Events Prof Panel helps to shape QHotels’ future conference menus

Phoebe Benta is a member of the QHotels' Events Prof Panel and an experienced event professional with her own boutique agency, Eureka Events. This year, Phoebe was invited onto the final judging panel of the third annual QHotels Chef Competition, employing the Event Profs Panel's knowledge and experience to help shape QHotels' future conference menus. Here she shares her experience as a judge and her thoughts on the future of conference and event catering.

Being a judge in the QHotels Chef Competition, and getting to see behind-the-scenes of how new menus are created, was a real eye-opener. It was a nerve-wracking process as 20 talented chefs from across the QHotels group were invited to design the new summer picnic hampers and autumn/winter conference menus. Junior chefs were competing to create the picnic hamper, whilst senior chefs were challenged with constructing a three-course conference menu with two dishes per course.

The entries were whittled down to just four seniors and three juniors in the heats, with the finals held at the stunning Crewe Hall.

It felt like a 'MasterChef' final as I sat on the final judging panel alongside managing director Michael Purtill and group director of food and beverage Chris Eigelaar. Having the opportunity to represent the Event Profs panel as a judge was fantastic; it's great that QHotels values our collective experiences and customer insight and is keen to include our perspective. It was also incredible to see up-and-coming talent as well as seasoned chefs being given a real opportunity to be creative and innovative.

There was a real competitive spirit throughout the competition but it was also very collaborative, and most importantly, lots of fun. The junior chefs had 90 minutes to prepare their picnic hampers while senior chefs had to prepare and present one dish from each course of their conference menu in just 60 minutes.

I didn't realise just how difficult (and delicious) judging would be - the standard was so high! The dishes were all mouth-watering and beautifully presented; fish was a popular theme throughout the competition, from grilled seabream to soused mackerel, and it was great to see the chefs so committed to creating healthy and tasty options for event attendees.

Campbell Mclean, senior sous chef at The Midland in Manchester, was announced as the worthy winner of the autumn/winter conference menu. I whole-heartedly agree; his pork fillet with parsley and pink peppercorn was my absolute favourite dish of the day. His delicious menu was inspired by seasonal produce, whilst also being simple enough to reproduce for large banqueting numbers.

Conference and event delegates are also set to be treated to incredible soused fillet of mackerel, cumin and coriander pollock fillet and mango and passion fruit panacotta as part of Campbell's new menu, which will be appearing at conferences later in the year.

The winning hamper was designed by Maged Mandour, a junior chef at The Stratford Manor, and will be available from June. I think they'll be a great option for the summer, especially at the venues with lovely grounds and gardens.

The competition makes me so excited for the future of catering and I applaud the approach QHotels takes to involve and harness the talent of its chefs across the group. Food is such an important part of conference and events, and menus must be updated and refreshed regularly, so it's great to see how receptive QHotels is to new ideas.

I think generally we are seeing a much-needed improvement in conference food, but in my opinion more venues should bear in mind how much delegates really look forward to being fed - they are always excited to experience dishes that give them a break from their standard office lunch.

As an event's organiser, it's equally as exciting to receive information on new menus so to have had this opportunity to see how menus are designed and developed, and to be able to share my experience with other event professionals was a real privilege. It's fantastic to know that I played a part in selecting the dishes that so many people will be enjoying over the coming months.

You can find out more about Phoebe Benta here

For more information on booking a conference or event at QHotels, click here.

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