Believe it or not, there are more ingredients to a successful winter event.
By Patti Curran
A planner forum at the Coronado Ballroom and Meeting Facility turned into a trip around the world for more than 30 event planners on Wednesday, September 15. Rob Schaefer, columnist for Missouri Meetings & Events and Vice President of Stephen Becker Fine Dining, led guests on a culinary tour of the world’s most populated areas, including Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean.
Upon entering the room guests were asked to cleanse their palates with a dab of ice cream. The first stop on this sensory tour was Africa. Rich fabrics, bare branches and tribal trinkets adorned a round table that was filled with culinary delights. Planners were offered a chocolate amarula martini to begin the experience. Amarula is a liqueur derived from the marula fruit found in Africa. This liqueur can be found locally and a portion of its profits goes toward preserving land for the benefit of African elephants. Schaefer warned planners of cultivating boring atmospheres at their events by offering boring foods. Chicken is chicken anywhere you go, he stated, but how you prepare and serve it is what can be exciting. Guests had the opportunity to sample a chicken-based African stew, as well as couscous (known as fufu in Africa), cornbread and desserts inspired by integral African ingredients – pumpkin pots de crème and banana caramel cheesecake. Sight and taste weren’t the only senses utilized in this worldly tour. Thomas Fortenberry, owner of St. Louis-based Smelly Things Candle Company, provided signature scents for the evening. Soy-based Smelly Things candles do not produce the soot that other candles typically do, nor do they cause the headaches or other adverse reactions associated with the burning of candles that contain chemicals and impurities. “African Rain” was the signature scent at this stop and Schaefer emphasized the importance of engaging all senses in a positive way at events.
After emerging from Africa, guests migrated to Asia. Accented with paper lanterns, dried bamboo in bold vessels and various art, the Asian-inspired table was a blend of textures and bold colors, including pinks, reds, golds and blues. Schaefer encouraged planners to drop the plain, solid linens and overcome their fear of bold. The rest of the world does not go into a restaurant expecting to get Swedish meatballs, potstickers, canapés, fried mushrooms and toasted ravioli all in one place – but Americans do! This is the disastrous hodgepodge that is the American buffet. Avoid it! Schafer encouraged culinary consistency, offering your guests a menu of continuity. Focus on a few items, but make them outstanding. The Asian inspired cuisine offered included Bánh mì sliders, a marinated pork sandwich, spring rolls – crisp, fresh and NON-FRIED. With more and more people becoming health-conscious, Schaefer illustrated a delicious and creative way to nourish guests. Dessert included a chocolate-ginger mousse and a mango lemon-grass cheesecake, both savory testaments to key Asian ingredients. The signature candle for this display was Japanese cherry blossom.
Finally, guests made their way to the Mediterranean display. Taking the components of these cultures’ cuisines, this station offered three types of flatbread pizzas:
• Middle Eastern withhummus and eggplant
• Greek with lamb and feta cheese
• Spanish with Kalamata olives and manchego cheese
For a sweet ending, baklava and a fig-honey cake topped with mascarpone cream were offered. Schaefer predicts that the popularity of baklava is going to soar in coming years and that it will be available in hundreds of flavors, ranging from chocolate to orange and strawberry, and savory flavors as well. This dessert is a wonderful way to incorporateculture and variety into your menu.
Again surpassing fresh floral, the décor of the Mediterranean display included dried grasses, wooden cutting boards, vases, woven baskets, iron and scrollwork. Linens bore heavy weave textures as well as light sheens. Schaefer impressed on the group that look and presentation are critical. While Schaefer offered a wealth of new and exciting ideas, he also suggested ways in which planners could utilize these themes for upcoming fall and winter events. With the African table already donning bare branches and fall colors, Schaefer was able to add a few Halloween elements, including a black cat and pumpkins, for a not-so-scary look. Boasting bold red and gold colors, Schaefer added clear vases filled with similarly colored ornaments to the Asian table, creating an instant holiday party feel. And for the Mediterranean table, a scarecrow was added as a key element for a festive fall look. Schaefer concluded his presentation by briefly discussing proper etiquette and various traditions from these different parts of the world. With the valuable lessons Schaefer taught throughout the evening, planners were filled with inspiration, fresh ideas and delicious fare.
(Patti Curran is the Associate Editor from St. Louis, Mo.)