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NACE Conference Fills, Thrills Attendees

This year’s National Association of Catering Executives’ Educational Conference, held July 10-13 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., brought the latest trends in catering to the table in a series of sessions, meals and events that celebrated the best of food and the Florida setting. Conference registration was up 25 percent over last year, with 584 attendees.

Plentiful breaks and meals featured Sunshine State themes, such as “Key West Celebration” afternoon break, “Hurricane” luncheon, and the “Florida’s National Forests” breakfast, where diners ate at tables dressed in red-and-white checked linen placed around a campground vignette complete with a musician playing campfire songs on a guitar.

Renowned event designer Preston Bailey of New York-based Preston Bailey Event Design ( delivered the keynote presentation at the Opening Session, sharing his secrets of entertainment with the audience. Motivational speaker and author Frank Maguire of Westlake Village, Calif.-based Maguire Communications ( explained his strategies for effective company leadership and communication skills at the Closing General Session.

The conference featured more than 30 education sessions covering topics including sales, food presentation trends and CPCE certification. Several hundred attendees packed the “Chef’s Panel: Orlando’s Best” session, where Orlando-area chefs gave cooking demonstrations of dishes that were on the menus at several conference events. Chefs on hand to show off their skills with a skillet were Steve Jayson, executive chef for Universal Resort Group; Jamie McFadden of Cuisiniers Catered Cuisine and Events; Robin Stotter of E-Brands Restaurants; and Earlest Bell, executive chef, and Dennis Miller, executive pastry chef, of the Gaylord Palms Resort.

At the off-premise party at Universal Studios Orlando (, produced by the studio’s event coordinators, guests tested the strength of their stomachs at a “Fear Factor” themed event. Universal chefs manned food stations serving “scary” menu items—but no bugs—such as French snails bourguignonne over wild mushroom mashed potatoes, Southern-style fried frog’s legs and pickled Kobe beef tongue with horseradish sauce. Party-goers flocked to a sashimi station featuring fish heads suspended in an ice bar, while another station offered chilled tomato soup in oversized plastic syringes.

Following dinner, guests moved to the park’s “Fear Factor Live” studio, where attendees watched competitors battle it out in stunts made famous by the hit television show. Of course, it wouldn’t be “Fear Factor” without a few creepy crawlies—one guest volunteered to have live scorpions placed on his head, while two teams competed to be the first to finish smoothies made from rotten milk and worms. For those with more discerning tastes, the show was followed by a decadent dessert buffet, in addition to rides on Universal attractions “Men in Black” and “Back to the Future.”

For more information about next year’s NACE conference, scheduled for July 16-19 at the Pointe South Mountain Resort in Phoenix, visit

Photos by Kelly Wardle

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