When it opened its doors late last year, the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) had a vision to reinvent traditional convention menus.
ICC Sydney executive chef Tony Panetta says Australians have long had a passion for good food, however fresh, unprocessed ingredients are now more coveted than ever before.
“Good nutrition has also emerged as a key factor in business success, as it enables us to remain healthy, concentrate better and work more effectively,” he says.
This was the foundation for ICC Sydney’s Feeding Your Performance culinary philosophy, which Panetta says was designed to “drive physical and mental performance backed by fresh, local, seasonal produce”.
“We have worked in partnership with expert nutritionists here, and increased the ratio of plant based proteins in dishes to aid digestion and concentration,” he says.
“We have also put a strong emphasis on using seasonal ingredients and maximising their use, while minimising waste. We can do this by playing with textures and cooking techniques – serving a vegetable raw, smoked, aired or pickled.
“The humble carrot is the perfect example of how you can make an ingredient ‘last’ and adapt it to suit all seasons – airing it when it’s fresh and pickling it to feature in dishes in the winter months.”
Through this approach to food, ICC Sydney has set out to lead the way in food and beverage offering.
“Although we are at the forefront now, this philosophy is sure to become ‘business as usual’ in the future, in the same way ‘paddock to plate’ has,” says Panetta.
“To ensure we continue to set new industry benchmarks our team will never stop exploring, and even driving the latest research, education, and training into cutting-edge developments in ‘food’.”
ICC Sydney is home to the largest industry kitchen in the southern hemisphere, a massive 3000sqm in size, supported by 10 finishing kitchens.
“These exceptional facilities ensure we are agile enough to cater a boardroom lunch for 10 while delivering a gala dinner for 2000,” says Panetta.
What is clear with ICC Sydney’s food and beverage department, which is made up of more than 40 full time chefs, is that it’s a truly collaborative process.
Panetta says there is a wealth of knowledge within the team and everyone possesses a genuine passion for their craft.
“This shared working method helps ensure we are constantly inspiring each other, sharing our knowledge and ideas to create even more exciting dishes,” he says.
“This collaborative process extends beyond the kitchen and we have developed in-depth relationships directly with the producers themselves. This has also taught me so much about their produce and allows me to create even better dishes.
“Thanks to them, I have such an increased understanding of each ingredient now that we can start imagining new ways of using them. This wealth of knowledge has opened up a whole new way of selecting ingredients specific to how we will develop seasonal dishes.”
ICC Sydney sees the importance in catering for all dietary requirements, including allergens, religious and lifestyle choices, which make up between 20 and 23 per cent of all delegates that come through the centre.
“We want every delegate to have a superior food and beverage experience here, where they feel they can choose their food and that each dish has been made especially for them,” says Panetta.
He says rather than serving something completely different for those with dietary requirements, the team aims recreate similar dishes so no one misses out.
“Every time we create a menu we also consider the dietary versions of each dish, so visitors can select something that doesn’t make them feel alienated from their peers,” he says.
“Because we are using fresh, local ingredients a lot of our dishes are already gluten free, and for those with an allergy or additional dietary need, we’ll make something like a vegetable and chickpea tagine at the same time as a lamb tagine, so dishes are presented seamlessly.”
Also noticing a trend in the number of special dietary needs, Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre (BCEC) recently introduced a dedicated dietary kitchen, to ensure the utmost care and consideration goes into every meal.
BCEC executive chef Martin Latter says the kitchen was built to cater for the ever-increasing number of special food requests.
“Ten years ago you were a vegetarian or you weren’t. Today, if I have a 1000 pax function I could have 25 per cent dietary requirements and out of those there could be 60 plus different requirements,” he says.
“We have set up a purpose-built dietary kitchen where we will be looking after the dietary needs of everyone that comes through the building.”
Latter says BCEC have taken something that was once “the bug of the industry” and changed it into something more positive.
“We’ve broken that down and said well we will turn this into a positive,” he says.
“We will start working with not just the PCOs and the clients but also working with the Heart Foundation and those sorts of bodies where we can work together to provide quality product and quality food to people who require these dietary needs.
“We’ll be making sure everyone’s needs are taken care of.”
BCEC have also recently launched the Fill Up on Life food philosophy, which focusses on utilising Queensland produce.
Latter says not only are fresh produce and quality ingredients important to delegates, they also value the experience of watching their meals being cooked in front of them.
“We’re getting a lot of requests for and fantastic response from what we call street food catering, where there’s live cooking in front of guests and interaction with the chefs,” he says.
For example, BCEC set up salad and sandwich bars where chefs make meals on the spot, tailored specifically to the delegates’ tastes and dietary requirements.
“That’s a huge trend and moving forward we’re putting together all these different types of food concepts, and talking to the PCOs, clients and guests about what they’re looking for,” says Latter.