Friday, May 17, 2024
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Ingenious Fare Affairs

By Natalie Compagno

Food brings people together. Culinary gatherings feed the body and soul, creating lasting memories for attendees. Catering offers unique flexibility for plan- ners to get creative—and smart caterers understand that the way to event planners’ hearts is through their guests’ stomachs.

This season, group culinary events are all about innovative approaches to experiences. Creative catering calls for mixing activities with meals, providing learning moments, incorporating special elements into event design, and highlighting the bounty of the region—turning the simple act of cooking into a savory adventure.

Experiential Catering

Alderbrook Resort & Spa, situated in Union, Washington, masterfully incor- porates education, exploration, and their backyard—the scenic Hood Canal and its surrounding evergreen forest landscape—into their creative offerings. Many of their culinary delights were developed following demand from their customers. Using the grove to its advantage, the space became a stunning outdoor venue that inspired customers to want to immerse themselves in the environment through learning experiences and interactive classes.

Chef Sara Harvey at Alderbrook has been noting this trend for a while. “Guests are hungry for education and authentic experiences. They want to know that their organic dishes are truly made with organic ingredients, and who they are supporting with their dining dollars. When chefs support smaller farms, diners then feel a deeper connection to their food.”

Groups love the resort’s Union Market Canal Cookout right on the water, where they can watch fresh seafood being cooked in the open. Gathering Grove is a fairytale setting where guests can dine among the trees on sustainable native meat like rabbit and elk. Harvey’s artistic creations are prepared en scène, for the benefit of hungry, adoring groups. Oyster shucking classes, interactive foraging trail walks, sushi classes, cocktail mixing, and more turn culinary group offerings into memorable, video-worthy activities.

“The rise of the ‘experiential diner’ has had a surging effect in food and beverage,” explains Jennifer Rafuse, regional director of operations for Sodexo Live! “At the Vancouver Convention Centre, it’s about collaborating with our clients to create interactive, engaging action stations. For example, our culinary team has designed Neapolitan pizza stations where guests can watch as chefs make pizzas that are then baked and served fresh. We are also known for our ‘scratch’ kitchen and prepare all the pizza dough in-house using imported flour from Italy. Combined with San Marzano tomatoes and fior di latte cheese, our Neapolitan pizza station creates an authentic blend of flavor while providing attendees with a memorable event experience.”

Boise Centre showcases Idaho’s bounty with a live action huckleberries jubilee station and Idaho potato gnocchi station. Delicious vanilla bean ice cream is flambéed with huckleberries and rum, while potato dumplings with alfredo and marinara sauce simmer and satisfy.

Virtual Catering

General Harvest Restaurants in Seattle caters at any of their six restaurant locations and at their event space. In addition to on-site interactive cooking classes, demos, and cocktail classes, the catering team can do virtual cooking classes. Chef Brian Clevenger leads these virtual soirees, answering questions and sharing culinary tales. When companies have a distributed workforce across the globe, this is a smart way to bring everyone together through tech and taste. Food boxes with ingredients are sent to everyone, or a list of ingredients can be provided for individuals to purchase on their own.

Bees Put on a Buzz Show

Idaho’s Coeur D’Alene Resort is perched by its namesake lake with views of the mountains. It seems to fit in with its surroundings as much as the wildlife that inhabits the region. Many of the resort’s 25 event rooms and over 32,000 square feet of conference, exhibit, and meeting space feature stunning views of water and rocks. Flavors and traditions of the Pacific Northwest are an important part of the resort’s dining offerings.

The catering division at Coeur D’Alene Resort looks for new ways to partner with local food providers, bringing the terroir into guests’ experiences—the chefs enjoy finding interactive ways to present their catering menus. One sweet example at a recent event involved local apple orchard Athol Orchards. They constructed a honey wall, with the comb draped over and attached to a copper framework. The honey dripped into a glass jar from which guests could serve themselves, complementing the charcuterie grazing board and adding to the flavor profile of the locally sourced ingredients.

Time for Tea

The Fairmont Olympic Hotel Seattle is known for its lavish atmosphere and decadent high tea. This season, Fairmont Olympic is infusing a tea theme into its group catering options. Planners can request Tea Noir, a glamorous gala in The Garden Room, or planners’ space of choice. In celebration of the Pacific Northwest’s tea culture and the Fairmont’s special blend of teas with partner Lot 35, Chef Eraj Jayawickreme designs a journey through sweets, savories, and tea. Tea mousse with spiced apple cake, tea-smoked duck breast, and cocktails with a twist of tea can be served while guests learn about tea rituals.

Dine Design

Brasada Ranch wows upon arrival, with the majestic Three Sisters mountains dotting the skyline. The resort and ranch impress as well, set- ting the bar high for the catering team—who want their presentation to match the beauty of this environment. Champagne flutes adorn a living flora wall ripe for the plucking, reclaimed wood turns into thick s’mores sticks, and a long table is placed onto a wooden bridge with garlands winding down the center to create an ideal atmosphere.

“The wild sense of wonder at each unique venue offers a canvas to create and discover experiential catering and events, fostering a deep sense of connection,” explains Sara Miller, director of sales at Brasada Ranch. “At Brasada Ranch, great food is about relationships between the chefs, local farmers, and servers, who work together to deliver exceptional experiences [for] our guests. We celebrate all these relationships with the curated foods we prepare, among the panoramic setting of the high desert.”

Brasada’s current catering offerings include an Argentinian wood-fired dinner that pairs well with the surrounding countryside. They also customize grazing tables, offer educational whiskey tastings, and have an iron bartender challenge in their team-building portfolio.

Wrapped in a Bow

It’s a DIY holiday season at Four Seasons Seattle with experiential craft and foodie parties that can be customizable for year-round gatherings. A Wreath Making and Christmas Appetizer Class begins with designing a garland, then attendees can take notes as Chef Brian Doherty demonstrates how to make chic appetizers. Make Spirits Bright Holiday Cocktail Class shakes up fresh ingredients, a variety of spirits, and bites to please. Groups take home more than a satisfied palate.