Michele Polci, CPCE, CMP, fields a lot of F&B requests from event organizers as director of citywide catering sales for eight Las Vegas properties for Caesars Entertainment. When I met with her during IMEX in Las Vegas in October, she shared some of her most — and least — favorite trends.
What’s one thing you look forward to when you cater an event?
I call it the ‘aha!’ moment. I walk in and get goosebumps when I see a food presentation that is artfully done.
Yes, people eat with their eyes first.
Right, and we want them to look at the food and [be curious], to say, “What is that?” and investigate it a little more. To learn about the kind of tomatoes in the dish, where the olive oil and vinegar comes from.
How do you incorporate local foods in your menus?
We’re a little landlocked in Las Vegas, so we don’t have a lot of farm-to-table food, but in our other markets, specifically Atlantic City, they’re able to really embrace local ingredients in season and really take that to another level. I’m jealous when I go out there — the seafood! We just did a customer event there and we celebrated being on the East Coast. There were Jersey tomatoes at every event we did from a composed Caprese [salad stack] to a freshly pulled mozzarella station for a reception. The peaches were in season, so we did a whole stone-fruit display. We want to connect people back to our food roots, eating what’s in season and locally grown. So our fall menus embrace squash and corn and the winter menu is based on grains.
What are some of the other requests you’re getting from meeting organizers?
I’ve been waiting for those dang eggs to go away! They’ve been hanging out for a while. Eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I’m seeing egg yolks everywhere — they’re on everything!
Seriously though, we talk to customers to find out what their activities are all about. Do they want energy drinks? Coffee and tea or smoothies?
Which leads me to another question. At a lot of events, I see a mix of healthy foods and then really unhealthy ones — like green-tea smoothies at one break and deep-fried pork belly at another. What’s the thinking there, to have choices that please everyone?
I think sometimes that attendees may go to one or two conferences a year so they are more likely to indulge when they’re there. I think one side of them is like, “I want to eat everything that looks good. I want fries, chicken fingers.” And then there are some people who are trying to eat healthy all the time. So you want to please both. You can do that with smaller tasting menus that give people the opportunity to try lots of different things in small amounts without their diet going way off course. We try to do that with deserts — instead of getting an eight-inch piece of cake, you get a variety of bite-sized sweets.
Any other food trends you’re integrating in your menu options?
Repurposing! There still needs to be starchy items in a menu, but now we’re doing a lot with cauliflower, so it’s not a floret, but riced cauliflower. And we just did an event in Lake Tahoe where our tablescape became our starter — we worked in centerpieces at the tables with an expansive assortment of vegetables and jars filled with olives. It got people sharing the food and talking with each other. And not only was it economical since the client didn’t have to pay for centerpieces, it was beautiful.