Feed Me Friday: Home Cooking


Jose Garces (center) at his new restaurant in Washington, D.C. — where he cooked for guests at a Philadelphia CVB reception.

Give Philadelphia credit for consistency. The last time the CVB was here in Washington, D.C., they hosted a lunch at Le Diplomate — a then-new French bistro that just so happens to be owned by a premier Philly restaurateur. This past Wednesday, they were back in D.C. to celebrate the opening of Rural Society, a new Argentinian steakhouse from Jose Garces, probably Philadelphia’s best-known chef, with a James Beard Award, an Iron Chef title, and 17 restaurants in seven cities to his name. He’s also an amazing cook and a terrifically nice guy, but more on that in just a bit.

Philadelphia did a good job of mixing business and pleasure by rooting its event in the culture and rhythms of the new restaurant— like they’d invited all of us to hang out at this cool place they just discovered, and by the way, here’s some information that might interest you. As guests arrived and began to mingle, waitstaff circulated with trays of drinks — the spicy El Diablo, with tequila, pineapple, and habanero, and the tart Macau, with rum, guava, and citrus. Eventually Lorenz Hassenstein — general manager of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which last fall signed a management contract with SMG — stood at the front of the room. Against the clangs and sizzles of Rural Society’s grill-fired kitchen, Hassenstein spoke at length, with a sort of optimistic candor, about SMG’s ongoing efforts to resolve the “interesting jurisdictional challenges” involved in working with the six different labor unions that operate in the center. (Read here about a show that just announced its return to Philly specifically because of the convention center’s new work rules.)

Garces 1Then the chef took center stage. Gracious and unassuming, Garces invited people to arrange themselves around a table set with ingredients for two of Rural Society’s signature grilled dishes: pamplona de puerco (stuffed pork tenderloin) and mollejas (lamb sweetbreads). As he prepared the dishes, he alternated between discussing the influences on his cooking in general and this menu in particular (the pamplona, for example, was the result of a trip he and his team took to Uruguay) and, like a hospitality pro, talking up his city. A Chicago native whose parents emigrated from Ecuador in the 1960s, Garces called Philadelphia “my adopted hometown.” He said: “Attracting convention business is key, and we’re happy to be part of that allure just by offering good food.”

He wasn’t kidding. The pamplona and mollejas were both delicious, seared and smoky, crispy and chewy. Later Garces sat toward the back of the room, chatting and signing copies of his new cookbook, The Latin Road Home. I learned that he still roots for Chicago sports teams but also has a soft spot for the Philadelphia Eagles (my kind of guy — have I mentioned that I’m from Philly?), and we talked about the complicated fan dynamics of raising kids in a different sports town from where we grew up.

Garces moved to Philadelphia and began building his restaurant empire some years after I left, but I’ve always felt a connection to him because of my hometown, and it was nice to reinforce that in person with some good food and interesting conversation. I guess you could say it was just another successful face-to-face event.

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The Empty Chairs at the 20th International AIDS Conference

shutterstock_5075722Years of planning went into the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, which takes place over the next few days. Roughly 12,000 researchers, delegates, and others were expected in the city for the five-day meeting, dubbed AIDS2014, which helps fuel the battle against one of the world’s most pervasive diseases.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak, as is musician and activist Bob Geldof and UNAIDS executive director Michael Sidibé. Landing those speakers likely took a lot of footwork.

What was unplanned: The surge of grief and shock over the loss of researchers onboard Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over Ukraine yesterday.

Nearly 300 people were killed in the tragedy, including renowned Dutch AIDS researcher Dr. Joep Lange and dozens of others headed to the conference. Their loss cast a long shadow not only amongst their loved ones and colleagues, but over an event designed to celebrate recent progress and provide inspiration for the next few inroads against HIV and AIDS.

Event planners know to expect the unexpected, and risk management is part of that equation. Yet no one can plan for airplane disasters, even if it’s something we consider on a personal level each time we buckle our seatbelts before takeoff. In fact, AIDS 2014 organizers considered canceling the conference — until they reasoned that their colleagues would want them to go on.

