March 15, 2019

Cooking in the Commissary Kitchen


From meat balls to lettuce wraps, the team at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Commissary Kitchen is always cooking up something tasty for their animal residents.

Every morning, the team begins preparation in the kitchen, which looks very similar to a commercial restaurant kitchen. With two large freezers filled with meat, fish, and seafood, another smaller refrigerator used for produce, and shelves lining the walls with dry goods, it’s a culinary oasis.

The team makes more than 250 meals each day, with feeding times all over the board. Some animals eat twice a day, some eat three times a day, and others eat only once a week.

Following a large cookbook filled with dietary requirements set by the veterinary department and using restaurant quality fresh produce, fish, and dry goods purchased from local markets in the area, the team gets to work.

The primates require mostly produce. The cats including lions, tigers, and cheetahs eat meat fortified with vitamins and nutrients. The red panda eats bamboo, which is grown on the Zoo grounds, as well as grapes and animal biscuits. It’s no surprise that our giant anteaters eat ants, but they also have a taste for avocado. Marine mammals primarily eat fish. The diet for our pangolins consists of dried ants that are mashed just for them. Our sea otters prefer to dine on seafood found in high-end restaurants, including crabs and muscles. And of course, the elephants eat the most.

If there’s a special occasion like an animal’s birthday, the team loves to create unusual looking cakes made of the animal’s favorite foods. Recently, to celebrate the birthday of our young rhino Kessie, the team made a smorgasbord of her favorite fruits, including melons and strawberries.

Dietary staffers work at three stations. They cut, dice, slice, peel, cube, puree, mash, cook, and even leave the food whole as they prepare the meals according to the cookbook’s specific instructions.

Each meal is weighed and then placed in a container for delivery. Meal preparation in the morning can take up to three hours, including delivery. After delivery, staff returns to the commissary to begin preparations for the following day.

Bon appetit!