How Spectra empowers its chefs to innovate, sparking a passion to create dishes that meet the growing demand for vegan and vegetarian dishes
By Scott Swiger, vice president, culinary excellence, Spectra
Keeping up with trends and innovating is always a challenge, but it’s vital to the success of caterers and foodservice companies today. At Spectra, we empower our culinary teams to be creative, collaborating with each other and with our foodservices partners, which is how Spectra began leading the way to meet the growing demand for plant-strong options in catering.
Connections with our colleagues across North America—from executive chefs to catering managers—in and out of the kitchen are important for the creative process. Because our business spans 250 foodservice and hospitality clients across the United States and Canada, many of our executive chefs have never had the opportunity to work together in the kitchen.
So, in 2017, we started hosting an annual three-day Culinary Innovation Summit. The summit is comprised of educational seminars and a trade show. The summit concludes with a friendly competition among our chefs, where they work in small teams to create new menu items, on the fly, with surprise ingredients. They are judged based on taste, presentation and, of course, innovation.
One of our most recent food and beverage partners is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Last summer, at our third annual Summit, the HSUS presented plant-based alternatives for catering menus and shared the impact they have on our communities. Their fascinating presentation sparked our chefs’ passion to incorporate vegan catering options for the high-guest-count galas, weddings and conventions they serve at their venues.
John Schmitz, Spectra’s executive chef at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., was inspired by this connection and continued the collaboration with HSUS by launching the first Spectra Plant-Strong Innovation Workshop in November. Spectra has plans to continue working with the HSUS to create unique, delicious plant-based recipes for use across the convention centers, museums, arenas, stadiums, performing arts centers and other venues we manage.
More important than innovation is Spectra’s commitment to the environment. We strive to be more sustainable and reduce our carbon footprint by offering more plant-based menu items at our venues.
Our chefs are incorporating unique ingredients to offer more diverse menu items, such as aquafaba, the by-product of a can of chickpeas, to mimic egg whites in a meringue. Aquafaba meringue pairs perfectly with dairy-free chocolate-avocado mousse. Our chefs are also transforming classic dishes that traditionally feature meat into vegetarian and vegan options by substituting more vegetables and plant-based alternatives, such as the Beet Wellington or Carrot Osso Bucco.
While our plant-strong initiative does not eliminate meat and poultry from all catering menus, it provides hearty, flavorful options to meet the diverse diets of our guests. What’s more, to cut back on food waste, we have been implementing a “default vegetarian” option and then adding on meat as the option, instead of the other way around.
We’re focused on continuing to inspire our team to work together in an environment that fosters creativity. More workshops are being scheduled in 2020 to keep this spark going to ignite a passion in all our chefs. •
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Swiger, vice president, culinary excellence at Spectra, is a seasoned industry veteran who has spent his entire professional career in the food business. In his role with Spectra, Swiger draws not only on his culinary experience, but also on the work he has done in aligning corporate resources with the operational needs of the field. He holds a bachelor’s degree in restaurant, hotel, institutional and tourism management from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and a master’s of management in hospitality from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. To learn more about Spectra, visit spectraexperiences.com.