SOMETIMES CREATING the perfect event is all about getting creative with what you've already got. That lesson was driven home full force for the design team at Vancouver, British Columbia-based Rare Indigo, assigned a mere six days to cook up a first-class fam trip event for a small group of American meeting planners visiting Vancouver's tony Sutton Place Hotel. Fortunately, “Everything was serendipitous,” says Rare Indigo director of event production Carla Felicella, who lays out the series of fateful turns — and savvy plans — that led to “A Culinary Masterpiece.”
LOST ART, FOUND
Handed a mandate to market the Sutton Place Hotel as “the venue for upscale incentive programs and events in Vancouver,” and to do it in a “unique, yet traditionally classic manner” while providing an ice-breaker for a group of unacquainted guests, Felicella says, the event team went to work. A tour of the AAA five-diamond property revealed that each of its rooms was named after a famous artist, giving Felicella the hook she was looking for.
“We realized the ‘masterpiece event’ would work for this hotel,” she says, explaining a theme concept she had developed with Vancouver-based decor supplier Insite Display for another client who ultimately canceled an event in the wake of 9/11. “We had the prototypes ready to go but we hadn't used them,” she continues, describing funky sculpted centerpieces designed with celebrated artists in mind. According to Felicella, the elaborate original design package had been hard to sell to new clients because of the expense involved in executing it on a grand scale. But for the Sutton Place event, the design was a perfect fit. Not only did the theme play up the property's built-in art motif, but the gathering's intimate size — only 18 guests — kept costs in check, with the price tag for decor coming in at just over $18,500 (U.S.).
ALL SENSES GO
First, designers assigned a famous artist's identity to each of the event's three tables. Among items brought in to detail the decor landscape, Felicella names the cubist painted hand-fans and black berets distributed at the Picasso table, and the vibrant sunflowers and straw hats accenting the Van Gogh table.
Next, the team collaborated with the hotel's chef to put together an eight-course menu, including items such as a dessert palette of fruit purees served with a chocolate brush.
Finally, Rare Indigo transformed a standard hotel function room into a space conducive to creative expression by “almost cocooning” guests in floor-to-ceiling chiffon drapery — a tactic that did double duty by showcasing the space's decor flexibility, Felicella says.
On event night, guests found themselves swept up in an evening of evocative atmosphere and interactive fun. Outfitted in smocks and berets from the get-go, attendees engaged in their first themed activity: “We created a blank canvas and instructed people to take a stab at it. Each person would do a stroke, and then another person would go at it. Over the course of 45 minutes, it became a team effort, and the evolution of a masterpiece,” Felicella says. With their creative juices flowing, guests moved on to “Le Nez [the nose]”: a vignette Rare Indigo created with winery Mission Hill — a close partner of the Sutton Place Hotel — that challenged blindfolded guests to identify different scents to win a watercolor paint set as a prize. Finally, guests indulged in a feast highlighting the hotel's culinary skill, dining on such artistically presented delights as savarin of lobster and breast of quail.
Glowing praise for the March event from the Sutton Place Hotel was definitely a perk, Felicella says. A letter from the property's sales and marketing director, Cathy Thomson, lists objectives including “to utterly astound and enchant these savvy clients,” and “to clearly reflect the heart, the soul, and the personality itself” of the property, then thanks Rare Indigo, which, “even with an impossibly short time frame … More than met our objectives [and] did so with unbounded creativity, attentiveness and grace under pressure.”
But, Felicella adds, her company's satisfaction in creating the event also came from simpler pleasures. “It shows the basics of what you can do in-house — simple things like going to the art store and buying those little wooden palettes, splotching on the paint, hot-glueing,” she explains. “It shows we don't have to go the real high-tech, sophisticated route that we're so used to with events. You can get down to the roots.”
Rare Indigo 1201 W. Pender St., Suite 300, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6E 2V2; 604/661-4980; www.rareindigo.com
Turn to page 65 for a list of resources for this event.
DELICACIES ON DISPLAY
Potage of Purple Potato with Duck Confit Ravioli and Black Truffle Foam
Mini Savarin of Lobster in Champagne Gelee with Beluga Caviar
Breast of Quail Filled with Foie Gras on a Salad of Young Watercress with Hazelnut-Fennel Dressing
Seared Thai Snapper and Braised Pork Cheeks with Celeriac Puree
Saddle of Rabbit with Wild Boar Bacon, Sweetbreads, Wilted Spinach and Chanterelle Ragout
Rack of Saltspring Island Lamb and Crepinette of Shank with Roasted Salsify and Minted Cucumber Relish