A tsunami of TV cooking shows and celebrity chefs have contributed to America's fascination with raising the bar on their food and beverage experiences -- meetings, incentives, and corporate gatherings included. Meeting professionals report that attendees comment on the F&B portion of a program more than anything else. Americans' tastes have become more sophisticated, and attendees yearn to try ever more inventive menus and partake in memorable culinary experiences.
To help understand where these tastes and preferences are heading, Successful Meetings went straight to the source -- speaking with influential chefs to tap into the trends affecting today's gatherings, while also learning about the challenges of hosting a high-end F&B event. Here is what they had to say.
CHEF DANIEL BOULUD
French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud is a master of both traditional French cuisine and more adventurous culinary flourishes. He's chef-owner of award-winning restaurants, including the flagship two-Michelin-star DANIEL, one-Michelin-star Cafe Boulud, contemporary Parisian eatery db bistro moderne, charcuterie-focused Bar Boulud, Mediterranean-oriented Boulud Sud -- and that's just in New York. With numerous James Beard awards (among many other awards) under his toque blanche, he continues to attract diners to his restaurants, offering memorable dishes centered on tradition.
What is the most elaborate food and beverage function you ever planned for a group?
I did the 75th anniversary of Time magazine at Rockefeller Center, where there were people of the year and anybody who was important in any field -- politics, sports, tech, fashion, cinema, business -- they were all there. It was the biggest gathering I'd ever seen in my career. Christopher Reeve was there, Gorbachev was there, Bill Gates was there, all the living former American presidents. For that, you're serving 800 people and they're all VIP. I made a wonderful crab salad to start. After that was a lamb Champvallon -- a dish of potato, onion, and lamb chop with herbs inside and that was braised for hours, so it was falling off the bones. It was very rustic and country-style cooking.
They loved it -- it wasn't about "I love my meat well done" or "I love my meat rare." Sometimes you have to accommodate based on the number of people you serve and how sure you are that you're going to please everyone with something unexpected. It was a crowd-pleaser, with everyone raving about it. We cooked it in 140 copper pots that the waiters served directly out of.
In September, at DANIEL, I am doing a charity gala for which I'm co-chair with Thomas Keller -- Ment'or. I'll have 14 chefs cooking with me. Sometimes we have special events where we have French chefs coming to join us, which is super fun as well.
What high-end trends are you seeing now?
We are very conscious that when you do an a la carte menu, every course is balanced. When you do a multicourse tasting menu with a guest, they know who they are inviting, who they are entertaining, and what their friends or guests or business partners will like to have. If they say "let's have red meat," we have so many options, from squab to duck to lamb to venison, and of course there is beef (we have a fantastic farm from Midland, TX, where they have the wagyu beef, and we also serve that in our private dining area).
What strategies are there for groups without big budgets?
Catering is a very different proposition than dining at the restaurant. It's a one-on-one relationship. In the restaurant, they have more confidence they can leave it to us, but with catering, they want to take control in the decisions of everything.
What are some of the most popular ingredients right now?
We always have a seasonal menu at DANIEL -- we have foragers and fishermen working for us, and the menu is very much tied with the current a la carte that we have. It depends on the style of the party or time of the day. For special events, at lunch at DANIEL, we may have a launch of a new brand of cosmetic or new fashion brand that have a relation with health or well-being, and we try to connect the dishes with that -- it might be vegetarian choices in our menu.
In the spring, we had a salad with fresh heart of palms from Hawaii -- it's a beautiful product, very crisp, very delicate. We also have sea lettuce -- between cucumber and lettuce and very delicious when lightly steamed and seasoned, served with light seafood.
Seafood is always in demand: lobster, langoustine (we have beautiful light langoustine from Scotland), crab from Maine, or king crab from Alaska. Sea urchin is good for cocktails.