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Heat up Your Meeting with a Culinary Event

By Belinda Lichty Clarke

Meeting planners are always looking for fun and creative ways to entertain guests, and the latest trend is heating things up in a big way.

Sit-down, plated meals have evolved into active culinary events, thanks to a variety of chefs and creative entrepreneurs who are making dining at meetings fun again.

In the summer issue of Texas Meetings + Events, you’ll read all about this hot trend, which you might describe as “Eating as Entertainment.” In the meantime, meet Michell Huber, founder of Austin-based culinary event company and cooking school Freda’s Kitchen.

Huber offers two types of corporate teambuilding events, one for smaller groups that brings everyone together with a chef as a cooking family for a couple hours and Iron Chef-style events which are competition-themed events geared towards groups of 12 to 25.

For the small group cooking event, everyone pitches in, “just like cooking used to be with my grandmother, Freda,” says Huber. “It doesn’t matter how experienced someone is in the kitchen, or in life, we all have a role to play to come together and make a delicious meal. As we cook together, we share our own memories, stories of cooking as a kid, and learning the culture behind the cuisine being prepared. Once the meal is complete, we dine on the fruits of our labor.”

Participants walk away refreshed, connected and full of new knowledge about each other and the culture they just experienced, she adds.

For the larger Iron Chef-style cooking events the guests are divided into teams and each one is assigned a chef coach. Each team is responsible for making two courses of a meal and the ingredients provided include a mystery ingredient such as Thai basil, okra or Cheetos. With guidance from the chef, participants can create their own dish, or the chef can recommend a specific menu item. Each team has one hour to create and plate the final dishes for judging by an executive chef that has judged on the Food Network show All Star Academy.

“The teams dine together on the food that they just created, while the Executive Chef announces the winners. Everyone leaves invigorated, with some having bragging rights to share at work the next day,” Huber says. “We cook, we laugh, we learn, we eat!”