Post authored by Kristen Roget, CMP, Senior Meeting & Event Manager at Experient
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I accredit most of my food knowledge to Food Network, Bravo’s Top Chef, and countless hours of reading Food & Wine Magazine and Plate Magazine. It’s comforting to know that I am not the only one who spends so much time learning about food. As Nielsen media research points out, Food Network viewership hit an all-time high among adults ages 25-54 in the first quarter of 2012 and was watched nightly by an average of 1.3 million viewers. In my never-ending quest for knowledge, I read cookbooks like they are novels, rarely referencing them when I actually cook, but utilizing all that I have seen and read as I whip up a meal in my kitchen for my family and friends. I call myself a pantry cook and pride myself on applying basic techniques with whatever products I have in my pantry, fridge, and freezer.
I find that cooking at home is fun and rewarding to share with others, and by relying on such methods, creativity is essential. As an event planner however, I cannot make the meals at a conference myself, but I can add a part of me to the cuisine by working closely with the facility to create a unique and satisfying menu for attendees.
As the general public becomes more knowledgeable about food and American tastes and eating habits continue to change, it’s time to bring more creativity into our event menus! This is the fun part, but the challenge becomes how do you take such creative risks when feeding 1,000+ people? The key here is to take a trend like the three listed below and make small, but impactful changes to a standard dish.
Trend #1: Ethnic foods are in! Say goodbye to boring mashed potatoes and say hello to Italian gnocchi or Spanish purple potatoes. This kind of potato will be a little less malleable, but with the help of a best selling potato masher you’ll still be able to create a full range of delicious dishes. Take a typical ingredient like the average starch or salad and find a unique alternative. Examples:
• Swap white potatoes for: gnocchi, purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, perogies, latkes, or papas rellenas
• Swap rice or pasta for: couscous, Israeli couscous, arancini, orzo, risotto, quinoa
• Swap a green starter salad for: panzanella salad, samosa, Vietnamese rice paper rolls, barley salad, wheat berry salad
Trend #2: Waist-full or wasteful? Whether watching your waistline or simply trying to reduce the amount of wasted food, smaller portions are in. Ask your facility what their standard portion size is and compare it to the USDA Serving Size Guide. Work with your facility to determine the best portion size for your group. Not only will your attendees appreciate a reasonable meal, but the reduced portion size could likely lead to a reduced F&B bill as well! Also, ask your facility what happens to any extra food. Does it go to the facility cafeteria or the dumpster? See if you can work together to ensure that the food is not thrown away and can be donated to a local charitable organization or food bank.
Trend #3: Comfort with a twist. Let’s face it—at the end of the day, everyone likes the all-American burger. But what about shaking things up a bit and letting your attendees customize their meal with fun and unusual condiments? And don’t stop with just a burger—add an artisanal toppings bar for all your favorite foods! Here are some condiment twists you can use to enhance any condiment like ketchup, mustard, mayo, or BBQ:
• Flavors like curry, chipotle, hoisin, mesquite, chili, jalapeno, whole grain, champagne, horseradish, wasabi, garlic, herbs, fruits
• Combine some of these savory or spicy elements with fruit, like raspberry wasabi!
Hopefully these tips will help to get your creative culinary juices flowing. But if you’re looking for even more great ideas to enhance the menu at your next event, be sure to download the free Experient Guide to the Food & Beverage Experience, a compendium of best practices and creative ideas for F&B with a Foreword by Emeril Lagasse.
About Kristen Roget, CMP, Senior Meeting & Event Manager
Kristen joined Experient’s Washington, DC office in February 2004 as a Meeting and Event Coordinator. She was quickly promoted to a Meeting and Event Manager in September of 2005 and became a Senior Meeting and Event Manager in July 2012. As a Senior Meeting and Event Manager, Kristen acts as a trusted advisor to her association clients who represent several different industries including medical and veterinary, education, disability groups, and food industries; as well as supporting functions and events for government clients.
Kristen is very active within the meeting industry, recently accepting the position of Professional Director on the Capital Chapter Board of the Professional Convention Management Association. Previous to her position with Experient, she worked with Century 21 New Millennium’s Business Development Department and was responsible for their largest affinity client, USAA. Kristen received a BA in Communications from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.