GENEVA – Cougars executive chef Jon Williams sprays to all food groups when concocting the club's postgame spreads.
"Anywhere from chicken to hamburgers to turkey burgers to roast beef to barbecue stuff," infielder David Bote began. "Mashed potatoes, vegetables, macaroni and cheese. I have no complaints."
If Bote or any teammates were vexed with the vittles, it's likely Williams would know. He seeks feedback at least once a homestand, entering the clubhouse for any culinary consultation from the staff.
Like his constituents, Williams usually leaves happy.
"As far as our home spread, it compares with a lot of Triple-A places I've been," manager Mark Johnson said. "It's off-the-charts good."
Williams, also the club's director of catering, brings plenty of experience to an oft-overlooked role. Now in his 12th year with the Cougars – including seven as a full-time employee – he's the one ensuring that the players who inspire the peanut- and cracker jack-eating faithful get sustenance from something more substantial than ballpark fare.
A protein, two sides and a salad provide the base for his menus, which are as diverse as ever in his fifth season as chef.
In the past, officials from the Cougars' parent club typically offered restrictions or guidelines for what could be served. In 2014, the Cubs took no such action.
"This year, it's been a lot more interesting and more fun to do for players," Williams said, "because they've opened it up to whatever I feel like making."
One of his favorite meals to prepare is lasagna with house salad, garlic bread and green beans.
One of the players' favorite items is the proverbial carrot of the flat steak with grilled asparagus and caesar salad offering. That dish wouldn't be complete without the "baby baker," a smaller version of the baked potato.
The Cougars especially welcomed baby bakers to the party on the night of June 7. Commissioned by the club to cook something special for the impending Western Division first-half title clincher, Williams added the item as a side dish to the main attraction – a cutting board station serving prime rib and roasted turkey.
"That was fun, because we've never really done that for them before," Williams said.
Almost six weeks later, the gesture still isn't lost on the Cougars.
"That was really neat. It was really nice of them to do that," right-hander Corbin Hoffner said. "They had real good food and stuff like that. Nice little accomplishment to do, and they just paid off for it."
Williams also cooks postgame meals for the umpires and visiting field staff, offering the same food served in the Cougars' clubhouse.
His pregame offerings for the Cougars consist of lighter fare – deli trays, grilled chicken, perhaps ravioli – for night games. For day games, when players must arrive at the ballpark when they'd typically be sleeping or eating breakfast, the clubhouse is well-stocked with cereal, fruits and vegetables.
Opposing players are at the whim of their clubhouse manager for their pregame spreads.
"That's a treat if you've got lunchmeat," Johnson said. "Usually it's just peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and honey, and that's it."
Cougars clubhouse manager Scott Anderson, who rates highly among players, often takes basic takeout food orders on the final games of road series, getting acclimated with the Applebee's and Jimmy John's of the Midwest League before returning to the ballpark.
"He hooks us up pretty good, and obviously, we've got to return the favor and we've got to tip him good," Bote said.
Johnson occasionally provides his own foodservice on the road, gathering whatever remains from what was served to the visiting staff and placing it in a tray. Before the team bus departs, he'll walk down the aisle, offering appetizers as the team heads to the hotel – and ideally, an adjacent restaurant where players can spend their $25 road per diems.
While Williams understands the nutritional challenges of life on the road, he has yet to hear Cougars strength and conditioning coach Ed Kohl deliver the humbling news that a player looks under-nourished or is in need of a diet.
That's happened before during his tenure, prompting Williams to follow a specific menu for the player in question.
Lately, during the salad days of his Cougars career, he saves that attention to detail for after the game.
"I've been just trying to put a little bit of everything in there, you know," Williams said. "Mexican, Italian, American. Trying to keep it diverse."