The rise of "foodism," or the enthusiasm for and interest in the preparation and consumption of good food, as chef Dave Barrett defi nes it, has transformed the food and beverage landscape for meetings.
“(Guests) want good food and knowledge,” says Barrett, executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa. “They want to know more about what they’re eating, where it came from, how it fits with local culture.”
The goal now is not to provide a meal, but an experience, Barrett says. By adding culinary components that take meetings to the next level, planners can educate, entertain and feed attendees at the same time.
For planners looking at 2017, the pressure is on to suit their guests’ diverse tastes and everincreasing expectations. Check out what Texas chefs see as the big trends you’ll want to keep in mind for the next year.
Incorporate Educational Components into Meals
“Everyone wants to become more knowledgeable about food and ingredients—and they like to interact with professionals, learning tips and techniques from the people who do this every day,” Barrett says. “Chefs aren’t in the back of the house anymore. If they are, you’re doing it all wrong. Chefs need to be out front, showcasing what they do.”
For a dinner this year at a Hyatt Convention Alliance meeting, Barrett’s team set up a progressive meal with food stations that provided an overview of the course’s ingredients and preparation. The resort has also coordinated grape-stomping for meeting clients, highlighting a local winery and educating guests about wine and winemaking.
Use Food as a Team-Building Opportunity
In addition to learning more about food and drink, guests wants to get involved, Barrett says. To serve that need, the Hyatt has offered multiple, hands-on events that encourage attendees to interact and learn from one another. One example is a How to Make a Margarita class with various tequilas, purees, tequila-infused fruits and more. This activity is typically paired with a salsa competition, where groups work with Hyatt chefs to create their own salsas.
The resort’s “Moonshine Station” allows guests to personalize their moonshine with fruits, flavorings, sweet tea and citrus. Attendees learn the history of moonshine and take the moonshine home with them.
The Hyatt’s “Lunch with a Chef” breaks groups into teams that are paired with a chef to learn while they compete to create their own meals. By cooking together, groups practice collaboration, leadership and teamwork to create a very tangible (and delicious!) product.
Emphasize Beverage Experiences
Interest in locally sourced wines and craft beer continues to grow. The increased attendance and success of Grapevine’s GrapeFest and Main Street Days show proof of both of these trends.
GrapeFest started as an event of fewer than 1,000 people 30 years ago. The 2016 event has now grown to a four-day event that attracted a crowd of more than 260,000 people.
“We’re seeing tremendous interest in the beverage experience,” says Leigh Lyons, director of communications for the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Folks are really interested in sampling things that are local, whether it’s a craft brew or a Texas wine.”
At this year’s GrapeFest event, People’s Choice Wine Tasting Classic, guests had the opportunity to sample 140 wines from 39 Texas wineries.
At Grapevine’s Main Street Days, guests could try more than 80 craft brews from 15 different states. Guests voted for which state had the best craft beers; Lyons is proud to say that Texas was the winner.
Guests love to sample new wines and craft beers and explore local options. “If you come to an event like Main Street Days, you can try something you have never tried before,” Lyons says. “You might know something about craft brewing or you’re really exploring and trying to learn about it. This gives you an outstanding opportunity to do that.”
Smaller Portions, Presentation Matters
Guests are looking for more refined, clean and beautiful presentations, says Junior Borges, executive chef of The Joule.
“Before, guests would want a big hunk of meat and big portions,” he says. “Now, they’re looking for beautiful, clean and simple, not so much of the clunky heavy sauces.”
Borges recently prepared a menu of a scallop crudo with a tomato, peach and burrata salad and a Japanese wagyu with crispy potatoes and onion sauce.
“It’s not a huge 8-ounce portion but a beautiful presentation, and people loved it,” Borges says.
He already has a request to serve the crudo at an upcoming event.
In creating a unique experience for an event, more planners are asking for a craft cocktail to fit a specific color or theme.
“It’s fun for us because it gives us an opportunity to create something,” Borges says. “It gives that guest more of a unique kind of an event.”
For spirits, chef Jason Dady, who is executive chef and owner of six restaurants in San Antonio, as well as his own events and catering company, says that bourbon continues to be popular and gin is starting to gain traction.
“People are starting to understand that the complexity of gin can make a great cocktail,” Dady says.
Groups are getting away from buffets, Dady says, and favoring family-style serving.
“Not everyone wants three- or four-course meals anymore,” he explains. “The serving can drag on and hinder conversation. The strength of family-style service, guests have everything in front of them and can just enjoy each other and not worry about waiting for the next course.”