Have you ever had to cope with a tragedy that impacted your event? If so, we’d be interested to hear how you navigated the grief and shock that such losses bring while having to make practical decisions. And to all those aboard MH17: You will be greatly missed and our thoughts are with your family and friends, and your colleagues in Melbourne.

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Engaging Attendees by ‘Drawing’ Them a Story


In Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations, Dan Roam is able to cover a good deal of ground — taking your audience into account, organizing your thoughts, building a coherent storyline, adding just the right amount of detail, and understanding the arc of a story — succinctly by using simple yet captivating drawings to convey his ideas. He boils down what most people find to be a daunting prospect — preparing a presentation — to a few essentials. After all, he writes, “All presentations are composed of just three elements: our idea, us, and our audience.”

Continue reading

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Feed Me Friday: Stone-Fence, A Crowd-Pleasing Drink with a Backstory

20140405_Colonial_Drinks_stoneJuly 4 may have come and gone, but the spirit of ’76 can infuse every day of the year — especially inside your glass. Colonial-era Americans may have forged a revolution that changed the world, but they were also enthusiastic drinkers — and the arsenal of proto-cocktails they invented (or adapted) are particularly well-suited for groups.

By the time the War of Independence began, each male over the age of 15 drank the equivalent of several shots a day — up to seven, by some accounts. Some of that was in the form of rum punch, which was served from bowls and tended to foster conversation and camaraderie. (Check out this month’s Tipster, “Summer Sips,” for more on punch and two other communal, colonial-era drinks).

Yet our forefathers concocted a wealth of other simple yet bracing drinks, some of which are sure-fire conversation starters at meetings. Case in point: the Stone-Fence (pictured).

A Stone-Fence is deceptively easy to make, and easier still to drink: A splash of dark rum blended with sparkling hard cider, and (for a modern twist) then garnished with lemon peel. Both rum and hard cider were easy to come by in the Thirteen Colonies, so combining them was probably inevitable; the result, zippy and refreshing. People light up when they learn that the drink was a particular favorite of Vermont revolutionary Ethan Allen, who knocked them back with his men in the hours before they took Fort Ticonderoga. (Another relevant factoid: John Adams enjoyed a tankard of hard cider with his breakfast).

This colonial-era trivia delighted some of the attendees at this year’s Mensa Annual Gathering in Boston, where I spoke earlier this month. Though I trembled in my boots at the idea of a Mensa-driven q&a, the presentation went off without a hitch — and a handful of Mensa attendees and I trekked to their roomy “hospitality” ballroom afterward for an informal round of Stone-Fences sipped from paper cups. The unusual drinks seemed to get their Thursday night off to a cheery start.

The bottom line: People love a twist. Especially a lemon twist delivered in a drink with a backstory. Stone-Fences deliver on both counts.

A Modern Stone-Fence
Adapted from Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips and Rattle-Skulls to Switchel and Spruce Beer.

2 ounces dark rum
Sparkling hard cider (preferably one with residual sweetness)
Citrus bitters (optional)
Lemon wedges or twists, for garnish

Fill a tall Collins glass with ice. Pour in rum, then top with cider and a dash of bitters. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with lemon, and serve.

(Drink can be mixed and served from pitchers; simply scale up amounts).

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Don’t Use ‘Drive-in’ Data to Recruit Members


In a story for our July issue on publicly available data and how it can help with member recruitment, we profiled Kelly McDonald. She is president of McDonald Marketing and the author of two books on consumer trends and multicultural marketing. McDonald works with clients to find areas that are ripe for future growth — in both people and ideas — by using resources that include free, publicly available data. Continue reading

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Feed Me Friday: Grande Lakes Orlando Gets Its Hands Dirty (On the Farm)

sausageWhat’s the first thing that springs to mind when you hear “Orlando”?

Chances are it’s blazing sun, or Mickey Mouse, or even meetings. Certainly not farm-to-table food.

The cadre of foodies who run Grande Lakes Orlando — home to both a JW Marriott and a Ritz-Carlton hotel — have long been working to change that. As GLO managing director Jim Burns points out, their resort sits on 500 acres, Florida has a year-round growing season, and chef  team is first-class. So what happened next was probably a given.

