Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few days, you may have heard something about Super Bowl 51.  Yes, the Patriots pulled off the most miraculous comeback in the sport’s illustrious history.  Yes, Tom Brady is officially in a class all his own with 5 rings and 4 Super Bowl MVP’s – which [sigh] officially makes him the greatest to ever do it.  And yes, that sound you just heard was this Jets fan dry heaving as he is forced to publicly admit that.  All kidding aside, Super Bowl 51 gave us one of the most exhilarating, dramatic and simply put, remarkable championship games in history – something this country needed desperately in these divisive times.  

            As great as the game proved to be, for those lucky enough to experience Super Bowl’s physical footprint first hand, you know it to be much more than just a game.  Every year, the host city opens its doors to sports fans, corporate America and blue-chip brands alike to give them the experience of a lifetime, and it just so happens that there’s a football game at the end of it all.  It should come as no surprise, but food plays an integral role in the “Super Bowl experience”. 

           Every city has its own identity, its own culture, cuisine, etc.  Houston has a story all its own.  Situated on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, its historically native cuisine can best be described as Tex-Mex meets Louisiana Creole meets Texas BBQ, yet is in the midst of a culinary revolution, drawing inspiration from the city’s incredibly diverse populace (try the Vietnamese inspired Cajun spots!).  David Chang, one of NYC’s most popular restaurateurs recently declared Houston to be “the next global food mecca”, a powerful statement by a culinary superstar. While I may not have appreciated it, that notion came to life for me as I walked the streets of Houston, looking for the perfect meal. 

            For the uninitiated, I beg you to make your way to one of Houston’s cajun bars and order yourself a mountain of crawfish (don’t cheap out on the spice – thank me later), then seek out some tacos at the nearest Tex-Mex joint , and wrap up your trip with some proper BBQ.  We say it all the time; if you want to experience true local culture, find out where the natives eat and act accordingly. You may be surprised by what you find. 

            I was fortunate enough to walk through the ‘NFL Live’ footprint and enjoy a late lunch at one of the food trucks littered around the perimeter.  I kid you not, there was even a monster truck, of sorts, transformed into a mobile demo kitchen wherein local chefs gave interactive demonstrations on how to cook like a true Houstonian. The crowds were huge, people were well-fed and they all left talking about the FOOD, not just the big game looming. 

            When you’re catering to a “who’s who” group of VIPs, average just doesn’t cut it when it comes to the grub.  Wheels Up’s annual Super Bowl bash, traditionally one of the week’s more exclusive parties, perfectly highlighted the local cuisine and offered everything from crawfish and oysters to tacos and real, Texas ‘cue. No one left that party hungry (or thirsty, for that matter). 

            Chase took a different route to highlight the local fare, hosting a series of private dinners at one of Houston’s top restaurants, Reef.  Exclusively available to Chase’s Inside Access members, the dinner paired Houston’s top chef, Bryan Caswell, with New Orleans mainstay, John Besh and local Houston pastry chef Rebecca Masson to offer attendees a unique insight into Houston hospitality. The result was a refined dining experience that left the attendees in awe. 

            Maybe you’ve missed it or haven’t been paying attention, but the trend has been building for quite some time now. Nowadays, you don’t go to a ballgame and seek out a cheap hot dog; you expect refined food service offerings. Stadiums, arenas and even airports around the country are in the midst of a culinary revolution, highlighting local cuisine, celebrity chefs and a refined dining culture.  If you’re hosting a private event, or a big blue-chip brand looking to activate in the marketing vertical, remember, food can be more than just a simple meal.  It’s a sensory experience - an opportunity to provide deeper, more meaningful connections with your audience. 

            You want your event to really resonate?  Give your guests something they’ve never had, open their eyes to something they’ve never seen, and let them experience culture like never before. Food is the ultimate medium to do just that….