Saturday, March 2, 2013

Conference in New York: Culinary Geekiness and Personal Growth

The days leading up to the departure date were edged with a bit of agitation, to be sure.  I was due to attend my first work conference in upstate New York and I was fighting off a persistent and insidious case of the professional butterflies, as it were.  I had much to do before we left; a massive snowstorm had just properly snarled the week and another was preparing to descend on the Monday we were due to leave.  The origin of the agitation was self-doubt, first visit to the corporate headquarters, a part in a presentation in front of my peers, an irritating fear that I might stumble in some manner and embarrass my work cohorts at the corporate HQ.

My feared scenarios did not become reality and believe me, my over-caffeinated gray matter can create some highly inventive (and in retrospect, frequently ludicrous) scenarios.  In the end, the conference was extraordinary on many levels and I learned a great deal.  It was a particular kick to meet our partner associates at our sister hotels and to get to know the corporate team who worked so hard to host such an impressive event.  Our presentation went well and with consideration to my traveling team's struggles with illness and airline snafus, I surprisingly fared the best with regards to traveling successfully.  We all thoroughly enjoyed the conference though, but one big thing I didn't expect was to personally geek out a bit during the course of said conference.

We stayed at host and sister hotel The Woodcliff Hotel and Spa.  The good Woodcliff folks were impeccable hosts; the staff friendly and my room was quite nice.  What would truly capture my attention early on in the conference, though, was the food.  I was looking forward to the Woodcliff cuisine as I had heard great things about new Exec Chef Carlo Peretti.  Our first night was a welcome reception is a hospitality room and the imaginative appetizers served there already snapped me to attention: salami cones with artichoke mousse, peppered maple bacon skewers, crab cakes topped with a carrot salsa, tamarind chicken sliders.  These delicious bites paired with local wines and brews (my favorite being the malty Rohrbach Scotch Ale) certainly sparked my interest in seeing what other fine goodies might be in store. While my cohort Tom was already demonstrating his Southern hospitality and refilling everyone's glasses, I was nursing an even greater anticipation for the eats during the remainder of the conference.  The next morning I would get to meet the charming Chef Peretti when he prepared an excellent vegetable frittata for me during breakfast.  After I complimented him on the food the previous night, he cheekily replied with that unmistakable English accent, "yeah, we get it right once in a while". 

That next night, my geek level was raised considerably when I learned what our team-building event would be: a visit to the New York Wine and Culinary Center in nearby Canandaigua.  What a way to bond with the corporate family...a kickoff wine tasting of New York state wines (my fave being the Finger Lakes Lamoreaux Landing Estate Red NV) lead by native Parisian Thomas and his American assistant Ryan, followed by a team cooking event in a cavernous exhibition kitchen.  I was paired with a corporate colleague and she and I made Chorizo-stuffed clams and chopped salad (pictured below).  Each team made a different dish and we served it all up as one magnificent meal at the end: in addition to the clams and salad were an amazing Beef Tenderloin with a Red Wine-Onion Reduction Sauce, Barley Risotto with Wild Mushrooms (perfected with an added glass of rose'), brussel sprouts with caramelized onions and a maple creme brulee for dessert.  My coworker tried to sell the idea of the creme brulee with added brussel sprout inside, but we weren't biting, to say the least.  The night was made complete when I returned to my room to find that night's amenity...fresh, house-made cookies with a bottle of local Pittsford Dairy milk (Pittsford Dairy also have a Kahlua Mudslide ice cream that is to die for) on ice. Way to end a brilliant night with the warm-fuzzies, Woodcliff.

The following night was the awards dinner at Woodcliff and while I was looking forward to whatever goodness Chef Peretti might create, I wasn't prepared to completely geek out again. The evening was very hush-hush, but we knew it would require more formal dress.  The first clues happened when we returned from our all-day conference to our rooms to find the latest classy amenity...two chocolate-covered strawberries resembling tuxedos with a split of Mumm's Champagne on ice. We met in the lobby, only to be led into a dark corridor where I realized our next clues as we stepped onto a red carpet and I saw a poster for Fellini's Roma.  Could it be?  Had I just sacrificed my own Oscar get-together with friends back home while I prepped for the conference only to be led to a makeshift Oscar party at the conference itself?  Indeed, the imaginative folks at the Woodcliff along with some corporate planners had created a magical environment with an Academy Awards theme complete with passed hors d'eoeurves, celebratory Cosmos, deep burgundy draperies, sexy red lighting and abundant movie posters....even mini-Oscars on the cocktail rounds.  Entertainment was provided by the smooth sounds of the crooning Swooners, awards were given, gratitude abounded and of course, the dinner was marvelous. The starter was a pillowy, delicious shrimp and lobster ravioli followed by a tasty Asian green salad with colorful watermelon radishes.  The main course was a wonderfully flavorful 'surf and turf' of  braised short rib of beef with a lobster tail.  Each course was paired with a New York State Wine.  Dinner was marvelous through and through but the gobsmacking wow factor of dinner for me was the stunningly artful dessert; a surreal landscape of sweetness including a triple layer mousse, vanilla bean and pistachio gelato and caramel and coffee truffles with a cloud of spun sugar on the side.  There was also a creme brulee with a date inside...if I didn't know any better, I would have thought it in honor of my coworker's brulee-with-brussel sprout creation from the night before.  This gorgeous dessert had me photographing it from every angle; exposing my food nerdiness once and for all to see, investor and owner included.  Instead of being shamed for being ridiculous, my new corporate family members were actually posing their plates for me by this time, just like my friends back home do.  As for Chef Peretti's earlier comment as to "getting it right once in a while", well, whatever, and your team (including one whom is clearly a genius of a pastry chef) hit it out of the park every time.

On the snowy haul back to KC on the last day, I reflected on this conference, where I not only learned so much about being a better associate but also how to grow as a person as well.  Facing and overcoming fear and self-doubt and even having a fine time to boot were just the inspirational tonic I needed.

This blog represents my personal opinion and is not written by or sanctioned by the Elms Hotel and Spa or Widewaters Hotels.


Anonymous said...

Ok, I just don't wanna talk about it, I do not! In my 15 years in HR the best I ever got from a corporate training was some stupid team building thing where we had to chain ourselves to each other and figure out a way to move a hula hoop down the row of knees and feet without losing contact and then we had to "engineer" an apparatus out of paper that would allow us to lower a raw egg to the ground without breaking it. Our reward? Sandwich bar. Pass the French's mustard please LOL! (Although they did send me to New Orleans for a week about a month before Katrina wiped it out. It was make your own fun and trust me Bourbon St saw the best of me haha!) Granted you ARE in the hospitality industry and I was in manufacturing but I really think a cooking challenge (especially one as cool as the one you got) would work in ANY industry. Food ALWAYS brings people together. This corporate conference looks nothing short of amazing! Heck, looks like a vacation to me. And as for the Oscar gotta talk cause while you were schmoozing and noshing in your semi formals I was....well, you get my drift LOL! Glad you had a great time. Looks like you picked a winner of an employer!!!! Love you!

~ Kristy

P.S. You can make it all up to me by sending me some of that vanilla bean and pistachio gelato.

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