Chef Alex Reyes, Sodexo Live!’s director of culinary innovation for North America, has a palate refined by a unique global experience. Originally from Barcelona, Spain, his family moved to Central America when he was a child, and he has been traveling since, refining his skills as a culinarian seasoned in hosting the biggest events in the world. With Sodexo Live!, Chef Alex ideates creative concepts and oversees hundreds of chefs who bring to life memorable experiences — like the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and College Football Playoff at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this January — in addition to the nation’s most populated sporting events, meetings and events.  

After attending Le Cordon Bleu in Madrid, Chef Reyes worked in some of the finest kitchens in the world, including Chez Francois, I Ricchi and Jaleo with José Andrés. He also oversaw the design of the restaurant kitchen at Cafe SFA in the iconic flagship Saks Fifth Avenue store in New York City. We caught up with the chef to talk about his early interest in the kitchen, how he goes against the grain when developing menus and what goes into creating Instagram-worthy food. 

Question: How old were you when you became interested in cooking?

Chef Alex Reyes: It's kind of a cliché — everybody says that you start when you see your mom and your grandma cooking. But, it’s the truth for me. I was curious to see how my mom made bread and all that kind of stuff. And I wanted to play with food — I think I was maybe 12 years old. I used to make my own lunch, and my mom used to work late. So when [my parents] came home, sometimes I already had dinner made for them. I don't remember what I cooked, but they said the dinners were amazing! I became very, very interested in learning more things, so I spent a lot of time with my grandma and my mom in the kitchen. And then I got interested by going to the farmers’ market nearby and seeing all the products there.  

Question: You create menus for an expansive portfolio at Sodexo Live!, encompassing venues such as stadiums and convention and conference centers. How do you approach each venue?

Chef Alex Reyes: In sports, it's the game day favorites that fans always love, like your hot dogs and hamburgers, but we kick it up a notch, as the F&B is really a big revenue driver for our teams and venue partners — and we are always ensuring that the menu is wholly authentic to the city it’s being served in. We always try to do something different, always trying to have fun with it. No two experiences should look, feel or taste the same. And, we want to be incubators for local businesses, too, which is why we have collaborations with James Beard Award-winning chefs like Ethan Stowell in Seattle, which helps us curate the No. 1 dining experience in all of baseball. 

For convention centers, it’s a different experience but the end goals are similar. We do casual dining all the way up to fine dining and very exclusive dinners, from 100 to 10,000 people. And we have to cater to more and more food allergies, food preferences, religious preferences and now plant-based diets. We’re playing to  10 or 11 different types of dining needs, but we are so well-versed in it. And that speaks to the proven experience of our expert culinarians around the globe.  

Question: You’re an early proponent of the farm-to-table movement. Tell us how you factor in regionality and seasonality when crafting menus.

Chef Alex Reyes: So the first thing that we do — and when I say “we,” I mean Chef Carmen [Callo, corporate executive chef for Sodexo Live!], our senior chefs, area chefs and myself. So when Chef Carmen challenges us to create new menus for venues, the first thing we do is get together to learn the area. First, what's happening in the community — What is the best restaurant? Where is the nearest farmers’ market? And that’s how everything starts, by establishing relationships with the local purveyors, so we can have our finger firmly on the pulse of the local culinary scene.  

Question: What would you say are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Chef Alex Reyes: Oh, you mean besides the complexities of working amidst a devastating pandemic and the worst public health crisis our generation has ever faced? In reality, we need to meet our guests who are willing to be more adventurous when it comes to what they eat.  There are still the more old-fashioned guests who want the same stuff they eat every year, but so many want to post immediately on Instagram or Tik Tok and really have an interactive encounter with their meal.  

Question: Social media has definitely given chefs a unique opportunity to get really creative with their work.

Chef Alex Reyes: Absolutely. Not only do I use social media to find inspiration for new ideas, but I also share my creations on my Instagram regularly, so my chef teams can hopefully get inspired with what I’m working on. Social media helps us all push our boundaries, and that’s what it’s all about.

November 10, 2021