Creating an event that guests talk about and remember long after the last table has been cleared is the dream of any corporate host, but it is not an easy task. A lot of imagination and planning goes into
designing a function that has a lasting impact. And while food is obviously important, it is just one of many components. In my 40 years’ experience in the industry, I’ve found that people may forget what they ate or drank, they may forget what they saw, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Keeping this in mind when embarking on any new project is crucial.
I try to create culinary experiences. Serving food in unique ways is one way to do this. It might be muffins delivered by bike at morning tea during a conference. It may be canapes served via bamboo poles, or fruit in wheelbarrows. Ice bars are one of my personal favourites. It could be food hanging from the walls, mannequin servers, or even drone drops.
The importance of creating memorable experiences is something I learned early in my career whilst working at Le Gavroche in London – the flagship restaurant of French-British chef-restaurateurs Albert and Michel Roux, which was the first in the world to gain three Michelin stars outside of France. I recall the maitre d’ Silvano said that service is about anticipation; doing something before somebody even wants it. That’s why detailed food and beverage plans are important. When planning an event, I document everything that’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen, and who’s going to do it. There’s no shooting from the hip. I break large corporate events with 6000 attendees down to 500 people in 12 zones, which makes it more manageable and easier to comprehend. And I always hold a dress rehearsal immediately before the event, when all staff are present, so they know what is expected.
After returning to Australia, I created the Truffle Group Catering Company, which I launched with a theatrical dinner in which each course had a different theme. For one, there was a knife stuck into the table that you had to remove before you could eat. A magician performed tricks to introduce one course, an opera singer sang before another. For another we served food directly onto the table – a plate was painted onto the tablecloth. We surprised guests by revealing a second dining room and moved them from one room to the next.
I was lucky to work on a variety of high-profile events, including more than a decade on the annual Cointreau Ball. To me, the lavish social party was the epitome of a memorable event. The private, invite-only corporate event was for A-listers only. You couldn’t buy a ticket. People who weren’t on the list (or even worse, removed from it!) were mortified. You got picked up in a limousine and taken to an undisclosed location that was kept highly secret, and then you just had the time of your life. In the 1990s there were no rules. There was no OH&S, no RSA. It was all on for young and old. It was held in unusual venues, such as old warehouses, churches, bowling halls, ice rinks and museums. One year it was in a circus tent in the sand dunes at Kurnell. In the lead-up to the event those involved in its planning got together to brainstorm ideas. How could we make it different? How could we make it better? We served food on conveyor belts. We designed an elaborate dress for a waitress to wear to serve canapes from it. We lowered a giant cake from the ceiling for dessert.