Chef Michael Wurster, who recently joined the airport lounge culinary team of Sodexo Live!, has quite the star-studded résumé. The New York native, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, has worked in some of the world’s most notable dining rooms, including The London, Le Cirque, The French Laundry, Alain Ducasse, Lutèce and Eleven Madison Park. His most recent position before joining Sodexo LIve! was as culinary director for The Americas at Google, where he developed the overall culinary vision and strategy for the tech giant’s global program. 

Chef Wurster is also a leader in the sustainable seafood movement and is on the board for Dock to Dish and a supporting member of Green Wave. We caught up with him to talk about his food inspirations, the latest food trends and what he’s looking forward to in his new role at Sodexo Live! 

Question: When did you become interested in the culinary arts? 

Chef Michael Wurster: In high school, I started summer cooking jobs and earned some cash all through college. Then I had an opportunity to get into the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and decided to take the jump and attend culinary school. 

Question: What is your overarching philosophy when it comes to cooking? 

Chef Michael Wurster: Food brings people together, and understanding that as a chef and as a culinarian, you have an opportunity to create experiences for people through food. Understanding your audience and delivering on expectation is always top of mind. 

Question: Where do you find inspiration when it comes to creating menus? 

Chef Michael Wurster: One, it's your environment and travel. Seeing trends throughout the world is super important. Taking the time to travel and understand local food cultures always helps. When you start with the authenticity of that food, then you start to think about its possibilities from a culinary lens, how to manipulate something to keep its core flavors but presented in a new way. This is important, to keep your mind engaged and understand food and culture. The other is friends, people you cook with and people you respect, eating at their restaurants and spending time with those chefs and talking about food and what’s next — that always keeps me engaged. 

Question: Are you noticing any interesting food trends happening right now? 

Chef Michael Wurster: COVID sent a lot of people home in their kitchens, obviously. Meal kits exploded; people started cooking at home. Whether they went paleo keto, etc., they really started to be able to control their dishes and really be able to enhance it and make it their own. And I think that'll continue. There'll be more demand on restaurants from folks who have been making their meals at home to be able to create and adjust their food to their own preferences. We have to stay focused on offering guests the ability to customize.  

And another thing, whenever you have seismic events, whether it was 9/11 or the financial crisis, you see people really gravitate toward comfort foods. That trend is emerging again during the pandemic, but I think the big difference now is the focus on health. People will gravitate toward those foods, but they'll look for a better alternative. So, you’ll see many more plant-forward interpretations of comfort foods, and plant-based diets are going to continue to grow and really explode.  

Question: Is this going to inform how you develop concepts and programs in your new role supporting airport lounges? 

Chef Michael Wurster: Yes, 100 percent. Looking at food trends, our clients are looking to be innovative and to be ahead of the curve to drive loyalty among their travelers. More than anything, we will look to take some of those core programs that exist, bring them into our space and really be able to enhance them for our specific clients who are looking for what's next, what's new. The trends reports are huge, and the amount of data that exists and the amount of information that’s out there should always drive the choices we make and how we develop programs and create experiences for guests. 

Question: How will you be leveraging the global expertise of Sodexo Live! chefs around the world? 

Chef Michael Wurster: What's been great for me is connecting with some of my peers across the company — Carmen Callo, who is the Corporate Executive Chef at Sodexo Live!, Glynn Lawrence, who's my counterpart in airport lounges in Europe — and starting to understand the programs that they have, as well as things they're looking to develop. The more we can do together, the faster we'll be. That global perspective is one of our main advantages.

 

December 06, 2021