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Food for Thought

With all the learning and networking that go on at The Special Event, attendees are bound to work up a healthy appetite. Fortunately, this year's show features a diverse range of event menus created by two of the top catering talents in Phoenix.


As director of catering for the Hyatt Regency Phoenix at Civic Plaza, Leo Hamel is more accustomed to serving businesspeople than social celebrants. With The Special Event's Jan. 11 Wedding Lunch, titled “What's New: A Show, A Showcase, A Spectacular,” he gets to do both at the same time.

He and executive chef Randy Saito came up with four unique menu themes to showcase a broad range of cuisines: Pan-Asian, New Bistro, Old World Vegetarian and Mediterranean.

Hamel explains that each guest will be served one of the four themed menus at the luncheon, and every table will have a random assortment of menus. Place cards at each table will let servers know which menu “track” each diner is on. “My staff may come out with the Pan-Asian menu's Japanese pepper sushi, they'll see which table has that card, and they'll serve that table,” he says. Across the table, “with the New Bistro theme, someone may start off with an onion-jam-crusted Chilean sea bass and end with white chocolate/basil profiteroles.”


Hamel describes the CEOs, business owners and company managers who are expected to attend the Jan. 10 Leadership Lunch as “a more techie-type crowd.” To appeal to their tastes, his staff is preparing a meal with a “Clear” theme.

Hamel says guests can expect to start off with chilled fresh Taylor Bay scallops served in an ice dish. “We'll have that with red and green seaweed coming out of it — it's a fun course, a clear look.” For a main course, he will serve miso-cured Chilean sea bass with beef medallions and chanterelle mushrooms. As a side dish, he says, “We're going to do a praline basket of petite vegetables on the plate, which will be great.

“We want them to walk in and see something they haven't seen before,” Hamel says. Noting the 2002 show's “Re-” theme, he adds, “We want to say, ‘Look at what you're doing and re-engineer it to be something new now.’”


Richard Rexroat, executive chef for Aramark Corp. at Phoenix Civic Plaza, says his “chef's table” tastings are an essential part of event planning. Armed with information on client needs provided by the property's catering department, Rexroat prepares a sample meal. He then pipes and drapes a section of his kitchen and invites event organizers for a sit-down preview.

For the Gala Awards ceremony tasting, Rexroat says his goal is to appeal to guests' level of culinary sophistication as event professionals familiar with high-end catering. Also, he says, “There is a certain amount of local people that will be attending, and they tend to get bombarded a lot of the time by all the Southwest flavors. We didn't want to make it like going to another party where they've got some chili peppers stuck into something.”

Just because the menu for the Jan. 12 awards ceremony avoids typical Southwestern flavors doesn't mean it strays far from home. Rexroat says a lobster-filled ravioli appetizer gets its unique flavor from portobello mushrooms, which he cold-smokes with pecan wood on his stovetop.

At the tasting, he presented ceremony organizers with three lobster raviolis in a light sherry cream sauce accompanied by a fan of sliced smoked mushrooms. “It came off really well,” he says. “It's not something you can just buy on the open market. It's something that's created here.”

For more information on these and all educational programs at The Special Event 2002, call 800/927-5007 or 203/358-3751 or visit

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