Who doesn’t love a sweet treat at a business meeting or conference, especially after a long day of educational sessions and back-to-back engagements with clients or colleagues? Besides being pleasing to the palate, desserts, whether served at a sit-down meal or at an interactive buffet station, help create a fun and relaxed environment for attendees to mingle and network, breaking the ice, encouraging conversation and contributing to a positive and memorable event experience. And by offering a variety of sweet dishes or bites, event organizers can cater to different preferences and dietary needs, ensuring that attendees feel catered to, satisfied and refreshed.
To learn what’s trending in delectable desserts at meetings and business events, TSNN turned to two executive chefs from OVG Hospitality, the food and beverage division of OVG360, a full-service venue management company boasting more than 300 client-partners spanning convention centers, arenas, stadiums, performing arts centers, cultural institutions and state fairs across the world.
Here, culinary leaders Kirsten Pawelek, executive chef for the Ortiz International Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Certified Chef de Cuisine Larry Alexander, Jr., executive chef and assistant general manager at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J., share an array of tempting on-trend treats they enjoy serving to meeting and event guests, along with their ideas for how event planners can work with their venue’s culinary team to provide decadent desserts that not only please a variety of palates and preferences but also stay on-budget.
What are the hottest, most popular trends in desserts that you’re creating for meetings and conferences these days? Please describe in delicious detail!
Chef Kirsten Pawelek: I have noticed that our day-to-day guests at Ortiz International Center have been wanting more bite-size desserts and lots of chocolate-flavored desserts. Our guests love our Petite Dessert Display, Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake and our Warm Jumbo Chocolate Chunk Cookies. The more chocolate, the happier the client!
Chef Larry Alexander, Jr.: Flavored mousse. Adding cognac, brandy or rum to the mousse with fresh aromatic herbs, such as micro mint, vanilla bean, rosemary or lavender. For example, I made a vanilla bean panna cotta with essence of rosemary and lavender. It was delicious, and it’s great to watch the expression on everyone’s faces when they’re eating it. The light, creamy, mousse-like texture and the savory taste of the rosemary, lavender and fresh vanilla bean together make for a great dessert.
As a leading convention center chef, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest trends in F&B, specifically desserts? Do you have a go-to resource that helps you stay current on industry trends?
Pawelek: I believe it’s important to be up-to-date and see what food choices people of all ages are gravitating toward. As a convention center chef, I use YouTube to stay up to date on new food trends, especially desserts. I read articles on food trends on the Food & Wine and Bon Appétit websites. I also use an app known as Gronda, which contains videos and pictures of the latest food trends made by chefs all around the world. I learn best hands-on, so if I find something that interests me or something that looks different, I test it out to see if the recipe will work in my building. I also strive to be inclusive of all my clients by being sure to accommodate food sensitivities and restrictions. For instance, gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options are always available at the Ortiz International Center.
Alexander: I stay in touch with a colleague of mine who specializes in decadent desserts, Craig from Albert Uster. Additionally, having “Generation Y” children who are foodies and travel abroad, taking photos of everything they eat from France to the islands, helps me with decisions when creating trendy dishes. Nowadays, everyone takes photos of everything they eat, especially dessert, as in most cases it’s colorful and looks amazing!
As we all know, post-pandemic F&B budgets are incredibly tight. What are some good low-cost dessert options that meeting planners should consider this year?
Pawelek: Post-pandemic food and beverage budgets can be difficult at times, but I have always done my best to work with the client’s budget. I have been recommending more simple desserts, such as New York-style cheesecake with strawberry coulis, Mexican chocolate pudding with tajin, milk chocolate mousse, vanilla mousse and assorted dessert bars. We believe it’s important to ensure all clients get the tastiest and most fulfilling desserts for an economical price.
Alexander: The pandemic really hit the F&B industry hard, and as we bounce back, I’m looking to quick desserts that are cost-effective and bite-sized, like an Acai-infused, no-bake cheesecake and mini banana foster bread pudding with banana flavored crème anglaise. Use the items you have in-house to create something and set the trends for yourself. Look back on the classic dessert.
On the flip side, if an event is able to go all-out on desserts, what kinds of sweet creations would you recommend?
Pawelek: If an event can go all out on desserts, I would recommend the following: a bananas Foster action station, dulce de leche cheesecake, marbled banana chocolate cake, macaroons, mixed berry tarts with Bavarian cream and an all-time favorite of mine: vanilla bean panna cotta with blackberry compote and honeycomb toffee. All these desserts are spectacular, and I highly recommend them to our clients.
Alexander: Because some guests want healthier options, I would create desserts that incorporate the latest coffee flavors, such as matcha-flavored tiramisu cups, and infused desserts with exotic fruit, such as yuzu, a citrus fruit from China. I’d also suggest raspberry yuzu posset, which has a similar texture to a panna cotta, however, the posset relies on the acidity from the yuzu to set up the dessert, and the panna cotta relies on gelatin.