Just when farm-to-table is starting to sound like a cliché, catering pros across California have a new menu of food and beverage offerings to bring to your fetes, retreats and banquets. Feast on these new ideas.



Executive Chef David Man of Island Hotel Newport Beach loves treating guests to what he calls “farm-to-fire” California coastal cuisine. That means simply prepared, often grilled, classic dishes that highlight local, fresh ingredients. “But when groups come here for multiple days, they want to experience other types of menus, too,” Man says. “That can mean food from where they’re from or traveled overseas.” He offers bold and authentic flavors from the Middle East, Asia, Morocco and South America, but with a distinctly California twist. Take, for example, the Indian lamb tacos. Man prepared a lamb stew with the traditional techniques of Indian cooking and spices like garam masala, cumin and turmeric, and served it with house-made naan bread, tortillas for soft tacos and toppings like riata, hummus and micro cilantro. 


For Jennifer Rebello, catering director at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, keeping things fresh goes beyond procuring ingredients straight from the farm or ranch. It also means choosing nontraditional settings for group gatherings. Among her favorite innovations are small private events staged in the hotel’s Floral Studio, which is now run by Jeff Leatham, the famed floral director from Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris. “Clients are looking for something new,” Rebello says. “After we greet guests in the lobby with a flute of champagne and then bring them down to the floral shop, it’s an immediate wow.”

For one recent event, there were five different culinary stations in the 1,500-square foot studio. Sushi and sashimi, along with chilled vodka and sake were served in the walk-in floral cooler. A trio of food stations offered Lanzhou beef and stretch noodles; smoked mushroom tacos and truffle corn tortillas and risotto prepared in a Parmesan wheel. Herbs and greens potted in floral vases provided the décor for an area devoted to plated salads made with baby radishes, yellow cherry tomatoes, roasted beets, artichoke hearts and edible flowers. “It was,” says Rebello, “an unforgettable culinary experience.” 


Some of the tastiest and most creative events get their start on Pinterest. Cindy Burreson, catering sales manager at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage, says that clients often pull recipes, themes and décor concepts off the social media platform. “With corporate clients I find it useful to create a Pinterest board together,” she says. “That’s a really easy way to focus in on a shared vision for an event. We recently did a carnival-themed reception for a client and we created a board with everything from menu items to magician acts. The actual event fulfilled the board beautifully. We had elements like buildyour-own hotdog and tater tot stations, funnel cake, all kinds of sliders, and an old-fashioned popcorn machine with shakers filled with all types of toppings.” Pinterest has also helped bring to life picnic-themed events and a winter wonderland, complete with cake pops decorated with edible silver glitter, an ice sculpture that incorporated the client’s logo and included a martini luge, and shot glasses made out of ice. 


At Hotel Irvine, an old-fashioned tricycle tricked out with a freezer delivers artisan ice cream on a stick and cups of sorbets to meeting guests gathered in The Backyard, the property’s relaxed outdoor space. “I had a chance to ride the Treat Trike recently,” says Gabor Pamer, the property’s food and beverage director, “and guests instantly fall in love with it. It’s amazing that a small thing can create so much excitement. Our chef creates flavors using fresh fruit like raspberries and blueberries and nuts like pecans. We can customize what - ever the client wants and cater to every dietary need.” 


Nathan Lingle, Executive Chef at L’Auberge Del Mar, sees it as his role to help make meetings more productive. “Ten years ago, people might have come to a meeting or retreat with the thought, ‘Hey, we’re here to party,’ and the message of the meeting was secondary,” he says. “Today that’s no longer the case. While there’s a social aspect to meetings, groups need to be as productive as possible and we can help our guests achieve that.” Lingle does this with food offerings that throughout the day are structured to be low on the glycemic index, avoiding the sugar highs and lows that can lead to a loss of focus by the second workshop in a full-day schedule of four or more. As a mid-morning break, for example, he’ll offer house-made granola alongside pitchers of gut-friendly probiotics-rich kombucha and kefir. “People may think they don’t like fermented drinks,” he says, “but the advantage we have by making it in house is we balance the fruitiness and the acidity. We’ll use all kinds of local fruit—apples, oroblanco grapefruit, stone fruit and berries.” Hyper-local offerings also come into play for what Lingle calls “Farm Truck Fruit.” Here, in homage to the strong Mexican culinary influence in Southern California, jars of farm-fresh fruit topped with the traditional lime juice and chili powder are offered, along with house-made popsicles in flavors like strawberry hibiscus or lime and ginger and agua frescas in unusual combinations, such as plum and star anise or cucumber, basil and mint. What you won’t see—sugarladen, energy-sapping donuts. 



At the Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay, Executive Chef Danny Abbruzzese likes to surprise his guests’ palates with a unique fusion of locally sourced ingredients they haven’t experienced before. For example, abalone and diced kohlrabi presented on a spoon as a passed bite, calamari tempura served with a miso aioli along with the traditional tartar and cocktail sauces, or a goat moussaka that’s made with goat braised in avocado leaves, a goat cheese béchamel and 10 different spices. “One way we highlight the amazing local produce we offer guests,” Abbruzzese says, “is with two or three layers of flavors that unfold like a great wine. That allows our guests to savor every ingredient.”

He calls upon the diversity of his kitchen staff, which includes cooks from Mexico, and Central and South America, to bring their own culinary backgrounds to the fare. “Chef Danny creates menus that across the board celebrate our different cultures,” says Brian Hein, Portola’s food and beverage director, “and that really brings excitement to banquet dining.” With more adventurous dining groups, Abbruzzese may introduce ingredients they’ve never tasted before, like sweetbreads that are served with chanterelles, sweet corn and shaved truffle. “I like to tease people into trying new things,” he says. 

In 2020, Houston First Corp. (HFC) reported that the city was slated to host 252 meetings and 611,000 room nights. By March 14, the Bayou City had already hosted 115 conventions and 137,400 room nights. Then the pandemic hit, and meetings and events across the country came to a screeching halt.

We asked Michael Heckman, acting president and CEO of Houston First Corp. (HFC) how the health crisis has influenced the organization’s business model moving forward.


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This past year has been a whirlwind to say the least. As a global pandemic sent the world reeling, planners were left grasping for footholds as the event industry was brought to a standstill, and many of the most fundamental elements of live meetings and events were cast in a new light.


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Texas Meetings + Events reached out to three of Texas’s favorite emcees. They shared with us how they got where they are—and what they’re doing now—along with some sage advice.