Food for thought
Darren Deadman, chef director at Searcys, tells Louisa Daley about the importance of serving healthy, invigorating food to delegates.
Over the past decade, healthy food has been at the forefront of everything, especially wellbeing,” says Darren Deadman, chef director at Searcys. “People are now aware of the nutritional requirements your body needs in regards to protein, carbohydrates and fat,” he adds.
“Supermarkets have been one of the leading forces in promoting this”, says Deadman, “as they are stocking healthier, fresher food, which helps people realise it’s not only better to eat, but it’s also cheaper to buy compared to quick, processed food.”
Considering where we are today, Deadman looks at the pandemic positively, and believes it has been the exact push that our industry needed. “It’s allowed time for people to reflect and open their eyes to what was already there.
We have become aware of the destruction certain foods can have on your body, your mind and the planet,” he says. For example, when it comes to eventprof wellbeing, “food affects your mood, your hormones, and your gut, to name a few,” Deadman explains.
Therefore, eating healthy food has never been higher on the industry’s agenda, particularly for those event planners who want their delegates feeling healthy and happy at their events.
A delegate’s day through food
When it comes to serving healthy food at events, Deadman believes it should be part of a delegate’s day, it should even enhance it, rather than being simply just an ‘add-on’. “I love speaking to organisers and asking, what is your event about, what do you want to achieve from the food?” Deadman beams. “It’s about keeping delegates engaged and focused, as well as keeping their energy levels up throughout the day,” he states.
After all, “what you eat and drink has a big impact on your mental health and wellbeing,” he reveals. However, it’s also about giving delegates an ‘emotional remembrance’. “Food is always about memories,” he adds.
So, how do we go about maintaining this balance, while ensuring delegate wellbeing isn’t compromised? According to Deadman, when delegates arrive in the morning, they often want something “warm, hugging and energy-boosting” to make attending the event and leaving their house or office worthwhile. “Delegates also want something that’s emotional. Most people love their coffee, tea, or Danish in the mornings,” he says.
“As the day goes on”, he continues, “don’t pump your delegates full of sugar at mid-morning,” he warns. Alternatively, give your delegates sustainable food that is full of good protein and slow-release carbohydrates. “For example, why not try organic yoghurts or chia seeds,” he advises. “These snacks can give your delegates a burst of energy and ensure their body is not going to store the food, and instead will use it to keep the mind going and the blood circulating.”
He adds: “We are also doing ‘power shots’ of fresh juices, using a lot more vegetables to provide delegates with fast-burning macros.”
Lastly, Deadman advises against serving lunch that is primarily carbohydrate and red-meat based, as it will only cause your delegates to “drop off in the afternoon and become increasingly lethargic because their body can’t absorb the food.”
If you do want to reward your delegates after a busy day of networking, learning, and listening, treat them to a dessert at the end – but “keep it healthy, light and plant-based,” says Deadman.
From a chef’s point of view, it’s all about “blending the day and blending the menu,” he says. “It’s about a balance of diet, but also about not losing the emotional tie we gain from food.” That’s how you truly support a delegate’s wellbeing.
What’s on the menu at Searcys?
How is Searcys incorporating this healthier lifestyle throughout its venues and menus? I ask.
Searcys has noticed beef being removed from some of its venues, and fish becoming increasingly popular. “People are moving from red meat to white meat,” says Deadman, “which has always been a good conference food, as it’s high in Omega 3 and therefore is a good ‘brain food’ for delegates,” he explains. “Fish is also flexible, you can do so much with it, and from a demographic point of view, it’s popular with most delegates,” Deadman adds.
Meanwhile, some of its venues have been focusing on more plant-based food. “For example, one of our venues has an exclusive vegan-based offering, one has ‘Meat-Free Mondays’, and another offers ‘Vegetable Days,” he explains.
Despite this mixture of menus and approaches to choose from, Deadman reminds us: “It’s all about utilising food so that delegates feel happy, emotionally healthy and that the body is getting the nutrients it needs.”