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The Spark of Collaboration

Catersource + The Special Event bring the fire to Anaheim

The catering and events industry has faced a roller coaster of a year: calendars began to fill up as it appeared that COVID-19 was on its way out only to be thwarted by the Omicron variant. Supply chain issues and staffing shortages proved challenging as demand for events began to ascend record-setting levels. Despite everything, events are back, and so is Catersource + The Special Event, held this past May in Anaheim for a week’s worth of inspiration, creativity, learning, and showstopping experiences.

Gastro Garage’s live fire cooking enlivened the tradeshow floor.

During Connect Live, guests enjoyed petite lamb chops with green olive and pine nut salsa verde. Photo courtesy BYC Photography

In the next few pages you will have the chance to relive the week, but first, we’d like to take this opportunity to not only thank this year’s attendees for bringing their enthusiasm, but also express our sincere appreciation to our speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors for providing a top-notch experience.

The Opening Night Party included a silent disco where guests donned individual headphones and danced the night away. 

The Opening Night Party included a chef experience station from Colette’s Catering and Events that featured Baja fish tacos (purple flour corn tortillas, shredded cabbage slaw, crema, cilantro lime dressing, chipotle aioli, pickled red onion, and cotija cheese); braised short ribs (Yukon mash, roasted shallot, micro chive); and an elote bowl (grilled esquites, cotija, crema, avocado, garlic aioli, cilantro, pickled onions, green onion, tajin, hot sauce, and lime).

Igniting the fire together

If a single word could be chosen to describe this year’s Catersource + The Special Event, it would be collaboration.

“Everybody wants an experiential moment when it comes to an event, but it takes collaboration,” said Michael Stavros (M Culinary Concepts) during Caterers, Assemble!” – Tantalizing Trends, Clever Concepts, Inspired Interactivity. “It takes collaboration with your client, it takes collaboration with your vendors, it takes collaboration with your team.”

Roy Choi, who is one of the architects of the modern food truck movement through Kogi BBQ, was in conversation with Kate Patay during his Closing General Session. Choi discussed food trucks, his experience working in catering and hotels, and shared some of his favorites: food (rice); superhero (Batman or the Punisher); kitchen gadget (rice cooker).

“The worst possible thing we can do is exist in two separate silos,” closing keynote speaker Roy Choi said, while referencing front of house and back of house staff. “We have to set each other up for success, and sometimes we need a safe space to argue it out. There can’t be any more, ‘this is my domain, this is your domain.’ We’re all together now and we need each other.

“The only way we can bounce back is to create a new environment for each other.”

Catersource + The Special Event speaker Deborah Elias’ (Elias Events) excitement was palpable during the ACE and Gala award ceremony, where her “A Spooktacular Night” was named Best Event for a Private Individual: Budget Under $1,000 Per Guest.

The idea of collaboration could be seen in myriad ways throughout the week: caterers and event planners presenting together, such as Robin Selden (Marcia Selden Catering & Events) and David Beahm (David Beahm Experiences) co-presenting Luxury is a State of Mind; opening keynote Christina Matteucci’s I Know You’re the Boss, But..., which focused on the importance of a CEO’s second in command; educational sessions that addressed relationships and partnerships such as Rob Barber’s (ATOMIC) Spare a Square? The Business Value of Collaboration or Beth Bracco (Blue Plate Catering) and Ellyn Nugent’s (Field Museum) session on Building Successful Partnerships Between Venue Partners & Caterers. One of this year’s sessions even saw caterers and event planners bond over their shared experiences to shed light on the many challenges of today’s hospitality industry with A Candid Conversation LIVE on Mental Illness in the Event Industry.

 Christina Matteucci (David Beahm Experiences) spoke on the value of being a “number two” in business during the Opening General Session.

Collaboration is so much more than education, however. One of the biggest takeaways from a conference such as Catersource + The Special Event is the many networking opportunities and connections that are made with people who can become longtime collaborators and friends.

“We’ve been apart for such a long time,” said Kathleen Stoehr (Director of Community & Content Strategy for Informa Connect) during this year’s welcome session. “Some of the best take-aways are going to be because you met someone here.”

New lessons

Attendees were so excited to learn and expand their knowledge this year that they were quite literally climbing over each other.

There’s always something new and exciting to be found at the bookstore.

During the Plating Master Series, instructors (Jason Sutton, Roy Porter, Greg Shapiro, Keith Lord, Ron Knoll and Bryce Cherven) helped coach attendees on technique, method, speed, and efficiency for plating. Everyone was so eager to see the plating techniques in action, that they were bobbing and weaving around each other to get a better view (especially since the room was packed to capacity).

