Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
One thing a lot of people, myself included, fail to consider is how athletes consistently perform at a high level.
Do they magically wake up ready to play? Of course not. Rest and recovery is a big part of their success, as is what they put in their bodies.
To that end, healthy meals are vital. Sarasota’s Alyson Zildjian knows this, which is why she’s adding a new brand to her Zildjian Catering and Consulting company, which she started in 2006. It’s called Peak Performance Catering, and it, well, caters specifically to athletes.
Zildjian first started feeding Sarasota Crew four or five years ago, she said. She had friends with kids in the program, and they asked her to cater local regattas in which the Crew was participating. It was a hassle for parents to worry about food with so much else happening on race days. Zildjian agreed to take care of it and began researching the types of foods rowers and all athletes need to be their best. It had to include good fats and good carbs, Zildjian said. There had to be lots of protein. From there, Zildjian expanded to other rowing teams, including the Sarasota Scullers. The U.S. Men’s Rowing team even asked for her when it was in town for an event. After that, things exploded.
“This past year, I took a look at what we’ve been doing and said, ‘You know, we really need to brand this and promote it,’ ” Zildjian said. “I’m passionate about feeding these teams nutritional meals.”
All of Zildjian’s ingredients are locally sourced and organic, so coaches know their athletes are getting top-quality food.
When I spoke to Zildjian on June 10, it was at the Hyatt Place Sarasota / Lakewood Ranch, while she prepared food for OKC Riversport, a rowing team from Oklahoma in town for the 2017 USRowing Youth National Championships.
The aromas emanating from the kitchen had me floating. Zildjian had created a perfect mix of smells and flavors. Herb lemon chicken, the main dish, was served on a bed of Mediterranean rice pilaf. Green beans almondine were served as a side, with artisan rolls and butter.
OKC Riverside’s coach, Brian Ebke, confirmed the meal as “really good.”
“It’s hard to beat,” Ebke said. “Some restaurants are of a similar quality, but they’re expensive. The fact that it’s healthy is a bonus. Everything is to make their lives as easy and convenient as possible, so all they have to worry about is the rowing. For them to be able to come back with food delivered, it’s hot, it’s ready, it’s plentiful, it makes a big difference.”
Ebke also said the team’s original plan was to go to Olive Garden. No offense to the Garden (I really respect the unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks), but it pales in comparison to the package Zildjian is offering.
Peak Performance Catering works with more than just rowing teams, Zildjian said. She’s served basketball teams and pentathletes as well, and is looking forward to working with even more sports.
She cooks all her food off-site and delivers it wherever the athletes are. Zildjian doesn’t do all this by herself. She has a staff helping her, the exact number of staff members varies with each job, but Zildjian oversees everything.
Of course, some teams make strange requests. Zildjian remembers the Venezuelan men’s basketball team wanting their heaviest meal for lunch, and a lighter meal at dinner. That’s more in line with people’s eating schedules in their country. Some college teams will ask for breakfast at 11 a.m. Zildjian has to be ready for everything, and she sees her flexibility as a strength. It was put to the test when I spoke to her. Torrents of rain caused the day’s rowing events to end early. OKC Riversport, originally supposed to eat at 7 p.m., instead got back around 6:30 p.m. Zildjian anticipated the change, and had the food ready to go when team got to the hotel.
The brand may be just getting started, but Zildjian expects to focus heavily on it in the future. She also would like to take it to other cities and teach caterers how to care for sports teams.
“It’s a goal of mine to feed all people this food, but especially the athletes,” Zildjian said. “It can make or break a race. If they’re comfortable and have good food, they’re going to feel better and perform better.”