the halftime show. For rehearsals and on game day, De La Cruz will feed performers Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.

“Just so you know, that’s the highlight of my life,” Chef D says. She’s crafted special meals that pay homage to the entertainers’ heritage: “Very Puerto Rican” arroz-con-gandules arancinis for Nuyorican J.Lo and empanadas for Colombian-born Shakira. “We really are trying to make them feel [at] home when they’re here,” Chef D says.

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From A-list performers to fans in the nosebleed section, Chef D and her staff will make sure no one leaves hungry. There are even gluten-free and vegan menu items.

“We do have something available for everybody, and we’re just happy to be the hosts of Super Bowl,” she says. “Anybody who’s coming to party is going to be partying with us.”

And at the end of the party, Chef D will be ready to celebrate a hard day’s work with a spirited beverage or two.

“A lot of mojitos, for sure,” she says.

"I host a food podcast" is a great icebreaker at parties.