International Women's Day: Chef Dayanny of Hard Rock Stadium
Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, and MIAbites has chosen Chef Dayanny De La Cruz as our special featured profile today.
It was the prospect of Super Bowl LIV that most excited Chef Dayanny De La Cruz when she joined the Centerplate food and beverage team in November 2017 as the Executive Chef at Hard Rock Stadium.
While the 2020 event is around the corner, Hard Rock Stadium is also currently in the throes of setting up for the Miami Open this month, as the high-profile tennis tournament moves to the global entertainment destination for the first time. The venue is fortunate to have an exceptional leader in Chef Dayanny at the helm of their culinary program.
Chef Dayanny was born in the small village of Nagua in the Dominican Republic, where cooking with her grandmother was where she learned about cooking with love and with respect. After getting her BA in Hospitality Management from Universidad Central del Este in the DR, she left the island to pursue a career in hotel management working for Iberostar in Spain, Milan, and throughout Europe.
But she admits to always ending up in the kitchens, tasting food and many times thinking, “I can do that better”. That passion for making it better ultimately led her back to the kitchen, this time in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she pursued her Master’s degree in Culinary Arts at the Grand Rapids Community College. She reflects fondly on her time there, praising her professors and mentors, always “feeling love” and graduated with Honors, as the first Latino to receive the prestigious Director’s Award as well as one of only a handful of women.
She was recruited by Doubletree to be executive chef in Chicago where she learned the strict dietary restrictions in her first Kosher kitchen and did chef rotations with number of Chicago’s top culinary stars including Charlie Trotter.
While working for another restaurant group, she led the culinary operation for the Harley-Davidson Museum, and then the Hockey Arena in Minnesota. Eventually getting married and having three children, her career continued to grow, working at the US Open tennis tournament and famed Kentucky Derby, ultimately landing here in Miami, where she was tapped in 2012 to head up and curate the “What’s Cooking Miami”, ” elevated dining concepts at the American Airlines Arena for the Miami Heat.
It was an exciting time in Miami and a first for an arena or stadium to recognize that fans were looking to celebrate their team with more than just concession stand fare and she is proud to note the addition of MC Kitchen, Zuma, Juvia, China Grill and concepts by Chefs Jamie DeRosa and Michael Pirolo. She proudly states that those few years that they were not only about Miami’s “Best on The Court”, but also the “Best off The Court”.
Centerplate enticed her in November of 2017 to move to Hard Rock Stadium where throughout the year, she manages and oversees 157 suites, 4 VIP clubs, 7 kitchens and over 150 employees on gameday for the Dolphins, University of Miami football and international soccer games, along with top-tier concerts and other shows. During football season, back-to-back Hurricanes and Dolphins games can result in serving over 8,000 meals. The upcoming Miami Open is a warmup to the biggest challenge in her career, in the form of next year’s Super Bowl. But, as the first Latina women to helm the food operation at Hard Rock Stadium, who also speaks 4 languages, she is energized by the possibilities and thrives on the adrenaline rush that comes with every event and gameday.
For the Miami Open, the next-generation Hard Rock Stadium campus will have multiple hospitality areas, extensive landscaping and fountains, “Spanish Steps” for fans to get an elevated view of the action, plus a massive videoboard attached to the exterior south wall. Among the menu offerings, there is Kiki on the Rooftop, a spin on Miami’s popular Kiki on the River, along with a multi-level Stella Artois-sponsored beer garden, a pop up Casa Tua Cucina and Courtside Casa Tua VIP club and a Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina concept.
On my visit with her, and tour of the various clubs, suites and luxury outlets, we talked about being a woman chef and especially one in the world of sports, stadiums and arenas, and she credited her success to being a strong but still feminine woman. She offered advice to women pursuing a career in culinary to not try to be one of the boys, and don’t ever stop being a woman. She says her strength comes from being a mom and being proud of who she is.
And in one of the more profound moments, she smiled and said, ”One day sitting in my car, I realized that it is not about me, but about being a role model, about mentoring my team, letting the women know that there is no glass ceiling if you stay true to yourself”. “That is my proudest accomplishment’.
We also talked about my first meeting with her, which actually was somewhat unrelated to MIAbites, and was when I met with her and her team about participating after game days in Food Rescue US- Miami. The National nonprofit program MIAbites partnered with last year rescues unsold/unused food from local restaurants, hotels and markets and direct transfers to the homeless shelters like Miami Rescue Mission and Lotus House.
In a little over 3 months the Centerplate/Hard Rock food rescues totaled over 24,000 lbs. of food, provided food for over 19,000 meals and saved decomposing food from landfills that impact the environment by producing damaging greenhouse and methane gases.
She loves the Food Rescue Miami program, and said it gives her team a real sense of community and giving back each week when they can pack up and save the food to be donated. She especially is excited when the baked goods and treats are earmarked to go to the children at Lotus House, who rarely get sweets or desserts.
So, on this International Women’s Day, MIAbites is proud to feature Chef Dayanny De La Cruz, for her passion, her compassion, and for being a role model for women anywhere.