The recession has caused a major upheaval when it comes to corporate hotel bookings1, with budget hotels becoming the real winners, as companies have looked to cut expenses on eating and staying away. It's not all doom and gloom though for independent venues, especially in Birmingham…
Exhibitions and events that are open to those in the trade and the general public fill the calendar dates at the NEC in Birmingham. The Arden Hotel and Leisure Club (Solihull) is less than a mile from the action. The hotel boasts 216 rooms with excellent facilities and has many rooms that overlook the superbly landscaped gardens and waterfall.
The Arden Hotel benefits from 350 free car parking spaces, making it an ideal hotel for events at the NEC. The entire site, including all bedrooms and public areas, is covered by Wi-Fi, allowing convenient High Speed Internet Access. All guests also have access to the well equipped leisure centre and health complex.
Many of the guests who stay here are indeed on a corporate trip and are looking for a venue that is suitable for all their needs. Maintaining high standards and standing out from the rest of the competition is imperative for the hotel. One way this is done is through the dining experience on offer, and in fact an average of 90% of all guests who stay at the hotel dine on the premises.
Paul Fielding has been executive head chef at the Arden Hotel for the past four years. He certainly knows a thing or two about successful banquet catering having worked at some top establishments all over the world.
"Of course every day is different here and does depend on what's happening at the NEC, but it isn't unusual for us to have to cater for between 500 and 600 covers a day," explained Paul. "Most of our days are equally split between catering for breakfast, conferencing, and lunch and dinner in the restaurant and bar. We have 27 people working in the kitchen, 19 of them chefs, and we have really fine-tuned our operation to meet the demands of the day."
Paul's career began as a head chef for Aston Villa Football Club in 1996 where he was responsible for managing seven kitchens. In 1998 Paul became a consultant head chef for Holiday Inns, Ramada, Forte and Macdonald hotels. His role here was to introduce best practices for managing the kitchens and write and introduce menus that would be successful and cost effective. Since then Paul has worked extensively throughout Europe and also in Japan and America.
"My main aim here is to push on and get a Rosette, which would be a major achievement in no uncertain terms because of the high volume of custom we cater for," explained Paul.
"We produce dishes that originate from all over the world. At lot of the things we make will be inspirations from my time working abroad, such as things like Caribbean rice and peas. I think it's important to keep experimenting with flavours. Using quality ingredients is a must for us, as it goes to showcasing what our food is all about."
The right products mean the best results
From functions to bar snacks, Paul and his team cater across so many different levels producing top quality food. Maintaining high standards and balancing the budget is definitely a skill in itself. For Paul there are a number of items that he can always rely on from his oil supply to bulk sauces to help with the smooth running of his kitchen.
"When it comes to oil I always choose PrepTM ZT because simply I believe it's the best on the market," said Paul. "I've always used PrepTM ZT throughout my career in the UK, as there's no adverse flavour that comes from the oil. There's simply no contest on quality, it's really great value and it stays clean for longer. You'll probably be able to find cheaper options, but from the 15 litre tub that I use, I'd say that I get a 20% better yield, and that's from changing the friers twice-a-week. With other oils you'd be looking at changing the friers three times per week. Maintaining the quality of everything we fry such as our fries, scampi and our buffet items, is so important and the way we do this is by using PrepTM ZT."
AAK's PrepTM ZT Long Life Vegetable Oil is one example from the range which not only produces great looking and tasting food, but typically lasts two-and-a-half times longer than extended oils, which cuts down on waste and reduces overall costs.
Crucially, PrepTM ZT also offers a healthier solution to Trans fats without compromising on fry quality or fry life. With a specially formulated blend of vegetable oils, it has a balanced combination of monounsaturated fatty acids (which help reduce blood cholesterol levels), saturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Perfect for deep and shallow frying, as well as roasting and sautéing, PrepTM ZT contains no hydrogenated oil and is naturally high in the antioxidant Vitamin E.
By using a product in the PrepTM High Performance Oils range, caterers can fry in the safe knowledge they are not only using the number one brand, but are using a product which supports an international scheme to promote production of sustainable palm oil worldwide. This is confirmed by the GreenPalm logo carried on all PrepTM products.
In terms of products from AAK Foodservice it certainly doesn't stop at just oil for Paul. He explains: "Another must on my stock list is Whirl and I use it daily. In the past I've always cooked using a combination of olive oil and butter. For the a la carte restaurant menu I'll use Whirl to panfry chicken, meat and fish. These dishes are all cooked to order and the problem with butter is that it sometimes burns, whereas Whirl never does and the end result is always full of flavour. I'm also saving money as Whirl is at least 40% cheaper from what I was spending on butter, I'm really impressed."
Bulk sauce items also help Paul to stick to his budget, but again don't compromise on quality or taste. "We make our own sauces for the restaurant menu, but for staples in the bar and for conferencing I choose to use the Lion range of sauces and decant them into coupes and ramekins," said Paul. "I tend to buy-in specifically mayonnaise, English mustard and horseradish. They are so versatile and it saves a lot of time. You're safe in the knowledge as well as you know what you're getting. I wouldn't want the hassle in the kitchen of having to make something like mayonnaise every day. From the mayonnaise I can also use it to make Caesar dressing, Tartare sauce and Marie Rose sauce for Prawn Cocktails."
Lion International Kitchen offers operators the most comprehensive range of sauces on the market with some really innovative flavours which cater for the British taste for more exotic foods.
All the sauces are supplied in 2.27ltr bottles with non slip grippers on the handle and an off-centre neck which helps to avoid drips down the side.
Reaping the rewards
As well as saving money on stocks and supplies, the beauty of purchasing selected products through AAK Foodservice is that they are part of the Foodservice Rewards programme. This is an online rewards programme designed specifically for the caterer. Businesses can earn points for purchasing a number of leading brands. These points can be spent on anything from kitchen equipment to staff incentives like kite surfing, or even treats such as a widescreen TV.
"I was probably one of the first caterers to get involved with collecting Foodservice Rewards when I was working in Farnham," Paul explained. "I think they are a superb idea. The fact they you get to collect them throughout the year means that you can then get a treat at Christmas time. In the past I've been able to get a cd player for the kitchen and one year I gave all the chefs a knife each as a massive thank you for their efforts."
Collecting Foodservice Rewards is simple and easy; caterers should look out for yellow stickers on selected Prep and Whirl products, simply peel off the label found on the product packaging and register the unique reward code at www.foodservicerewards.co.uk. A full catalogue containing over 1,000 rewards is available online.
For more information about AAK Foodservice products, or how you can make AAK Foodservice work for you, call 01482 332100 or visit www.aakuk.com
This case study was provided by AAK Foodservice