Long before anyone starts sprinting toward the finish line, chefs in Boston hotels are brewing black coffee and stirring vats of oatmeal. Eggs Benedict and cappuccino can wait. On Boston Marathon morning, chefs concentrate on what jittery athletes need to fuel them for 26.2 hilly, unforgiving miles.
The Boston Marathon attracts runners from around the world, and most of them stay in hotels near the Copley Square finish line. That means the kitchen staffs will keep a fast pace all weekend to cater to the athletes participating in the 117-year-old Boston race. “The thing I always think about for marathon weekend is bananas, oatmeal, and pasta specials,” says Laurent Poulain, executive chef at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, where he has made specialties for runners for 17 years.
“Marathon Monday is our single busiest day of the year,” says chef Jeremy Sewall, who oversees the food at Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, The Hawthorne, and room service at the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. “It starts really early with room service requests. The restaurants are full by 9 a.m. It’s nonstop.”
Marathon Monday is also the busiest day of the year at the Lenox Hotel. “We prepare weeks and weeks in advance,” says food and beverage director Michael Carlisle. “The first thing we do is put in a 40- to 100-case order for bananas. The runners are usually eating one banana and have one or two in their pockets.”
A few runners bring their own food and ask the Lenox kitchen to reheat it. Carlisle says he feels a responsibility to accommodate any food requests. “They are training for months, eating at home or in trusted restaurants. All of a sudden they’re in a new city, and forced to go out. We want to give them the simple foods that they are looking for before the race.”
Most hotels also offer at least one pasta special the night before for carb-loading runners. The Boston Athletic Association hosts an annual prerace dinner, but some runners would rather stay in and eat at their hotels. The Lenox menu typically includes baked rigatoni, a vegetarian pasta primavera, and gnocchi or ravioli. At the Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common, executive chef Andrew Yeo each year creates a “Boston Runner” menu with protein-and-carbohydrate combinations such as whole-wheat fettuccine with smoked salmon, spinach, and tomato.
Other carbs seem to be less popular, though Sewall reports that a few room service orders for plain, baked potatoes went out the night before the marathon last year. For those on special diets, the Fairmont offers a gluten-free quinoa salad or a vegetable-tofu stir fry on a bed of rice. Foreign runners sometimes go out to restaurants serving their native cuisines to find specialty rice or grain dishes.
Many athletes find their hotels through Marathon Tours and Travel, the official travel agency of the marathon, which works with 35 local establishments. Its president, Thom Gilligan, helped Bricco Suites, a new DePasquale Ventures hotel on Hanover Street, develop a package for runners. A three-course dinner at Bricco the night before the race includes a choice of pappardelle with wild boar and porcini braised in red wine or chicken roasted under a brick and served with mashed potatoes. Kathrine Switzer, who challenged the marathon’s former restriction to men only by running in 1967, makes an appearance. The next morning, a limousine takes runners out to the Hopkinton starting line. “We’re excited for it. What better place for runners to load up on carbs than in the North End?” says David Duggan, manager of Bricco Suites.
The excitement of race day transfers to the hotels, too. Staff and spectators fill the lobbies and cheer the thermal-wrappedrunners who limp through the door after the race.
The menu changes then, too. “People are very careful about what they eat the day or two before the marathon. Afterward, it’s burger central,” says Brooke Vosika, executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel. For dessert, the hotel creates a gold medal cupcake which looks like a Boston Marathon finisher’s medal with ribbons of frosting.
The Ritz sends participants home with a framed printout of the runner’s name and finishing time, and a bag of “Freedom Trail Mix,” house-made granola with dried fruits and nuts.
“They are easy guests to serve. All they want to do is run,” says Yeo.