What It’s Like to Feed World Series Champions the Atlanta Braves

Born in El Paso, Texas and raised in neighboring Canutillo, David Villanueva '17 knew two things about what he wanted to do for college: he wanted to study culinary and he wanted to experience a new place. Both of these things led him to JWU in Providence, Rhode Island (2,300+ miles from home!). He studied Culinary Nutrition and had already lined up a full-time job from an internship opportunity before graduating in 2017. Since then, he’s worked with pro baseball teams; most recently, he kept the Atlanta Braves fed on their run to winning the 2021 World Series. I caught up with him to reflect on his time at JWU and his career so far.

David Villanueva '16 in the kitchen

When did you first become interested in pursuing a culinary career?

I first started watching the Food Network and was amazed at the food they would cook on shows like Iron Chef — it caught my attention so much that I started wondering if I could do something like that. A little after I found out the high school I attended, Canutillo High School, offered an Intro to Culinary program, so I took the risk and joined. I ended up liking it so much and learning a lot, so I stayed in the program for three years.

How did you hear about JWU and what made you decide to come here?

When it started getting closer to my senior year, a JWU representative from Texas, Mrs. Elena Doerrie Cruce, would come and talk to us about JWU and the opportunities the university could offer, especially in the culinary and hospitality world.

Being able to get an education from such a great school and learning from some of the top chefs in the industry was what sold me on JWU. I chose the Providence Campus because I had never been anywhere close to the East Coast, so I decided to go study somewhere that would allow me to see new places and challenge me to step out of my comfort zone.

on the left, David Villanueva prepares plates of food and on the right he stands with a presentation table of food

Cookin’ at JWU: Villanueva dishing up some delicious food as a JWU student.

What were some of your favorite classes and/or favorite professors while at JWU?

Athletic Performance Cuisine and Spa Cuisine had to be my favorite classes. All my professors were great. If I had to choose though I’d say Chef Aukstolis, who I had for Purchase and Product Identification, and Chef Poyourow, who I had for Athletic Performance Cuisine. 

After graduating, what happened next? What led you to work for the Braves?

I was already working in baseball by the time I had graduated. My friend and classmate Tyler Hines connected me with JWU alumni Miguel Solis '14, who helped me get an internship in the last trimester of my senior year with a catering company based out of Arizona called Cookin’ on Wood. The company offers its services to cook year-round for the spring training and minor league facilities located in the Phoenix area, as well as some Major League Baseball teams who hire them during the regular season.

A month into my internship, I was offered a full-time job with the company and when the season started, I moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to become one of the cooks for the Texas Rangers. I spent four seasons with the Rangers, gaining experience and getting to learn a lot when it came to cooking for a major league team. After the 2019 season, I moved to Arizona to continue cooking at the minor league facilities and gain experience as a Kitchen Manager. When the 2020 season got pushed to further in the year, my boss needed extra hands out in Atlanta with the Braves, a team that Cookin’ on Wood had been contracted by for the past four or five seasons. They asked if I would like to join them out there so I did. I took the opportunity and cooked for them in the 2020 season as well as returning for the 2021 season.

What did your workday look like this season?

Normally game days consisted of three meals. For night games it was a lunch, post-batting practice meal and a post-game meal. Day games were pretty much the same but instead of a lunch it would be a breakfast. All of this also consisted of making sure the dining room looked put together and fully stock the snacks, hot wells and cold bar. I'm also lucky enough to get to work with fellow JWU alumni Peter Bruno '16 and Kai Ramarui '15. Peter worked with me to feed the Braves, while Kai fed the visiting team’s players and staff. As Cookin’ on Wood employees, we all put in the work and helped each other out to make sure we represented our company (and JWU) well and executed our job to the best of our abilities.

From left to right: David Villanueva, Adrian Figueroa and Scott Lindsay at a JWU Career Fair

Cookin’ on Wood: (L to R) Villanueva with Cookin’ on Wood team members Adrian Figueroa and Scott Lindsay at a JWU Career Fair in 2018.

What was it like to experience the run up to the World Series with the team? Did you get to join in on the celebration after winning?

It was a dream come true. Every year the kitchen staff goes in with the same focus and same attitude of making sure our job is done to the best of our abilities and making sure everyone in that clubhouse is fed and satisfied. Sometimes we get lost within our work and little do we know it’s the end of September and time for playoffs. It’s always nerve-wracking sitting at home and watching the team play away because every game counts, but we had faith in the team and I know they were hungry for success this year and they achieved it. It was an awesome experience!

We did celebrate with them to an extent, but our main focus was to make sure the food and dining room was set up for when they were done celebrating so they could enjoy their meal after a great win.

We’ve got to know: what was the team's favorite thing to eat?

Our baked wings, street tacos, and poke bar were a hit with everyone this year!

What advice would you offer current and aspiring Culinary Nutrition students for how to find success after graduation?

Work hard and remember that gaining the most experience that you can, asking questions and following directions from those with most experience will always benefit you in the long run. Take advantage of the opportunities that are given to you. Internships, volunteering or anything that is offered to you could help you to achieve your goals.

Want to create your own success story like David?

Learn more about the Culinary Nutrition program

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