During the Plating Master Series, instructors (Jason Sutton, roy porter, Greg Shapiro, Keith Lord, Ron Knoll and Bryce Cherven) helped coach attendees on technique, method, speed, and efficiency for plating. 

There’s been a lot of discussion about diversity and inclusion in recent years, but one facet of that discussion that often gets under-recognized is dietary restrictions. Feeding everyone at an event has become increasingly difficult recently with so many more dietary preferences and food allergies. “This needs to be discussed more,” said Tracy Stuckrath (thrive! meetings & events). “We have a duty of care for providing safety and wellness.”

Stuckrath, who is considered the dietary needs expert, delivered a trio of sessions this year that addressed the need to feed everyone.

“When you design for the minority, you can accommodate the majority, you can feed the majority,” she said. “You have to be deliberate.”

Tracy Stuckrath (thrive! meetings & events), who is considered the dietary needs expert, delivered a trio of sessions on how to navigate dietary preferences (dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, Keto, vegetarian, Kosher) at events.

The experts were also on hand for a quick one-on-one. The Certified Catering Consultants (CCC) offered free half-hour appointments on site where they were able to help address all catering-related challenges.

Industry accolades

The Achievement in Catered Events (ACE) awards ceremony made its long-awaited return this year at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center where catering excellence from the past two years was celebrated.

ACE and Gala award nominees enjoyed a welcome cocktail upon arrival to the awards ceremony.

This year’s ACE award recipients were: Instawork (Best Innovation); 24 Carrots Catering and Events for “Fandango! Alta California” (Best Off-Premise Catering); and Chartwells Higher Education for “A University Presidential Inauguration” (Best On-Premise Catering). Congratulations to all of this year’s recipients! Submissions for the 2023 ACE Awards is now open. Check out the fall issue of Special Events magazine to view this year’s Gala Award recipients. 

Instawork was so thrilled by their ACE win for Best Innovation that they could be seen showing off their trophy on the tradeshow floor throughout the rest of the week.

24 Carrots Catering and Events received the ACE award for Best Off-Premise Catering for their event “Fandango! Alta California.” Catersource + The Special Event show ambassador Norm Bennet accepted the award. Turn to page 22 for more on 24 Carrots’ event. 

Lenny Talarico (Lenny Talarico Productions) and David Merrell (AOO Events) celebrate their Gala award wins following the ceremony. 

Leadership Lunch: A celebration of emotional intelligence in the workplace 

T he 2022 Leadership Lunch celebrated three individuals—and one organization—that have made an impact on the catering and events industries.

Event chair Anthony Bolotta

Emotional acceptance speeches touched on loved ones who supported careers, celebrated the spirit of volunteerism, and spoke to the resilience of an industry that banded together to get back to business. Wrapped around a theme of emotional intelligence, the event, chaired by Anthony Bolotta (Bolotta Entertainment) concluded with a program presented by Mike Lee and Carl Winston. A three-course lunch prepared by the 24 Carrots team (and delivered to each table with its signature synchronized service), was themed appropriately with names befi tting the event’s theme.

The event concluded with a program on Emotional Intelligence, presented by Mike Lee and Carl Winston.

The culinary experiences

What’s a Catersource + The Special Event without the food? “Food brings people together,” Choi said. “Food has been an incredible source of culture.”

Orlando or Bust
Registration will open soon for Catersource + The Special Event co-located conference in Orlando, Fla., March 27–30, 2023. Check conference.catersource.com for the latest on speakers, sessions, and events.

This year’s conference offered a stellar lineup of culinaryfocused sessions including: Superstar Short Plates (Joanne Purnell and Jennie Cook); Creating Catering Experiences (Leilani Baugh); Mimics & Mishaps: Churros A La Mickey & Other Catering Magic (Nettie Frank); No Pastry Chef? No Problem (Robert Mitchell and Deanna Johnson); and Elevating Flavors Through Presentation (Cristian Hernandez and Rich Rosendale).

There was no shortage of sampling on the tradeshow floor this year. US Foods offered up Bloody Mary shooters

Attendees definitely didn’t go hungry on the tradeshow floor this year with so many samples available. Shown here is King’s Hawaiian. 

“Everything I am as a chef began in catering,” Choi said. “If I wasn’t a banquet chef, I don’t think Kogi (Choi’s iconic Los Angeles taco truck) would have happened.”