“Since what has always defined our properties is commitment to food and beverage, and sometimes to local, organic, crafted experiences, we took [food] to a different level a few years ago.” said Burns. Part of that strategy involved tapping Melissa Kelly, the award-winning chef of Maine’s Primo — which sets the nation’s bar for farm-to-fork cuisine — to open a second Primo inside JW Marriott Orlando.

Nearly a decade later, the staff tilled 7000 square feet of the property for an on-site farm, Whisper Creek Farm. Two years into its life, the plot teems with citrus fruit, berries, greens, tomatoes, melons, and even hops — as well as swarms of bees creating honey. Most  of it ends up on guests’ plates.

In the next few months, Grande Lakes will open two new restaurants to showcase that bounty: the Southern-inspired Highball & Harvest inside The Ritz-Carlton (which will open this July), and the small-plates-focused Whisper Creek Kitchen, which will open inside the JW Marriott Orlando this fall.

mocktailEarly this week, a clutch of GLO chefs unpacked their knives inside the tiny kitchen of New York City’s James Beard House to show off the exquisite ingredients they get to work with — in both food and cocktails —  during a relaxed luncheon.

The guests were split between writers (like me) and meeting planners, a few of which affirmed that meetings at Grande Lakes were rarely ordinary. (Whisper Creek Farm is adjacent to a 6000-square-feet event space). We were welcomed by a smorgasbord of appetizers and drinks, including a zingy mocktail conceived by GLO food and beverage director Brian McHugh that blended jasmine green tea, lime juice, cucumber, mint and sparkling water over ice. Waiters also offered a crisp pale ale brewed at Grande Lakes; come July, they’ll have their own microbrewery, too.

parker_rollsOnce guests were seated, executive pastry chef Stephane Chéramy appeared to explain the not-so-ordinary bread on the table: Parker House rolls made from ancient grains. Much trial-and-error had led to their creation — and they were close to perfect: warm, moist, and cosseting.

Next, JW Marriott executive chef Chris Brown plated a trio of tastes from the Whisper Creek Kitchen, which he’ll helm: A dollop of foie gras-cashew nut butter over wild blackberry jam; a curl of “duck ham” atop oatmeal risotto; and a sublime, herbaceous chicken sausage over a golden purée of Calabaza squash and some racy giardiniera (pictured at the start of the post). Each miniature dish was brought to life by sips of citrusy, caramel-tinged dunkelweizen that had been infused with Kaffir limes. (“Every dish we’ll serve will have at least one ingredient harvested from the farm,” said Brown later, and that includes the hops that go into the beer; the kitchen will also cure its own meat for charcuterie plates).

pork_cheekRitz-Carlton Orlando head chef Mark Jeffers grew up partly in the South, so he spooned creamy grits into our bowls for a dish called “Pig-n-Egg”: braised pork cheek (from pigs raised in central Florida), sautéed kale, maitake mushrooms, and a sous-vided duck egg which, when broken, gently spread across the plate. Bits of pickled watermelon rind offered bursts of sharp pucker.

dessertCheramy’s dessert was a tiny parade of sweets (including something akin to a cider munchkin) poised atop an earthy, bright-green, and utterly imaginative wheat grass coulis.

At the lunch’s close, the chefs looked ready to leave the “cozy” kitchen and explore New York before heading back south for what will probably be a frenetic few months before their respective openings. We hope they found some vittles as tasty as those they served up on Wednesday afternoon.

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Top 10 Meeting Trends for 2014


We’re halfway through the year, so it seems only fitting to look back at last December’s Top 10 Trends for Meetings in 2014. How many of these trends have you seen in action this year?

1.  Attendees want to be participants at events, not passive observers soaking in whatever is being served up like sponges.  New room set-ups and more use of interactive media will create a more experiential kind of learning.

2.  Technology will continue to plug attendees into all aspects of a live conference, from pre-event (helping to shape the conference program and connect with fellow attendees) to on site (tweeting, posting pictures to Facebook, and videos to Instagram), to post-event (continuing conference conversations in online forums and discussion groups)

3. There will be more and deeper networking opportunities. Attendees come to events to connect with other attendees as well as to listen to “the experts.” Other attendees are the experts.

