Meet the Chefs of Sodexo Live!: Chef Jennifer Bargisen

Published on : 12/21/22
  • Jennifer Bargisen: Vice President of Culinary for Sodexo Live!

    Chef Jennifer Bargisen has been in her current position of Vice President of Culinary for Sodexo Live! for about three and a half years, where she oversees the central part of the U.S., including Chicago, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Denver, New Orleans and Dallas. In her role, she supports and advocates for culinary excellence, whether in the areas of menu engineering or mentoring and guiding on food costs. We caught up with the busy chef to talk about plant-based menu innovations, the importance of seasonality and mentoring young chefs.

    Interviewer: Tell us about your culinary background and training.

    Chef Jennifer Bargisen: I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Most of my background originally started in restaurants, then I transitioned into hotels. I've worked everywhere, from Scottsdale to Las Vegas to upstate New York and Bermuda, and then I transitioned into stadiums with Sodexo Live!. I have some retail background in there as well. 

    Interviewer: How different is your role now from your previous roles?  

    Chef Jennifer Bargisen: It's actually very similar to my roles in Las Vegas and when I started with Sodexo Live! I was in Indianapolis and oversaw the Colts stadium there. Both of them have multiple divisions under my ownership as far as responsibilities and large-volume scenarios. I've had roles related to having multiple executive chefs reporting to me, guiding them in their path and letting their food vision come through, and helping them make connections with clients.

    Interviewer: Do you work with a lot of Sodexo Live! executive chefs in crafting menus? 

    Chef Jennifer Bargisen: I do. I also work with our Director of Innovation Alex Reyes. Menu engineering in today's world is a lot different than it used to be, which was chefs sitting down and going, “What do I think people want to eat?" Or, “What trends am I following?” Now there's data analytics in understanding all the things that should be on the menu, like, should we be offering Nashville hot chicken sandwich here, or should it be a plant-based offering? One of the things I'm particularly passionate about driving in our menu engineering processes is the Future 50 Foods partnership that Sodexo is supporting. It’s a huge initiative and it's meaningful work. We're at the education phase part of it on the chef end, but I think the counterbalance to that is also educating the public as it goes live — not just telling the story around why we did it, but just actually getting the food in people's mouths. 

    Interviewer: Can you give us a quick rundown of Future 50 Foods? 

    Chef Jennifer Bargisen: Future 50 Foods is an initiative spearheaded by Knorr Professional and leading conservation organization WWF-UK. Sodexo has partnered with these organizations to bring Future 50 Foods into the workplace, helping our clients reinforce their corporate responsibility commitments. The premise behind it is that 80% of the world’s population eats about 12 foods en masse, whether it’s basic grains, proteins, potatoes. Well, that pattern has created agricultural issues. It's reduced biodiversity and created health issues for people, and it's hurting the land. So these studies identified 50 foods that do good for the planet but also have good health implications. Some of them you're probably used to seeing on menus at this point — different grains like bulghur or things of that nature — but some are ones you rarely see, like algaes or seaweeds. So we have to pick the foods of interest that can prompt the conversation or give us collateral to talk about it. It's a huge initiative because it’s really targeted at what we can do for the environment and the health of people by putting these items that aren't commonly utilized on menus.

    Interviewer: Do plant-based dishes figure into your menu engineering? 

    Chef Jennifer Bargisen: I tend to eat plant-based myself so I'm particularly passionate about it. In general, we've seen huge shifts in the public, in that they're getting used to the idea of Meatless Mondays or something as simple as that.  

    Interviewer: How does seasonality come into play?  

    Chef Jennifer Bargisen: I’m a huge proponent of seasonality being reflected in our menus, because I’m very passionate about being authentic in our menu creation and our relationships with other vendors or chefs in the area that we choose to do work with. I want to create a meaningful partnership there and really tell their story. It's the same thing on the on the seasonality part of it. I pay particular attention when I'm writing a menu or when I encourage our chefs to think that way, because I think the more we've leaned into that, the more we've taught the public. For example, you may be able to get a BLT any time of the year, and yet we know when you have that in the middle of the summer at the height of the tomatoes, it's the most phenomenal thing in the world. As chefs, we are educators to the public; it is our responsibility to introduce new foods, introduce new flavors, doing it in meaningful ways that people want to try it, and then tell those stories because people often wouldn't have that exposure without us doing that.  

    Interviewer: What are some of the things you’re looking forward to in the future as far as your role in Sodexo Live!? 

    Chef Jennifer Bargisen: I do a lot of recruiting with the schools and I'm one of the drivers of our externship and internship program that we’ve created from the ground up. It's not until you’re in those moments that you realize all the cool things you do and getting the chefs to tap back into that and get excited about what they do. They want to tell those stories and want to document them and get their teams excited about it. That's a really big part of where I am focusing now: I want each of them to get excited to tell that story, and I've seen it happening more and more. I get pictures almost every day from chefs in my area that say, “Hey, look, I'm trying this thing” and “What do you think about this?” I just want people to feel that passion and enthusiasm because COVID didn't make it easy. When you’re a chef, anytime you get to play with food and you get to share it with people, it's something special.