Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Good Eats

Sandy and Jose Garciga have stood the test of time as the Buccaneers' caterers

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The new daily Stadium Club coverage starts with an inside look at the Bucs' eating habits

Sandy and Jose Garciga come from a different era. Their calendar measures time in B.G. and A.G.

That's Before Gruber and After Gruber.

The Garcigas are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' caterers, the folks that provide food to the players and football staff on Mondays through Fridays. They've been doing it since 1987. But ask Jose about their tenure and you get this answer: "We started the year before Paul Gruber."

That's as good of a demarcation as any, a telling one, really. Almost everything at One Buccaneer Place has changed since 1987, including much of the structure itself. When superb tackle Paul Gruber retired a few weeks ago, most of the last links to the Buccaneers of old went with him.

Except the Garcigas. And that's a good thing. As personable as Jose and Sandy are, as much as they seem like part of the Buccaneer family after all these years, it is the quality of their service, and their food, that has kept their simple white van outside of One Buc Place for 14 years.

The modern athlete doesn't mess around when it comes to his health, which means the feeding of that athlete is a sort of science in itself. The Garcigas have adapted to this attitude by striking a perfect balance between taste and healthiness.

"We use very little oil when we're cooking," said Jose Garciga. We talked to him exclusively because Sandy was back at the shop, already preparing for Friday's feat. "When we use beef, for example, we use ground sirloin. When we use chicken, we use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. When we use steak, we use tenderloins. We try to cut back on the amount of fat intake with those kind of things. Today, we have (green) beans, for example, which are grilled. There's no oil on them. The mashed potatoes have margarine, and that's not the greatest thing in the world, but you have to have a little bit of that.

"And then we have a variety of things like fruits and things like that. There's enough variety that a guy can get himself a good, balanced meal without indulging in something that's not necessarily all that good for him."

And if an athlete in the Bucs' employ has a more specific menu request, the Garcigas oblige. Fish, for instance, has become a staple on the food line only in recent years.

"That started with (defensive end) Chidi (Ahanotu)," said Garciga. "About two or three years ago, Chidi became a fish-eater. We call him the fish man. We started bringing in fish for about 10 guys, and then it became 20 guys, and then we decided, listen, we'll just put it out on the line where anyone can eat it. We pretty much grill all the fish that we buy. We cut the fish and the chicken up into pieces so that you can get enough flavoring on it. With chicken and fish, normally if you season it, you only get the top or the bottom of the meat seasoned. If you cut it into smaller pieces, you get more seasoning throughout."

And that philosophy has led to the secret ingredient on the Bucs' food line, a spice so homegrown you won't find it on any other NFL team's menu.

Mojo.

Pronounce it with the 'j' soft, and you get the idea. It's not exactly Austin Power's idea of 'mojo', but it's a powerful seasoning nonetheless. Garciga doesn't mind sharing the secret.

"It's sour orange, from trees that grow right here in this neighborhood, fresh garlic, oregano, pepper and salt," he said. "That's it. You can't buy it. If you buy it in a bottle, it has preservatives, and you don't know what those preservatives are. So we buy pure sour orange in gallons, and we mix it ourselves. We have chicken every day in mojo seasonings, for example, cut into small pieces, and that's all some of the coaches ever eat. You can eat all you want of that and there's no fat. We use it in a lot of our dishes.

"We use a lot of mojo in our flavoring, and there's no fat involved in it. You're getting flavoring, but there's no fat."

If Wednesday and Thursday at One Buc Place means mojo to some, Friday means barbecue. On all other days, the Garcigas' food is brought already prepared, with the exception of some sandwich fillers, which are grilled at the end of the line.

Friday's are different, however. The Garcigas fire up a huge grill right on the back porch at One Buc Place, only yards away from the practice fields. Some things, like chicken, burgers and hot dogs, hit the grill every week and their aroma reaches the players on the field. Sometimes more exotic items join the menu, including giant grouper, entire pigs and various shish-ke-bobs.

"It's fun," said Garciga of Friday's ritual. "When they're out there practicing, they get the smell of the barbecue."

Talk about tradition. Every single regular-season Friday, without exception (barring Thursday night games), is a Jose Barbecue, and the players and staff have come to love it. The idea actually began with Head Coach Ray Perkins (1987-90), who held barbecues on his own. After Richard Williamson took over for Perkins, the Garcigas took the Friday barbecue tradition into their own hands.

Most of what the Garcigas toss on the grill on Friday is snapped up as quickly as it is ready. Some days, though, the issue of how much food to bring is their most difficult decision.

"That's probably the toughest part," said Garciga. "That's the one thing that Sandy and I fight over the most. Especially when we have a big influx of people coming in, like yesterday for example. But we're catching on after all these years. We knew the New York media was going to be here this week, so we prepared more yesterday. As we win, you get more media."

On Thursday, Garciga served up meat loaf and smashed red potatoes, along with the grilled beans and the omnipresent fish. The line stretched on from there with salads, chicken salads, olives, sandwiches, chips, cookies, chicken mojo (of course), smoothies, et cetera.

It's enough to strain the mind, this bounty of well-prepared food. How much is it all in pounds? Garciga didn't have a ready answer for that question, at least numerically. You could tell from his answer, however, that it was a lot.

"My back might be able to tell you better than my brains," he said.

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