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A Sense of Taste

Banish the bland from convention centre menus with creative twists that won’t cause sticker shock

By Sandra Eagle

Changing demographics, food costs, health concerns and a desire for a sense of place are leading to shifts in food and beverage offerings for groups and events.

At the 2016 opening gala for the Centrallia Global B2B Forum in Winnipeg last May, Jonathan Strauss, president of Strauss Event & Association Management, based in Winnipeg, made sure that the city’s hometown flavours were on the menu at the RBC Convention Centre. Global entrepreneurs feasted on a wide variety of local ingredients, including flambéed pickerel cheeks in a Pernod sauce and grilled home-style buffalo sliders. “Local berries and Manitoba pork, fish and buffalo gave attendees a true taste of the flavours of the city,” says Strauss.

Frugal Fare
Food and beverage costs are increasing for events, just as they are on our own grocery bills. Strauss says proteins—especially beef—have been hit the hardest. “We talk with our clients, recommending more vegetable items for hors d’oeuvres or creatively controlling portion sizes or downsizing from four- to three-course menus,” says Strauss. “We also recommend other cuts of beef that aren’t as expensive as prime rib, but can be succulent when braised, such as brisket or bison stew.”

Nutritious Noshing
In addition to food costs, a growing appetite for healthier options and vegetarian fare is now part of the mix. “We’ve noticed that people are much more interested in different vegetables now, such as glazed baked fennel or candy cane beets, almost unheard of five years ago,” says executive chef Tawfik Shehata at The International Centre in Toronto. He also uses a wide variety of grains in his menus, as dietary restrictions and vegan requests have increased dramatically. “We use a ton of barley with our stuffed cornish hen and we use a lot of quinoa. I don’t think vegetarian requests should be an afterthought. We go to great lengths to present vegetarian plates that look fantastic.”

Both Shehata and Strauss say that healthy break menus are more in demand than the usual danish and croissant combos. Yogurt, fruit smoothies served in shot glasses, fruit skewers and water—flavoured with fruits and vegetables—are replacing sugary drinks and coffees.

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