Taste Trends: Serving Up the Latest in Event F&B with Jen Bargisen, Senior Executive Chef, Sodexo Live!

November 10, 2021

Now that meetings and conventions are trickling back to an in-person format again, the question of what event food and beverage is going to look like for the foreseeable future is likely occupying the mind of many a pandemic-weary event planner these days. To find out how the last 20 months have influenced the kinds of menus events are opting to serve or forgo, we turned to the experts—in this case, 20-year culinary veteran Jen Bargisen, senior executive chef with Sodexo Live!—to find out which F&B trends are hot and which are not in this ever-evolving health and safety landscape.

What are the biggest and most exciting food and beverage trends that you’re seeing at the convention centers you oversee? 

Convention centers and conference centers are the best way to experience something live. While that often means the event itself, it also includes the taste, feel and emotion of the food during the event. I think that some of the best trends I am seeing are authentic local foods and regional culinary experiences that are brought to life with action stations during shows. Making a guest feel as though they are truly immersed in the specific location or inspiration for the event is trending more than ever. People want that authentic experience of watching their food being freshly made and understanding every part of what they are eating. They want to watch their tortilla being hand-pressed versus just being handed a taco, for example. 

What are some pre-COVID trends that are no longer hot and why? 

A lot of people enthusiastically embraced cooking more intimately during COVID and are much more in tune with ingredients, preparations and flavors. So I think as a whole, people are tired of getting everything individually packaged, generally. Most people are energized by embracing and participating in their food, whether in customizing their experience or engaging in the preparation. People want to know how it’s made and how they can uniquely enjoy it. Live interaction and deeper dives into ingredient origins, locations or regions are where it’s at!  

Chef Jen Bargisen

Many event planners are going to be working with even tighter budgets when events fully resume. What are your top tips for overcoming this obstacle while still providing delicious fare?  

Don’t feel compelled to give everyone the “expected” all of the time. By staying on trend with the idea of exploring culinary deeper dives into ingredients and regions, menus can be leaner but more meaningful. As an example, instead of providing lots of variety through the volume of menu items, a menu can be very robust as a tasting of local fruits and regional artisan baked goods reminiscent of a regional farmers market versus every item normally expected anywhere for breakfast.

Prior to COVID, dietary-conscious menus (such as gluten-free, keto, vegan and vegetarian) were a big and growing trend. Is this still true and if so, do you foresee this accelerating in the future?

I think the need to provide a highly customized experience in every food service format is here to stay. The most successful solutions and the increasing trends have been to embrace all needs through most menus so that everyone can enjoy these trends such as plant-forward or keto-friendly menus and entrees through which everyone enjoys innovative selections. This trend will only grow because people and chefs are excited to try new and different foods and flavors.

Why did you decide to forge a career path in the culinary arts? 

I became a chef because I love creating and have always enjoyed being a part of the emotional feel of food. Technically, I love the art of perfecting a dish or highlighting an ingredient to its fullest. There is not a day that goes by in culinary that you don’t learn something or are inspired by the amazing talent around you. Food is a part of every single person’s memory of a day, moment or event in their life. I specifically went into live event-based culinary because I wanted to be a part of those moments for people. I feel honored to be a part of those experiences to this day.

What are some of the challenges of being a female chef in a male-dominated profession, and are you seeing more women moving into leadership roles like yourself?  

There used to be many challenges with respect to gender roles in kitchens. I truly believe that one of the biggest challenges of being a female chef at this point is not seeing yourself as a chef first. While there are certainly different leadership styles and dynamics, I have found there to be much more respect and understanding over everyone’s differences, whether it be gender or other areas of diversity. I have seen much more common ground in genders in the last five years.

As an example, I often speak with my male colleagues regarding parenting now, and we all have common challenges and successes leading kitchens and homes. Decades ago, work and home life were not allowed to be discussed in kitchens for either gender. The presence of diverse leadership is felt everywhere, including culinary, and it is making the workplace more vibrant and ultimately the food more interesting and diverse as well. In culinary, we are all striving to be the best chefs. The differences that we bring to that pursuit make our vision unique, which is celebrated at this point versus being a challenge.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.