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A matter of taste

Catering is one of those topics that is always at the forefront of organisers’ minds. Delegates will often forget much of their experience, but they will not forget the food. Indeed, recent industry surveys attest that venues especially are investing in their chefs like never before.

As we head into autumn, how can organisers make the best of seasonal produce? Tom Gore, food director at London's The Brewery says: “As we head into September, food professionals can really celebrate the best of British produce. Think crab, broad beans, aubergine and fresh fruits such as plums, blackberries, raspberries and apricots. Although these might seem like traditional ingredients, now is the time to get creative with them! 

“At The Brewery’s summer showcase recently, we invented a garden-inspired menu with flavoursome, seasonal ingredients. Guests were taken on an exciting culinary journey with a selection of unusual canapés (such as artichoke éclairs and orange meat fruit) followed by dishes such as crab terrarium with Japanese custard, cress and coral crisp, as well as Te Mana lamb with summer vegetables. 

“This season’s flavours allow you to think of new ways of presenting homegrown ingredients. Menus should entice the senses with familiar tastes but also give diners a new experience, whether that’s combining seasonal flavours or innovating in the way you display these dishes.”   

Venue view

Kathleen Warden, director of conference sales at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), says that they have seen a steady upward trend in organisers picking something healthy, quick and easy to eat for their delegates.

Warden says: “As the world’s first venue to be accredited as a healthy venue, we have been focused on delivering healthy, nourishing food for several years now. Our recent menus are designed to promote good eating, ensuring high sources of protein, fibre, omega and natural vitamins. We’ve been substituting red meat products for healthier alternatives, including plant-based and quorn to ensure that we are meeting the demands of the consumer. 

“Water provision is significant topic just now because of the drive to keep delegates hydrated but at the same time reduce the volume of singe use plastic. Plastic bottles are being replaced with water coolers at most conferences now and organisers are asking delegates to bring their own bottles and are also happy to supply some for those who have forgotten. To meet this demand, we’ve installed a water fountain on our concourse and are about to fit a second.” 

Are organisers now asking for healthy options as standard or do you still need to convince them? 

Warden continues: “We need to be mindful of understanding what healthy means – and it means something different for every individual. People need different types of fuel depending on their own metabolism. So, creating choice and options are key. Our focus is to continue to create exciting low fat, low sugar and low salt options. Organisers are undoubtedly more focused on the role that food plays in how delegates feel and perform. Some are prepared to make bigger changes than others – some make small tweaks. 

“We are keen to support organisers in their quest to create the best conference experience, and so yes, we continue to champion the role that food plays. We constantly amend and tailor our options and we are about to launch new menus with a focus on sustainability and using seasonal ingredients. This is done by ensuring our ingredients have as low food mileage as possible and by minimising food waste through staff training, innovative ways in which to re-use ingredients (for example, turning fruit peelings into chutneys) and through new packaging and aiming to eliminate single use plastic.”

Feeding conference delegates is one thing, but how do you feed 340,000 race-goers? The Formula 1 Rolex British Grand Prix, which took place in July, provided an epic undertaking for Dean Hoddle, head chef at Silverstone Circuits. 

In the hospitality suites, it isn’t burger and chips that Hoddle has to provide, but a more comprehensive, nutritious menu.

“The Formula 1 Rolex British Grand Prix is very much a day of indulgence for most, so some of our guests will throw caution to the wind and enjoy the luxury of the food offering in hospitality,” says Hoddle. “That said, we do like to offer a balanced menu throughout the day with healthier options available within the menu mix. We’ve seen some increase in demand for these menu items as more people are conscious of what they eat or indulge a little less than before.”

What nutritionally balanced options were on the menu for this year’s Formula 1 Rolex British Grand Prix? “This year we adapted some cooking methods for ingredients and provided some ‘healthier’ alternatives for example, we swapped yoghurt for quark and griddled the tomatoes in our breakfast buffet, rather than frying them. We ensured that there was a wide variety of salads, vegetables and fruit for guests during the lunch and afternoon tea services,” said Hoddle.