The food didn’t stop there either. Between sampling on the Tradeshow floor, the lunchtime Food Truck Roundup, the delicious bites during the evening Showcasing Events, nobody went hungry—which is certainly a good thing because attendees couldn’t help but be hungry after witnessing Boris Seymore construct a stunner of a buffet during Upsell Your Event with Bespoke Buffets or admiring the awe-inspiring grazing boards during How to Create Grazing Boards That Will Dazzle Your Clients & Their Guests.

Conner Black (Footers Catering) puts the finishing touches on his bites during the DICED competition.

Chefs also put their pedal to the metal again this year for the annual DICED competition where chefs were challenged to create both a savory and sweet bite inspired by one of the four seasons. Read more about that here.

Surprises abound 

There were plenty of surprises around every corner throughout the week, including the Tradeshow floor.

Live artist demonstrations from Paint Your Event and the Original Butt Sketch were a nice addition to this year’s conference.

Myriad new products could be found to inspire and excite attendees on the combined Catersource + The Special Event Tradeshow floor. Everything from food products to rental equipment to décor to entertainment to technology solutions were on hand to prepare attendees for the onslaught as events return once again.

It’s not every day you expect to see a furry friend on the tradeshow floor.

The Mandalorian and baby Yoda made a surprise appearance on the tradeshow floor.

There were plenty of surprising new products to inspire and excite attendees on the combined Catersource + The Special Event tradeshow floor to help them transition their businesses into the next phase.

Jordan Langer (Non Plus Ultra) surprised and delighted attendees during his session on the Ignite Stage (The Future of Events: Innovative Lessons from the Frontlines of the Immersive Event & Entertainment Boom) with a mariachi band, guacamole station, and margarita bar (in honor of Cinco de Mayo).

 Five Sense Collective delivered an onstage cleanse during David Merrell’s signature session. The sacred healing ceremony aimed to provide a space for individuals to heal, grow, and self-explore through deeper, more meaningful consciousness. Photo courtesy catersource magazine

The Mystery Tattoo booth allowed attendees to receive surprise airbrush tattoos. 

On conference stages, Stella Rankin made a statement in her session Memorable Experiences Through Re-Imagined Catering by donning a wedding dress and not talking about the “elephant in the room” (a special guest wearing an elephant costume). And after so many successful years at Catersource + The Special Event, David Merrell continues to surprise us, this year via an onstage healing ceremony with the help of Five Sense Collective.

California-style celebrations

As with any good Catersource + The Special Event, nothing is complete without evening events.

Oceania (Key Artist Group) welcomed guests to the Closing Night Celebration.

Beautiful servers gave a touch of elegance to Connect Live.

Throughout the week, Paintillio offered party-goers the opportunity to complete a community paint-by-numbers project.

The week kicked off with Connect Live on Monday evening; a California showcase at its nest, complete with California wine country, Beverly Hills designers, and beach vibes.

Following the ACE Awards, the Muckenthaler Cultural Center offered lots of opportunities to celebrate during the Opening Night Party with libations, food, and entertainment to keep the party going.

Be a part of Catersource + The Special Event 2023
CALL FOR SPEAKERS is now open for both Catersource Conference & Tradeshow and The Special Event, which will be co-located in Orlando, Fla. March 27–30, 2023. Go to conference.catersource.com for conference information, or cs2023.catersource-cfp. com to pitch a session topic.

Music and entertainment were the name of the game during the Event Experience at House of Blues Anaheim, and the week was capped off on Thursday with the Closing Night Celebration, which was a journey through the decades.

The Opening Night Party had plenty of opportunities for a celebratory toast.

New and old friends alike heated up the dance floor throughout the week’s evening events. 

More than Mickey

Orlando and neighboring Walt Disney World may be dubbed “the happiest place on earth.” No offense to Mickey Mouse, but the Orange County Convention Center may just take that title next year. Catersource + The Special Event will be held March 27–30, 2023 at the OCCC. Trust us, you won’t want to miss it!

All photos courtesy WASIO Photography unless otherwise noted. Kathleen Stoehr contributed to this piece

Amber Kispert

Content Producer

Amber is the Content Producer for Catersource. Amber previously worked as a Communications Specialist for LeClair Group and a reporter for the Woodbury Bulletin, both located in Woodbury, Minn.  As a self-described "foodie," Amber loves to experience the world of food and beverages, and is excited to help share the stories of Catersource and the world's caterers.