TWO MEALS A day may seem skimpy to some, but for Ideas Event Decor & Production, those meals made for a full plate. That's because these weren't just any meals — they were sumptuous lunches and dinners prepared by some of the world's most celebrated chefs over the course of the five-day Masters of Food & Wine event, held in February at the Park Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn, in Carmel, Calif. And, unlike the 3,000 attendees who flocked to the elegant affair, San Francisco-based Ideas wasn't digging in. Instead, the crew was setting up — room decor, food stations and tabletop, all designed to impress guests without distracting them from the food and wine that are the main focus of the 18-year-old annual event.
HIDE AND SEEK
As a Hyatt Hotel Corp. Preferred decor vendor for corporate events, Ideas has been handling the Masters for three years — since Park Hyatt Hotels took over the exclusive Highlands Inn. And while the challenges change each year, the event's production team — headed by ideas' national event managers Megan Upjohn and Allison Carnes, and company president Riccardo Benavides — concurs that the company's goal never does: “We want to enhance the ambience and elevate the prestige of the event every year,” Upjohn says.
As in years past, setting the stage for the culinary extravaganza this year meant dealing with the difficulties posed by the intimate property and its sprawling grounds. “There is no loading dock, no convention elevator,” says Benavides. “There is no storage. We had to rent five 24-foot trucks and one 54-foot truck. And they can't just stick out.” To camouflage the trucks, Benavides and team used strategically placed foliage and draping.
As for getting materials from the temporary storage facilities to the inn and back, “We had these wonderful little things called golf carts,” he recounts. Stacking the trucks from front to back in the order of the day's events helped, as did constant, albeit “nonchalant-looking” communication via walkie-talkie.
To achieve its design directives — the team had to transform the look of the lobby area where each meal was held, and do so with setup times as short as an hour and a half — Ideas relied on both oversized and understated decor. Nearly 80 large hanging paper lanterns, for example, made a bold statement at one particular dinner. For other meals, Ideas turned to Cameron Vigil, of Highlands' in-house floral provider Davis Design, who decked the lobby's two facing fireplace mantels with elegant glass vessels filled with decorative items ranging from candles to river rocks — “whatever tied into the theme,” Upjohn says.
One of the event's greatest challenges, the Ideas team says, was dealing with decorating and logistical demands of showcasing such high-caliber food and wine.
This challenge presented itself in different scenarios, among them the demand of one particular chef that his food, at one of the stationed meals, be presented atop a base of whole oranges. While Benavides says the request initially gave him pause, the designer in him eventually realized, “This is so hot! We worked out the logistics, and it was fabulous.”
In another instance, Ideas had to devise a plan for guests to pick up wineglasses as they made their way into the dining area for one of the event's meals. The catch: The corridor leading to the room entrance was 50 feet long by 10 feet wide. Collaborative brainstorming eventually led to the placement of two freestanding 6-foot-by-18-inch glass-topped tables, set end to end. As guests filed in along each side of the tables, they picked up glasses, which were “stacked like a wedding cake” Benavides says. “We just had to hope nobody would knock them over.”
Perhaps no other single meal had more at stake in the area of food and wine presentation than the Masters of Food & Wine's exclusive, $3,000-a-plate “Rarities Dinner.” For the event, Ideas took its talents off-site, to a private home perched on a cliff overlooking the Carmel coastline. There, the team brought in custom-made 84-inch rounds designed to accommodate the 29 individual wineglasses required at each place setting. They then topped these tables with pale green handblown frosted glass chargers, intended to blend into the iridescent blue-green table linens, so as not to detract from the food presentation.
And what food it was — a seven-course meal prepared by culinary luminaries including San Francisco-based Michael Mina and New York's Lidia Bastianich, featuring such highlights as risotto with squab, and roulade of Kobe beef.
THE LITTLE THINGS
Just in case the event's devotion to the finer things is not totally clear, Highlands food & beverage director Robert Weakley points out, “We polish the glassware with bottled water.” It's all part of his property's effort, he explains, to “show that Park Hyatt can put on the best there is in the world, to match the caliber of the hotel company.”
And, he adds, he can think of no event company more suited to the challenge. “Ideas is so detail-oriented. They thought of everything.” Recalling the event's Friday night dinner — a gala charity affair — Weakley notes that Ideas went the extra mile by illuminating the trees surrounding the valet driveway with gobo logos for both the Masters and beneficiary Meals on Wheels as guests made their exit from the event. “It was a beautiful touch,” he says.
Ideas Event Decor & Production 475 Hampshire St., Suite 1, San Francisco, CA 94110; 415/558-8900; www.ideas-events.com
Turn to page 49 for a list of resources for this event.
MAKE MINE RARE
Highlights of the Masters of Food & Wine Rarities Dinner
Fleur de Lys, San Francisco
Parsnip Pancake with Seared Scallop and Saffron Aioli
Mina Group, San Francisco
Braised Short Rib Ravioli with Crispy Hearts of Palm and Caramelized Reduction
Felidia, New York
Slow Roasted Baby Lamb Shoulder with Root Vegetables