David Wilkinson - 06 Jul 2012

10 Tips to ‘Feed’ the ‘Appetite’ for Bespoke Menus

Dessert from Bespoke Menu at OGGSVenue
  Elderflower and crème fraîche tart with  mixed berries
(Recent event chosen from our 2012 menu to complement the rest of their bespoke menu)

Increasingly our clients have become “savvy” with food. Along with dietary requirements and environmental concerns, we need to also contend with requests for locally sourced and organic produce and get it all to the OGGSVenue dining tables whilst demonstrating good value for money.

10 TOP TIPS

1.    Time. To be creative one needs to be able to find time to step away from the operation and allow lots of research time. When team members are not doing normal routine jobs and what they know, more concentration of energy and therefore time is required.
 
2.    Research.  Many clients want to know how far ingredients have travelled. During the UK Presidency of the EU in the 2nd half of 2005, DEFRA held their weekend meeting of Agriculture and Environment Ministers with us of the then member states chaired by the Rt Hon Margaret Beckett. It was important for the Department to showcase the UK. We were tasked with providing menus to include a range of UK produce to ensure that ‘all 4 corners’ of the nation were represented and that the provenance of every item was known. This extended to wines and juices too. Not only was it important to know what was coming in but also what was being disposed of. In line with the Department’s sustainability objectives at that time, we had to provide figures on amounts of waste and how and where it was being disposed of. We subsequently sourced ‘Collar of Pork’ from Aubrey Allen, an award winning specialist butcher up in Warwickshire. As they were able to supply us with free range pork traceable from farm to plate, we accepted their invitation to visit their premises where they provided us with an amazing butchery demonstration.  

3.    Listen to the client. In the tastings I attend I have found that the clients often know exactly what they want and will also have their own ideas about what is current and trendy.  Rather than being too precious about it, I like to listen and learn. Working with their ideas is a nice addition to your more traditional knowledge streams.

4.    Learn from the experience.  Take the opportunity to learn new things. It will undoubtedly be different from the norm and keep both yourself and the team interested.

5.    Adapt the service style to suit the menu. For buffets in our Great Hall we normally have a long table display with repeated rows of food and clients are escorted and encouraged to sample it by our team members. For a recent high profile event with a virtually complete bespoke menu, the client requested a different style of service where the visual display and ability to walk up, admire and graze from the selection was a priority.

6.    Involve the team and keep them interested. Most of the time my Chefs have to get on with their jobs, often pressurised by tight schedules and deadlines. In that context, it is difficult to explore their own creativity and put into practice any good ideas they may have that could be successful.  I make a point, whenever possible to encourage them to propose their own dish ideas.  This tends to work well for our Brasserie One lunchtime restaurant menu but especially at the time of our annual banqueting menu review.  Few things are more satisfying and motivating for a Chef than seeing their creations featured in a menu. This sense of ownership of a dish leads to huge pride, motivation and quality.

7.    Menu expansion and annual menu creation. Where new dishes have worked, expand existing menus. Many items from bespoke menus have made their way onto our regular menu for the following year eg. Leg of Lamb Noisettes. This followed after we hosted a 3 day event for the Meat and Live Stock Commission at the time. They have since re-branded and are now known as AHDB (Agriculture and Horticultural Development Board). The styles of Ottolenghi’s wholesome looking salad range is also on my list of inspirational themes with 2013 menu planning high on my ‘to do’ list.

8.    Consider what equipment and crockery you need. Quite often new equipment or new crockery is required along with service staff training and front of house communication in terms of team briefings before and after the event.

9.    Recognise and reward team members that have gone the extra mile.  Here at OGGSVenue we have a monthly reward system called OGGStar. Following a tough but successful tasting with a high profile client recently, my boss and I both discovered that neither of us would actually be there on the day of the event. My number 2 (Joanne Dingwall) did a fabulous job and ended up joint winner with Yvonne Williams (Dedicated Event Coordinator) of the May OGGStar award. This followed after our boss received a glowing client letter after the event.

10.    Feeding hungry people is more important than blogging! Now it is time for me to get back to the kitchen. I have an army of journalists to feed whilst we are currently the home of the London Media Centre for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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