Wayne Gretzky hoists the Stanley Cup after beating Boston in 1988.
#100daysofcooking, Recipes

Day 99: What would Wayne eat?


Twice-Baked Horseradish Potatoes, in a dinner fit for Gretzky


On this, my second-to-last day of the #100daysofcooking project, I didn’t want a good idea.

I wanted a great one. Or, should I say, a Great One.

In Edmonton and beyond, 99 — Wayne Gretzky’s number — is synonymous with history, hockey and the Holy Grail. It’s the 99th day of my project and the Oilers are once again in the playoffs, this time led by a 20-year-old kid nicknamed McJesus who redefines the expression “miracle on ice.”

Coincidence? Kismet? Does it matter? Today, I’m asking the question that young Connor may or may not wonder each time he laces up his skates.

What would Wayne do?

Actually, I’m more interested in What Would Wayne Eat, which means poor Dan has been fielding many questions from me on the topic of the pre-game meal. (For the record, Dan refused to pass along any of my questions to Gretzky. He also shot down my suggestion of getting a selfie with the Great One. Something about a “professional code of conduct.” Pfft.)

Fortunately, plenty of other journalists have asked.

Going back to when he was a kid playing junior hockey, his pre-game meal was steak and potatoes, a habit he brought with him to the NHL, he told Sportsnet’s Gene Principe in February 2017.

A young Wayne Gretzky ordering at a McDonalds. Photo from strangepersons.com
A young Wayne Gretzky ordering at a McDonalds. Photo from strangepersons.com

“My pre-game meal never changed, ever,” Gretzky says in the segment of Ask An Oiler. “When I was a kid, you got out of school at 3 o’clock and you might have a 7 o’clock hockey game but my Dad was a big believer in ‘you gotta eat, you gotta eat properly’. And I always ate steak, potato and a vegetable.

“So when I played my entire career, I would have a bowl of chicken noodle soup, I’d have a salad, I’d have steak, I’d have a potato and I’d have corn, and I just never changed from that.”

Which isn’t to say others did not try to force change upon him.

In his book Gretzky to Lemieux: The Story of the 1987 Canada Cup, Vancouver columnist and good friend Ed Willes writes about coach Mike Keenan’s determination to step up Team Canada’s pre-game nutrition plan. “The Flyers, for example, always ate chicken and broccoli before their games while the Oilers favoured the more traditional large steak-and-potato entree followed by mounds of ice cream as their pre-game meal,” Willes writes.

“This created your basic conflict when, before one pre-tournament contest, the Oilers entered the team’s dining room and saw the trays of chicken and broccoli. Gretzky … took one look at the fare, walked into the kitchen, and proclaimed: ‘I need 20 freakin’ steaks out here (or words to that effect) and I need them right now.’ ”

To the amusement of the Flyers — and most likely the consternation of Keenan — the fellas got their steaks. And their ice cream, too.

Wayne Gretzky has said he'd on occasion have a hot dog (or two, or four) before games. Photo from rebrn.com
Wayne Gretzky has said he’d on occasion have a hot dog (or two, or four) before games. Photo from rebrn.com

When it comes to Gretzky though, you can’t talk about the pre-game meal without also asking about his follow-up  snacks which, depending on the city, might be pizza, sandwiches or hot dogs along with Diet Coke and chocolate bars.

Gretzky maintains there’s a simple explanation for what some would dub a junk food habit.

After turning pro at age 17, his game-day routine changed from an after-school supper at 5 p.m. to joining the team for a big meal in the middle of the day. “I would eat at 12, 12:30 like everyone else but I always found that by 5 o’clock I was hungry,” Gretzky told Graham Bensinger in October 2016. “Chicago, there’d be pizza in the building, if it was Quebec City there would be hot dogs. Some cities, there would be sandwiches.

“And we didn’t have Power Bars, we didn’t have Gatorade or Powerade or energy drinks. For me, I drink Diet Coke. I found that to be the same sort of stimulation as an energy drink. And we had chocolate bars. … If I had a Snickers or any kind of a chocolate bar and that would give me a little bit of energy.”

A fun video from the January 2017 Winter Classic Alumni Game in St. Louis shows Gretzky demanding a hot dog between periods. “We’re at a baseball stadium, I need a dog!” He has also been a bit mischievous with reporters about his hot dog habit, noting in one early interview: “I play best on four hot dogs with mustard and onions. People ask me what’s my secret on ice? Bad breath.”

So today, in honour of the number 99, I offer you a dinner that is good enough for the Great One: Twice-baked Horseradish Potatoes served with pan-fried steak, broccoli (a nod to Mr. Keenan’s unsuccessful effort), followed by vanilla ice cream with salted caramel sauce.

And, of course, a Diet Coke.

Let’s Go Oilers!

Kitchen Castoff Used

None. Though in one more day (One More Day!!) I will be casting off this entire project. For good! Hallelujah!

This is how we did it

Twice-Baked Horseradish Potatoes, from melaniemakes.com

Ingredients

  • 2 potatoes. Large baking potatoes are suggested, but I used small red ones and they were great
  • 4 strips bacon, cooked and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup horseradish sauce

Method

Scrub the potatoes and bake them. You can either do this a conventional oven or in the microwave, if you have a need for speed. (To microwave potatoes: prick them with fork in about 10 places, place on a plate or in a dish, cover with a damp paper towel, cook for about 10 minutes, flipping half-way. If you like, crisp up the skins by putting cooked potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 15 – 20 minutes.)

After potatoes are cooked, slice a 1″ strip of skin off the top of each potato. Using a small spoon, scoop out the potato into a bowl, leaving the skins intact.

Add the butter to the potatoes and mash until all the butter is melted. Add yogurt, horseradish and most of the cheese and continue mixing until smooth. Spoon it all back into the potato shells, then top with the remaining cheese and bacon.

Place back on the baking dish and return to the 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Strip-loin steak, a twice-baked potato and — to make Mike Keenan happy — broccoli.
A meal fit for 99: strip-loin steak, a twice-baked potato and — to make Mike Keenan happy — broccoli.

A few more odds and ends

• Dec. 30, 1981 was Gretzky’s 39th game in which he scored his 50th goal into an empty net. Teammate (and roommate) Kevin Lowe recalls that Gretzky made them bacon and eggs before that game.

• Wayne Gretzky’s, the restaurant in downtown Toronto, features three kinds of poutine (Canadian, American and Tex-Mex) and a dessert called the “99” Double Chocolate Puck.

• Urban legend? If you order a “Gretzky” at Tim Horton’s, you’ll get a coffee with nine sugars and nine creams.


Curious about my “Kitchen Castoffs” concept? Here’s the explainer describing my 100-day project.

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