Chef Jon Cowan Shares His Menu-making Tips at America’s top Venues
When you think back to the last sporting event you attended. You will most likely remember the section you sat in, who won or loss and even a memorable highlight that you still talk about to this day. However, while those memories stay with us, one of the most important aspects of any fan experience is the least discussed when we look back and that’s the food and beverages we consume while enjoying those moments.
Jon Cowan is Sodexo Live!’s executive chef at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami and has over 25 years of experience in the hotel, country club, restaurant, and now sports and entertainment industry. From Dolphins and Hurricanes football to the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix, Rolling Loud and several events, he aims to make sure that fans are enjoying what’s on their plate just as much as the entertainment.
Cowan was one of the chef’s selected by Sodexo Live! to oversee the food and beverage operations at the French Open for the duration of the tournament. He spoke with Muscle & Fitness on the experience, how the food and beverage industry has changed and what goes into making sure that your dining needs are met when you visit Hard Rock Stadium.
Food is a Big Deal
The food and beverage component is a big factor especially here in Miami and a lot of the Sodexo Live operations. Here in Miami, a lot of the people come for just the show and food and beverage experience. They come for football first, but the food is a huge part of it. That’s why us chefs and the people that work for Sodexo Live want them to come and have a really great experience at Hard Rock Stadium or any other venue that we operate.
Menu Selection is a Year-Round Process
We’re redoing all the suites menus currently. So, we’ll do tastings, prep in the kitchen, move it up to the suites, make sure the layout is good, make sure all the food fits in the proper places. We’ll have our peers taste them. We’ll bring in some Dolphins employees to do a tasting for them as well. It’s a year-round process just to make sure we have the best products and best guest experience in the stadium. For our clubs and concession stands, it’s the same thing. We do tastings, talk to purveyors to find the right products we want to use. We work with a produce company to get local, fresh, and as many Florida-grown products as we can. Sourcing locally and sustainability is a huge part of Sodexo Live!
In my previous stops, I worked for big hotels, country clubs and I worked in a few restaurants. The difference between that and this is just the massive undertaking it takes to put everything together as far as the logistics, planning, staffing, menu writing, meeting with clients — just to be able to pull off the best food possible. We work with purveyors who provide local ingredients. There is nothing like the rush leading up to the football game. Just like the players, us as chefs we want the same thing and that’s to win the game. You want to have a successful service and successful game. Even if the football team doesn’t win, at least on the culinary and food and beverage side, we do.
I walk the entire stadium during the game. I’ll walk with other chefs, talk to guests to get as much feedback as possible. Walking through The 72 Club, The Nine, greeting guests — a lot of people will flag us down because they’ll see us in the funny, white chef jackets. Most of the feedback is really positive. Some people want to know where the higher end things are, or they’ll give suggestions on what they want to see on the menu next time. We also fulfill special requests for guest as well. If there’s a strictly vegan person or someone on a healthier diet, we have so many options in the stadium that we can always find them something to eat.
If you’re 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 big chef’s table buffet with a carving station. Everything from sushi to ceviche, chicken wings sliders, full fresh pizzas, and prime rib. We put that out for about 800 people every game. I think for the people in that club, they come for the dining experience as well. For the concession side, anything Latin base. We have some great empanadas and Cuban sandwiches.
Food Prep For Different Events
We have to work with our clients. We have meetings beforehand on what kind of menu we’re trying to build. I work with my team, the food and beverage director, and our corporate chefs and we come to an agreement on what style of service we’re going to do. Whether it’s for a premium buffet. We also look at if we’re serving in air condition, can it hold up in the heat. All of those factors go into writing a menu. We want the guests to come in and be wowed. They all our very different events. You have people that come to the game to watch football and some people who just want the food.
Tackling Food Allergies
We work with a company called FARE. We opened a non-allergen kitchen inside of the stadium. Only I and two other people on the culinary team are certified to cook in there. We get inspected by FARE and it’s just like a health inspection, where they’re making sure we’re sourcing the right product from the right purveyors. If you’re getting a barista oat milk, you’re making sure that oat milk is actually gluten free. It’s contacting the manufacture of it as well. Most of the time, not all the ingredients are listed on a lot of the products. It’s a really special project that we’ve worked on that I got certified in. A lot of kids have peanut allergies and that’s a huge one. There’s also shellfish and eggs. They can actually pre-order off of the menu when they’re arriving to the stadium. A lot of people that have those food intolerances, they kind of know about the program now.
Bringing Back a Piece of Paris
It was really good from a personal and professional Sodexo Live experience. It was phenomenal. It’s really the first time that Sodexo Live! is building this relationship to work with the French national team and the Sodexo Live! team in France. From the beginning when they asked me to go, I was super excited. That was right after the Miami Open. I got through F1 and then took the trip to France. I had a really great experience as far as working with the restaurant, it was a little bit different because in being an executive chef at Hard Rock stadium, I’m kind of the controller of the culinary team. Walking into a different venue, not speaking the language was an adjustment. I just listened to them and how we could take tidbits of what they do there and bring it to Sodexo in North America.
There are only four grand slams and I got to go to one. French cuisine is obviously a little bit different than American cuisine. They use a lot of fresh products, and they mix ingredients together to make the most flavorful dishes. With it being a tennis tournament, there were a lot of healthy options. There was a nice organic carrot soup that we served. It had a little dash of cream and some roasted hazelnuts. We served casserole sea bream with some tarragon, cherry tomatoes, finished with some olive oil and sea salt. Croque monsieur is served just about everywhere in Paris and France. They made an avocado croque monsieur with a little bit of pistachio cream, mint, coriander, topped it off with a little layer of cheese on top, served nice and warm with a summer salad. For dessert, there was a carpaccio with some pineapple that was marinated. A little bit of cilantro and we served it with some agave, ice cream and roasted nuts.