Meet the Chefs of Sodexo Live!: Chef Matthew Delisle

Published on : 2/24/23
  • Matthew Delisle: Director of Culinary Innovation for Sodexo Live!

    As Sodexo Live!’s director of culinary innovation for airport lounges, Chef Matthew Delisle is all about enhancing guest experience between flights. From menu ideation to innovating in the kitchen, he is always looking for ways to make food exciting for travelers, whether they’re looking for a full meal or a snack. We caught up with Delisle to talk about working in a small kitchen, the future of airport lounges and the importance of looking into those credit card perks.  

    Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you become interested in your field?

    Matthew Delisle: I've been cooking my whole life. It's the only job I've ever had. I started in hotels — I worked for the Four Seasons for a good amount of time and then traveled around a little bit: San Francisco, up and down New England and New Jersey, Connecticut and then Boston. I've been in Boston now for about 15 years, and I’ve been with Sodexo Live! for about a year. 

    Interviewer: As Director of Culinary Innovation, what does your role encompass?

    Matthew Delisle: It varies, depending on what the week looks like. There's a lot of traveling right now as we’re in the middle of opening eight different lounges across the U.S. I do a lot of menu development and recipe development, but primarily I'll go and assist new business and new lounges that open. Sometimes I'll do tastings and video shoots to support the teams and ensure consistency. Different businesses need assistance, but we'll go and support general food and beverage development. There's a lot new airport lounges right now, so it's a pretty exciting time. 

    Interviewer: When you do menu development, do you tailor it for that region or for that specific city?

    Matthew Delisle: We look at the audience, who we’re serving, who's coming into the lounges. Is it more of an upscale lounge, or is it more of an everyday lounge? It depends on if it's first class, or if it's high volume. Some are a la carte, some aren’t. And then we look at the region and we try to include regional specialties whenever we can. 

    Interviewer: What kinds of trends are you seeing across the board?

    Matthew Delisle: Middle Eastern food is the biggest trend we’ve been seeing over the past few years, even before COVID. I see a lot of it especially in Boston, but in other places as well, like in Portland, Maine. You see a lot of Middle Eastern influences that you don't necessarily see all the time, like sumac or za’atar on a chicken dish. There’s a lot more plant-based and vegetable-focused dishes as well. It’s something people are just trending toward for multiple reasons: People want to eat healthier and it's cost-effective, and it offers more variety than just simple protein-based dishes.

    Interviewer: What are the biggest differences from what you're doing now versus what you were doing in your previous roles?

    Matthew Delisle: Obviously, airport lounges don’t have large kitchens. That being said, there are a lot of new lounges that are being opened with larger kitchens, which is super exciting for us because it offers more flexibility in the menus and what we can produce. The logistics of the kitchen in the airport is what constrains us the most, but I see a lot of clients making big investments in kitchens and lounges in general. We are seeing a big trend toward more curated offerings, more individualism between the different clients. They want to have their own style in their lounge. It's really nice to have these beautiful lounges opening up.  

    Interviewer: What do you think is driving this trend toward more bespoke lounges?

    Matthew Delisle: Travel is back and more robust that ever. There's a lot to be said, too, about how savvy travelers have become, especially younger folks who have the credit cards that have the points on it. That's a big thing that people are taking advantage of now — when they do travel, they take advantage of that perk. Ten, 15 years ago, you didn't see that as much.

    Interviewer: Given the constraints of kitchen space, where is the innovation happening?

    Matthew Delisle: Innovation around equipment and placement of equipment is going to be big, from ventless or combi ovens and equipment that can be made to plug-and-play just about anywhere. We’re starting to implement those and they will allow us to expand menus. You also have to balance some purchase product versus stuff you make in-house. We can also change up smallwares and look for things that are a little different, so maybe instead of just having cheese and crackers, we have mezze items or tapas that can be easily executed to enhance guest experience. A la carte items, though not new to Sodexo, are being talked about more in the past year. It’s the wave of the future, where you can have lower food costs, less labor and less food waste. You can lower all of those with a la carte items that are easily executed through a mobile app system, comes to the guests really quickly, and doesn't overwhelm the front of the house.

    Interviewer: Where do you see the airport lounge space growing in the next few years?

    Matthew Delisle: If they keep growing like they are at this rate, it's going to be a massive niche industry. It's amazing how many openings we've already done this year. When people travel for leisure, these are perks that they're going to want to have. And as the clients see that these perks are paying off for their guests, I think they're going to continue to invest in those because they want client loyalty, they want guest satisfaction, and they want to enhance guest experience.