Tom Corbett

magnify Click image to view more.

Pilot Light: Banqueting Trends and Fowl Play

Ariane Batterberry - November 2013

This is a hotel-oriented issue, and I realized that the three main aspects of food and beverage—room service, the restaurant, and the banqueting department—dance a sychronized roundelay. Room service may lose money, but it adds greatly to the allure of a hotel. The restaurant may or may not make money, and it may be run by the f&b staff, or it may be franchised out. But a successful restaurant adds to the attraction of the banqueting service, and that does make money. Every property is different, but one thing is certain. Hotel foodservice has come back with a roar.

Even at a casual glance, one can see that there has been a recent evolution in banquets and catering. Liz Neumark of Great Performances, which functions as an independent caterer and as the banquets department of The Plaza hotel, tells me that in both, undeniably, the buzz words are “hip” and “trendy.” She finds that “farm-to-table” and sustainability are big themes. Not only does she have her own farm, but local craftsmen making her presentation pieces—a beautiful flowerpot as a salad bowl, for example. And family-style dining is popular.

Her Plaza banqueting service is another matter. Whereas her catering firm does many buffets and cocktail parties, at the Plaza it is sit-down dinners. Hotels cannot be quite as nimble, as clients are more risk averse. Still, the trends are there. Recently, she has been asked to serve vegetarian and even vegan banquets. She can now serve a whole fish, and new starches—quinoa and wheatberry can now replace “potatoes, potatoes, and maybe rice.” As she says, “I have clients in both worlds.”

And speaking of foodies, those in the New York region are in a tizzy over the Green Circle. This is not a Sherlock Holmes mystery, but rather the brainchild of a Max Mangin, a young hedge funder–turned–chef. Max was peeling potatoes in Antoine Camin’s kitchen at Orsay when he realized that massive quantities of peelings and vegetable trimmings were being carted away at great expense (10 tons a year, as it happens), while Ariane Daguin’s D’Artagnan (the fine foods supplier for the New York region) was depositing truckloads of chickens and ducks, trucks that were returning empty. Why not send the vegetable trimmings back to D’Artagnan to feed the fowl, rendering them as exquisitely delicious as the French farm-raised birds that Max, Ariane, and every French-born chef in the country remembers from their childhood? Ariane herself was immediately enthusiastic, and established the Green Circle—a farm-to-table-to-farm concept.

There was a certain amount of tweaking—remainders of bread were added, as was a necessary level of corn/soy feed, and just the right bird was also found to enjoy this ideal provender. And, reader, I have had a taste of this ultimate chicken. And it is succulent, with just the right chicken taste, the right proportion of fat, the right amount of juiciness, even in the breast. Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and others have joined the program. Meanwhile, there was a front page story in the New York Times. New York magazine pronounced the bird “the one percenter chicken, fed with Per Se table scraps.”

Ariane Batterberry, Founding Editor/Publisher