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Feeding the Student-Athletes

July 8, 2014

By Chelsea Zillner

Wellness Kitchen Construction Renderings

Patrick Smallen grew up with a love for sports, Auburn sports at that. The Birmingham native has cheered for the orange and blue since he was a kid. After graduating high school, Smallen joined the military for five years before finding himself in Denver, Colo. In culinary school. Smallen decided to combine his love for cooking and his passion for sports into a career.

“My goal for the future is to become a chef for a professional team, but I figure it’s just like an athlete, you’ve got to go high school, then college and then the professional level,” said Smallen. “I wanted to be a chef that specializes in perfecting athlete nutrition, no matter what the sport or body type.”

Smallen attended Johnson and Wales Culinary Institute in Colorado, which led him to Arizona where he worked with Athletes Performance; a program specifically geared toward athletes preparing for the NFL combine and draft. Each athlete had their own individual meal plan that catered to their needs to optimize athletic performance. Smallen helped prepare 28 players for the draft during his internship, including NFL notables Julio Jones, J.J. Watt and Christian Ponder.

The internship taught Smallen that athlete nutrition is a scientific art.

Making the food is the easy part. It’s the science of getting down the serving size and portions that becomes the hard part. When it comes to athletics it all has to be more precise and more exact than anybody else.”

This mentality and “science” is what Smallen intends to bring to the newly constructed Wellness Kitchen at Auburn. The state of the art facility will serve not just student athletes, but will be available for the entire student population beginning in the fall. The facility will feature all-you-can-eat dining, including a pizza kitchen, action stations, a carving station, smoothies and a salad bar. Student athletes will also have the choice of utilizing a training table that is designed around their nutrition goals.

“We have the opportunity to work with student athletes and help them meet their nutritional goals, whether that’s weight control, muscle gain or maintenance,” explains Smallen. “We can build a plan specific to each individual athlete.”

The Wellness Kitchen will also feature a gluten free and food allergy free zone. This kitchen and zone will be completely separate from the regular kitchen to ensure safe food preparation. Egg, dairy, soy, wheat and peanuts will not be used in the allergy free zone.

Twenty-two staff members, including lead cooks, action cooks and bakers will work under Smallen to make the Wellness Kitchen run. Smallen has been working closely with Auburn Athletics’ sports dietician Scott Sehnert to create healthy and appetizing menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“I’ll create a menu that includes all the nutritional facts and send it to Scott. From there he will revise and make changes, and then I can make the necessary adjustments. We are in the process now of figuring out a way to display nutritional facts to the students when they select their food.”

The Wellness Kitchen is a dream for Smallen, something he has been planning for the last two years. To see it come to life is an exciting step. The reward of contributing to a student-athlete’s nutrition that ultimately leads to their success is one of the highlights of his job.

“If they’ve performed well on the field, then that’s where I get my reward. If they do well then that means I’m doing my job.”

Rent the Wellness Kitchen for your Events

The Wellness Kitchen is available for rent for receptions, corporate meetings and other special events. The facility features open-space seating for 250, as well as a board room that can seat 50. For more information or to reserve the facility for your event, contact Wendy Carlson at




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