When you think back to the last sporting event you attended. You will most likely remember the section you sat in, who won or lost and even a memorable climax that you talk about to this day. While these memories linger in our minds, looking back, one of the most important aspects of any fan experience is the least addressed, and that is the food and drink we consume while enjoying those moments.
Jon Cowan is Executive Chef of Sodexo Live! at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami and has over 25 years of experience in the hospitality, country club, restaurant and now sports and entertainment industries. From Dolphins and Hurricanes football to the Miami Formula 1 Grand Prix, Rolling Loud and multiple events, he wants to make sure fans enjoy what's on their plate as much as the entertainment.
Cowan was one of Sodexo Live! selected chefs! overseeing the food and beverage operations at the French Open for the duration of the tournament. He spoke to Muscle & Fitness about experiencing how the food and beverage industry has changed and what goes into ensuring your culinary needs are met when you visit Hard Rock Stadium.
Food is a big deal
The food and beverage component is an important factor, especially here in Miami and at many Sodexo Live operations. A lot of people come here to Miami just for the show and the food and drink experience. They come first for the football, but food plays a big part in that. That's why we want chefs and the people who work for Sodexo Live to come and have a really great experience at Hard Rock Stadium or any other venue that we run.
Menu selection is a year-round process
We are currently revising all suite menus. So we do tastings, prep the kitchen, move them to the suites, make sure the layout is good and that all the food fits in the right place. We let our colleagues try them. We will bring in some Dolphins staff to do a tasting for them too. It's a year-round process to ensure we have the best products and the best guest experience at the stadium. The same applies to our clubs and concession stands. We do tastings and talk to suppliers to find the right products we want to use. We work with a food company to get local, fresh, and as much Florida-grown produce as possible. Local sourcing and sustainability are a big part of Sodexo Live!
In my previous positions I worked for large hotels, country clubs and in a few restaurants. The difference between this and that is just the sheer amount of effort it takes to put everything together in terms of logistics, planning, staffing, menu creation, and meeting customers - just to be able to cook the best possible meal. We work with suppliers who supply local ingredients. There is nothing quite like the rush leading up to a football game. Just like the players, we chefs want the same thing, which is to win the game. They want to have a successful service and game. Even if the football team doesn't win, at least in terms of food and drink, we do.
During the game I walk through the entire stadium. I walk with other chefs and talk to guests to get as much feedback as possible. As we walk through the 72 Club, The Nine, and greet guests - many people will stop us because they see us in the fun white chef's jackets. Most of the feedback is really positive. Some people want to know where the more upscale items are, or make suggestions as to what they'd like to see on the menu next time. We are also happy to fulfill special requests from our guests. If someone is strictly vegan or eating healthier, we have so many options at the stadium that we can always find something to eat.
If you are in one of our premium areas The 72 Club is the place to be or The Nine which is very exclusive. In the 72 Club we serve a large chef's table buffet with a carving station. Everything from sushi to ceviche, chicken wing sliders, completely fresh pizzas and prime rib. We put that out every game to about 800 people. I think people also come to this club for the culinary experience. For the concession side: all on Latin basis. We have some great empanadas and cuban sandwiches.
Food preparation for various events
We have to work together with our customers. We meet beforehand about what kind of menu we want to put together. I work with my team, the Food and Beverage Director and our company chefs and we agree on what type of service we will provide. Whether for a premium buffet. If we serve in an air conditioner, we also check that it can withstand the heat. All of these factors go into creating a menu. We want guests to come in and be amazed. These are all our very different events. There are people who come to the game to watch football and some people who just want to eat.
Fighting food allergies
We work with a company called FARE. We have opened an allergen-free kitchen in the stadium. Only me and two other people from the kitchen team have certification to cook there. We are controlled by FARE and it's like a health inspection to make sure we're getting the right product from the right supplier. If you choose a barista oat milk, make sure the oat milk is actually gluten-free. It also contacts the manufacturer. Most of the time, not all ingredients are listed on many products. It's a really special project that we've been working on and I've been certified on. A lot of kids have peanut allergies and it's a huge problem. There are also shellfish and eggs. You can actually pre-order something from the menu when you arrive at the stadium. Many people with food intolerances are now familiar with the program.
Bring back a piece of Paris
It was really good in terms of personal and professional experience of Sodexo Live. It was phenomenal. It is truly the first time that Sodexo Live! builds this relationship to work with the French national team and Sodexo France. When they asked me from the start if I wanted to come along, I was super excited. That was right after the Miami Open. I survived Formula 1 and then traveled to France. As for working with the restaurant, I had a really great experience. It was a little different because as the Executive Chef at Hard Rock Stadium, I'm sort of the controller of the kitchen team. Going to a different venue and not speaking the language was a change. I was just listening to them and how we could bring a little insight into what they are doing there to Sodexo in rth America.
There are only four Grand Slams and I have to go to one. French cuisine is obviously a little different from American cuisine. They use lots of fresh produce and mix ingredients to make the tastiest dishes. Since it was a tennis tournament, there were many healthy options. There was a lovely organic carrot soup that we served. There was a small dash of cream and some toasted hazelnuts. We served sea bream casserole with some tarragon, cherry tomatoes, topped off with a little olive oil and sea salt. Croque monsieur is served almost everywhere in Paris and France. They made an avocado croque monsieur with some pistachio cream, mint and coriander, topped it with a small layer of cheese and served it nice and warm with a summer salad. For dessert there was a carpaccio with some marinated pineapple. A bit of cilantro and we served it with some agave, ice cream and toasted nuts.