Chef spices up Sodexho menus

William Lau is one of those behind-the-scenes people who make life a little better for everyone else.

“Chef Willy” is the executive chef for Sodexho, the University catering service.

He signs a card that’s included in boxed lunches, but otherwise, diners may never know of his contributions. If you’ve had a meal prepared by Sodexho in the last six years, chances are Lau has had something to do with it.

He creates menus, cooks and monitors food quality in DU’s five kitchens. Most days he eats on campus, testing several menu items and offering feedback to culinary staff. He inspires staff to keep engaged with cooking, even taking them on a field trip to Whole Foods to get ideas.

But Lau says the best part of his job is being a role model for kitchen employees. Recently a chef wanted to make a dish a different way — a way Lau didn’t think would work. In a friendly competition, they held a cook-off and a blind taste-test with kitchen staff.

“I said, ‘How about you make it your way and I make it my way,’” Lau explains. “We made a basic sauce together and flavored it. Everyone tasted and they liked mine. I said ‘loser cleans up.’”

Lau says the competition helped the other chef see and understand the difference in their approaches.

Joe Zemla, Sodexho’s Ritchie Center general manager, says Lau’s greatest strength is in being a team leader to approximately 80 culinary staff across campus. His good will extends behind the stovetop to diners, from Pioneers student-athletes who get their pre-game meals just outside Lau’s kitchen to the Chancellor, who gets a different meal at each and every one of his 17 dinners with first-year students.

Lau shrugs it off as no big deal.

“You can’t make just one dish because the Chancellor’s there every night. The Chancellor doesn’t want to just eat the same chicken,” he says.

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