Meet the Chefs of Sodexo Live!: Chef Jon Wanland

Published on : 10/31/22
  • Jon Wanland: Executive Chef of Lucas Oil Stadium

    Jon Wanland may be new to his position as executive chef at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, but he’s a seasoned pro when it comes to delighting fans at sports events. Previously, he worked for Sodexo Live! at the University of Louisville, so he knows what football fans want. We caught up with the chef to talk about his new role and his goal of elevating game-day food for the crowds.

    Interviewer: How did your culinary career start?

    Chef Jon Wanland: I started working at a restaurant when I was 18. I was living on my own and did not know how to cook a thing. I knew how to boil water and make mac ‘n cheese, and that was about it. So, I just started coming in a few hours earlier and the cooks at the restaurant would teach me basic stuff, like how to pair flavors together. I loved it and spent five years there. Then I went to culinary school — Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena — and hit the ground running with mass catering. 

    Interviewer: You just started at Lucas Oil Stadium. What are some of the things you’ll be doing?

    Chef Jon Wanland: Everything from Colts games to catered events. We're a little bit different as we have a convention center that's attached to our stadium. It's one of the coolest things — you can have these giant conventions come in and they’re not confined by the space of the convention center. We also serve the Big Ten football championships and high school state football championships. 

    Interviewer: What factors do you think about when you create menus for large crowds?

    Chef Jon Wanland: Location, season, demographics of the group and cost, especially now with inflation. Ultimately, it’s seeing what your client actually wants and creating a menu that will provide the best experience. You have your seasonal menus that are tried-and-true, and you have custom menus that you can create.

    Interviewer: What are some of the more popular items on the menu for sports fans?

    Chef Jon Wanland: Most people, when they come to a game, they want game-day items like chicken tenders, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and beer. But there is a growing number of people who are coming to the stadium wanting elevated options. And I think that's the way the crowd is going — not just getting the usual fare, but getting some really nice food, whether it’s tortas or any kind of handcrafted food, especially if it's local. We have more foodie fans who are coming in, because they see something on the Food Network, and they want to replicate their favorite restaurants’ menus. So we have to up our bar. It's fun for us because we're forced to do something a little bit more elevated and adventurous to spark interest.

    Interviewer: What are you looking forward to in this new position?

    Chef Jon Wanland: Just experiencing it. It’s fun taking on a new challenge. It’s fun learning the ins and outs of building this and figuring out how this runs. As an executive chef, I can make changes for the better, both for the guests and for our team members, and understanding the culture and seeing how we can change that to help create even more of a unified vision. We're one team with one vision with one ultimate goal. It's fun to take people a little bit out of their comfort zone and change the narrative of what game-day food looks like. I mean, it can still be a hot dog, but let's make it a unique Indiana-style hot dog.