DYLAN GREENE | Evergreen reporter
Fuel. Train. Dominate. A three-word mantra that overlooks WSU athletes as they are served food inside the Gray W Legends Lounge.
Raul Vera, senior executive chef of WSU Athletics, runs the kitchen inside the lounge. He and his staff provide the student-athletes with the fuel they need to compete.
“We just want to make sure they are fueled and ready to dominate,” Vera said.
Vera and his staff serve lunch and dinner to the athletes Monday through Thursday each week. The rest of his time is spent either preparing pregame meals for the athletes or hosting and serving food to WSU alumni and donors on Cougar football gamedays.
Despite the time commitment, Vera, 57, said he enjoys interacting with the players every day.
“This is what fuels my fire, you know the young people,” Vera said. “They are very appreciative, and it’s good to see what our next generation is going to be like.”
Vera first started cooking when he was nine years old. His mother taught him how to cook, and Vera credits her for the cooking style he uses now.
At that young age, he told his mother that someday, he would own a restaurant. Sure enough in 1990, Vera and his wife opened a Mexican restaurant in La Grande, Oregon.
The restaurant served healthy, authentic Mexican food with fresh ingredients from farms in the area, he said.
“We were the first ones to come out with a healthy concept,” he said.
After eight years, the chef and his wife moved the restaurant to Bellingham. They then decided to sell the business so they could spend more time with their three boys.
In Bellingham, Vera got hired as a lead dinner cook at Western Washington University. Within a year, he worked his way up to Executive Chef.
Oregon State University noticed and hired Vera as their own Executive Chef in 2005. He was eventually promoted to Culinary Director of the Athletic Program at OSU.
Vera worked in the Beavers’ program for 10 years before his contract ended. He essentially became a free agent in the Pac-12 market.
Not wanting to leave what he was doing, Vera accepted a job at WSU to continue working with student-athletes. He had job offers from other universities, but Pullman was at the top of his list.
“It wasn’t in desperation I came here, it wasn’t a second choice, this was my first choice,” he said. “I had other opportunities that I could have taken, but this is where God brought me.”
Now, Vera serves the athletes at WSU, making sure they are properly fueled for gameday.
A pregame meal for the athletes usually consists of prime rib, shrimp, lasagna, chicken breast, mashed potatoes, vegetables and dinner rolls, Vera said.
Dessert is also served during pregame meals, but Vera said this is the only time that the athletes get to enjoy a slice of red velvet cake or cheesecake.
“The rest of the time we try to not influence them with any kind of sugar in their bodies because it dehydrates them pretty quickly,” he said.
Special dietary meals, such as vegan and vegetarian options, for athletes are prepared, Vera said.
Vera makes sure each meal fits the diets of athletes and takes responsibility for knowing what they are looking for in the food they eat.
“I took to heart what they needed because it’s a lifestyle that they want to do — to eat that way,” he said.
Sometimes, Vera even works with the nutritionist and team strength coaches to prepare specific meals that can help an athlete lose, gain or maintain weight.
“We have to get them to their ‘playing’ weight — that’s where they excel at their best,” Vera said. “That’s going to protect them from injury. They are going to be able to get through the competition without getting tired, dehydrated or anything like that.”
Perusing this career path was based on Vera’s love for sports growing up. He and his wife have talked about opening another restaurant sometime in the future, but for now, Vera’s focus is on WSU athletes.
“I was born to do this,” he said. “This is something I would never give up. As long as I can keep doing it, this is what I want to do.”