Supreme showcase

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 September, 2010, 12:00am

The unwritten maxim of the Mice sector is: 'Mice need cheese'. It's all very well to stage mega business extravaganzas, but delegates' brains need fuelling at regular intervals, which is where Hong Kong's brigade of caterers comes to the fore.

The city's hotel kitchens and independent caterers are past masters at laying on mammoth spreads, planning menus and scouting venues with military precision. Apart from anything else, the final product - be it a buffet for several hundred with accompanying musical razzmatazz or coffee and snacks between breakout sessions - is a discreet showcase for Hong Kong's superlative business skills. On the doorstep of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, the Grand Hyatt is used to catering for major events for international and local clients.

Earlier this year, the hotel was requested at short notice to cater for a three-day event in the China Resources Building where Chanel was due to exhibit its exclusive jewellery lines.

'Chanel wanted to hold a cocktail party for 200 on the first day, provide catering for press sessions and private viewings on the second, and a sit-down dinner for 100 guests on the third,' explains Vivian Wan, the Grand Hyatt's director of conventions and events. 'We only had six weeks to plan after we received the inquiry and agreed the pricing, but luckily we were familiar with the venue layout, so that made things a little easier.'

The menu formed a major part of the planning operation, as it had to be in keeping with Chanel's black and white theme.

Initial tasting sessions were followed by the despatch of photos of the dishes before Chanel gave the thumbs up to executive chef Marcus Mathyssek's HK$1,500-per-head dinner menu that included foie gras, lobster bisque, scallops with black truffle puree, and chocolate-coated raspberries.

Some fine tuning was required at the venue. Chanel had opted for an open-plan layout, and a flight of stairs between the serving and the dining areas required close co-ordination between the chefs and the serving team.

Extra staff had to be brought in and trained to ensure that service was synchronised. The Grand Hyatt team also had to liaise with a production company who were providing a live band.

It says something for the Grand Hyatt's logistical ability that it pulls off roughly one such event every month, with as many as 50 employees involved each time.

Another Hong Kong hotel next to a major expo venue, the SkyCity Marriott at Chek Lap Kok, is likewise no stranger to hosting and catering major events.

Last month, the hotel was the site of a get-together for some of the University of Science and Technology's MBA students and staff, involving 220 delegates from the mainland, the United States, Russia, Germany, Italy, France, Iceland and Hong Kong.

'Events like this get planned months in advance, and you need to meet with the client first to get a proper understanding of their needs and expectations,' says Winny Mui, SkyCity's director of marketing communications.

University officials visited the hotel several times, and an outside audiovisual contractor was brought in to ensure professional service.

In terms of menu design, given the diversity in nationality of the students, several dietary requirements had to be met.

The main concern was nuts, a common item that can trigger allergies. So, executive sous chef Marco Cheung had to ensure no nuts were used in any of the meals. Additionally, he had to come up with vegetarian and Indian options for the four-day event.

'Food tasting was arranged for the organiser two months prior to the event, to ensure all meals were up to standard and individual needs,' Mui says. 'This also helped chef to place orders well in advance to ensure all necessary ingredients were delivered on time.'

Other than the daily coffee breaks, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a special welcome reception lunch had to be organised for the 60 students from Shenzhen - as this group was organised and handled by an educational agency - at the hotel's Velocity Bar and Grill. As a final fillip, the hotel booked the Nine Eagle Golf Course, which is next to the hotel, for an off-site dinner for the same group on their last day.

Hong Kong's ubiquitous Maxim's has been feeding the city and its guests for more than 50 years and, as such, is regarded as Hong Kong's premier caterer.

Maxim's group is hosting a 20,000 sqft food hall that is a mini-temple to the culinary arts at the World Expo in Shanghai, and is the only representative from Hong Kong taking part in the Chinese Culinary Zone where it is showcasing the city's finest delicacies.

'With our persistent pursuit of quality and extensive experiences in professional catering, Maxim's has also provided catering services for many international functions and large-scale events,' says Lily Lau, the group's public relations manager.

'These include the 2005 Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation, the 2008 Olympic equestrian events and the East Asian Games, as well as the opening ceremonies of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, Tsing Ma Bridge and Hong Kong International Airport.'