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A Destination Inspection for the Taste Buds


Many a meeting and event planner has built a reputation and a successful career by showing well-honed skills in disciplines like negotiating hotel contracts, site selection and having a knack for finding just the right keynote speakers to energize their events.

But Christine Couvelier, an executive chef, food consultant, and self-proclaimed culinary “trend-ologist” says there is another area of knowledge that planners should master—knowing the trends of what will be great on the attendee's plate—what kind of foods are trendy now and will be in culinary vogue in the near future.

Meeting attendees—like virtually all consumers—like to be on top of the trends and like to be able to say they have tried the latest of everything, especial food, Couvelier says.

“Having great food at your event becomes an opportunity to create food memories,” says Couvelier, who is a speaker at next week's Smart Monday powered by MPI during IMEX America 2017 in Las Vegas.

“If you have an incredibly fresh food buffet lunch laid out with all the local tastes of the area where the convention is taking place, you are creating memorable experiences for your attendees to take home with them,” said Couvelier. “Your attendees are going to go home and they're not only going to talk about the great speakers they heard and the networking they did with their peers; they are going to say 'Wow you should've seen this. It had an incredible smoothie bar for breakfast and it was laid out and we could make it anything we wanted and it was really fabulous.' “

What Couvelier recommends for event planners is that they not only conduct site inspections for the facilities their groups will be using, but also include something of a destination inspection for the taste buds—an exploration of food markets and eateries in the area where their groups will be meeting.

“Developing a knowledge of the cuisine specialties of various destinations is something that will help you when you sit down and talk to the food and beverage manager at the venue you're planning to use. F&B managers like nothing more than to deal with knowledgeable clients, and your knowledge will help you plan some special food experiences for your group.”

At Couvelier's presentation at IMEX, she will delve into the fine points of what's “in” with groups with discerning palettes and what will be trending in the coming year.

“There was a time when kale was THE word on the menu,” she says. “If you didn't have kale you were behind the times. But there will always be new tastes and new trends to experience, so it's time for kale move over a little. It's time for new things to move in and it's always important for planners to know and the other fine points of what's trending for when the planners are talking to the F&B directors.”

It's not that kale is suddenly verboten or even passé as an ingredient on a banquet menu—vegetables are still very much considered “must-have,” she said.

“Vegetables will be the stars of the plate going forward,” Couvelier continues. “We are not saying don't put meat on the plate, we are saying place a lot of emphasis on vegetables including their methods of preparation-- so grilling, roasting, baking, smoking, charring--- there are a number of wonderful methods of cooking the top chefs are using these days, and you get these great crispy, caramelized, colorful vegetables these days. Innovative ways of preparing vegetables are a big trend these days and it's only going to grow in 2018 with roasted radishes, smoked carrots-- creative and innovative ways to showcase and highlight the flavors of vegetables.”

Couvelier's IMEX presentation will include sharing some of the knowledge she has gained in more than 30 years in the food industry and in her consultancy with the clients of Culinary Concierge, a nine-year old firm based in Victoria, British Columbia, which puts out a culinary publication, Trend Watch Reports. Couvelier is a past chair of Canada’s largest culinary school, The Chef School, George Brown College, and was the first director of culinary strategy at Maple Leaf Foods, where she helped develop the vision, design and construction of the company’s ThinkFOOD! Centre.

She builds her base of food knowledge daily, developing dishes in her own test kitchen, plus doing a lot of globe-trotting to talk with popular and noted chefs, food company executives and others. She said she not only travels the world to tour fresh food markets, restaurants and their kitchens, but also makes a point of reading the Wednesday food sections of global major daily newspapers.

“For some reason, newspapers all over the world seem to have big food sections on Wednesdays,” said Couvelier. “So I read them every week to keep up with what the trends are. This energizes me because food is my life.”

About the Author

Roland Stiteler
Rowland Stiteler

Rowland Stiteler, a veteran meeting industry journalist, is a writer and editor for The Meeting Professional.