4. Mobile apps will keep getting easier to use and more accessible, with intuitiveness and user experience as priorities.

5. The number of apps incorporating geo-location — a virtual perimeter around a geographic location or locations — will grow. Read more about geo-location, also called geo-fencing, in our November issue.

6. Wi-Fi everywhere will be the new normal. Our mobile devices go everywhere with us and we now depend on being able to use them everywhere, too.

7. There will more personalization of technology. The meeting and trade-show attendee of the future won’t be getting the same messaging as every other attendee, but rather will get offers tailored to specific needs and interests. (Look for our story in the January issue about geo-location and personalization.)

8. Language translation tools will begin to be incorporated into apps.

9. Images are becoming the ruling media on the web, and we will continue to see tools that make it easier to create and share pictures and videos.

10. Risk will stop being a bad word. Successful planners will overcome their natural inclination to fall back on tried-and-true formats, programs, room sets, networking opportunities, and spaces, etc. to create new experiences for attendees.

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#PCMAEC: 3 New Things I’ve Done at the PCMA Education Conference

Photo credit: Jacob SlatonHello from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC), where Day 2 of the PCMA Education Conference has turned 28,000-square-foot Constitution Hall into a sprawling Open Space learning environment. Besides opening and closing keynotes, the entire day’s programming is collaborative and self-directed, with a variety of formats and room sets, and an emphasis on bite-sized, incremental education. There’s been a lot of energy across the floor all day, and it seems to be feeding on itself — people feel liberated by the autonomy that today’s program affords them, I think, and their excitement is contagious.

But enough about Education Conference. Let’s talk about me at Education Conference, because the whole point of a meeting is to give attendees something new and personal, introducing them to ideas and experiences in a way that’s unique to them, and from that point of view I’ve really been enjoying EduCon. Here are three things I can cross off my bucket list: Continue reading

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Feed Me Friday: Pondering The Gender Gap in Food and Beverage

female_chefThe data from Convene’s most recent salary survey — which appears in our June issue — suggest a lingering pay gap between men and women in the meetings industry, as well as a gender imbalance at the higher ranks. The numbers were startling to an industry newcomer (me), even if such disparity exists almost everywhere — from manufacturing to finance to agriculture.

In the world of food and beverage, one I’ve covered for a few years now, the gender gap takes on a more in-your-face form: the dearth of women in the higher ranks. Top female chefs can garner a lot of attention not only for their talent but simply because there are so few of them — even if some of our most iconic American chefs/cooks (Julia Child, Alice Waters, Rachael Ray) are women. Peer into almost most any restaurant kitchen, and you’ll usually find testosterone running the line. (Last November, in explaining why Time magazine’s “The Gods of Food” cover excludes women, the section editor called the food world a “boy’s club;” while searching for art for this post, many images on a stock art site depicted scantily clad gamines in chef hats or moms baking/making meals for their family).

Women aren’t entirely absent from hospitality management, of course — there are some powerful women at the top, such as April Bloomfeld and Barbara Lynch. Yet since two-thirds of U.S. minimum wage workers are female, they’re sometimes more visible asking if you’d like fries with that (or bringing the check) than plating your Dover sole.

As popular culture has become food-obessed and chefs have become celebrities, this enduring “boys club” has stirred much public and private conversation; it would be gratifying to see the same conversation unfold in the meetings industry — because the numbers don’t lie.

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The Shape of Screens to Come

Cube-shaped screen at a Bizbash event.

Cube-shaped screen at a Bizbash event.

Among the AV trends recently identified by the Rental & Staging Network (RSN): unconventional screen shapes.

Advances in video playback software makes it feasible to project images onto almost any size and shape of screen, or to create large canvases with multiple screens, said RSN member James Brett, co-founder and principal of MEDIACO. “There’s almost no limit to the shape or number of screens that can be designed and installed.”

It’s not just about looking cool — although that’s nice, too.

Today’s audiences have short attention spans and high expectations for being engaged, Brett said. Multiple and unusually shaped screens can add interest and provide the unexpected, while reinforcing special messaging and product highlights, he noted. Add in “graphics, imagery, videos, and color, and the screens become a highlight of the show.”

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