Challenges don’t come much more daunting than serving up a three course meal to an audience of discerning experts at Scotland’s foodie equivalent of the Oscars.
Now the catering specialists for the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards have told how they plan to meet those lofty expectations, while working within tight timescales to serve 800 people.
Chef Tom Beauchamp and planning specialist Sandy Robson are leading the 120-strong team from Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events and are remarkably unfazed by the pressure of such a high-profile test.
Sandy, 33, Account Director with Sodexo Prestige’s Heritage and Events Business, said: “It’s a huge challenge for sure, not least the sheer numbers involved and the scrutiny that comes when serving the great and the good in the food sector.
“But we’re well versed in these kinds of events and we are actually looking forward to this as a tremendous opportunity to show exactly what we can deliver, even in these timescales and with this number of people.
“We’re not nervous, just keen to get out there and show that all of our long months of planning and our wealth of experience ensures everything goes exactly as we want it to."
The awards are one of the highlights of Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink and will see 800 specially invited guests gather in the National Museum of Scotland to see sought after accolades handed out in 19 fiercely contested categories.
The menu for the evening is a closely-guarded secret, but will make the most of Scotland’s natural larder – and will be the culmination of months of careful planning, which started when the contract was awarded to Sodexo Prestige in August 2014.
Talented and imaginative chef Tom Beauchamp, who heads up Sodexo Prestige’s development kitchen at South Queensferry, devised the menu, which went down a storm during a special tasting session for the award organisers.
It features a seafood starter which takes a traditional staple and adds a contemporary twist with some surprising flavour combinations. The main course has been designed to showcase the superb quality of Scottish meat, while the dessert also promises to surprise, with fresh, seasonal Scottish berries in several cooking styles.
Beauchamp always planned a career as a chef, but first graduated in economics from Stirling University to broaden his options in the culinary sector. He has worked with Raymond Blanc at the French chef’s double-Michelin starred restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saison and also with Andrew Fairlie at his renowned Gleneagles restaurant. He joined Sodexo in 2013.
As well as demonstrating flair and imagination, while using Scottish ingredients, his menu has to be incredibly carefully planned to limit the numbers of elements – known as “moves” – in each dish.
Sandy, who graduated from Napier University with a BA Hons in Hospitality Management after leaving Peebles High School, explained how adding just one extra “move” to a dish can add precious seconds to each plate, which across 800 servings can add up to serious time delays.
He added: “Timing is everything. Even slight delays can be hugely magnified in event of this scale, so Tom’s done a great job taking that into account, particularly with the main course where showcasing the quality of meat is in the speed of service.
“When it comes to the starter, we expect people to read the menu and immediately wonder if the flavours can possibly work together – but they most definitely do. Likewise the dessert is a really interesting dish which will have people asking questions. Those will be answered as soon as it is set down on front of them.
“We’re very excited about this menu. Tom is a chef with a Michelin background, which is very different from contract catering. Now he’s helping us to blend the best of the two disciplines, so that we keep the levels of service while being that bit more creative and interesting.
“On the night we will be challenging some of the misconceptions in the way people may see Sodexo. The fact is the strength of our Scottish team means we are a local company, using local suppliers, local produce and delivering a fantastic service.”
The event takes place on Wednesday, May 27. While members of the Sodexo Prestige craft team will be on site from 9am and Tom and his food team get limited access from 1pm, the full set up for the evening can’t begin until 5pm, leaving just two and a half hours to set the space.
The 120-strong Sodexo Prestige team will include 80 members of waiting and bar staff, all drawn from the Prestige People talent pool. Having created the pool of fully-trained casual workers, it means the firm has efficient, knowledgeable and well-drilled people, instead of being reliant on agency staff.
Many of those working on the night will also have worked on the Excellence Awards in 2013, when Sodexo provided the catering thought the event was only half the size in that year. Others will also have experience from blue chip events, including the annual Forth Awards in the Usher Hall, where Sodexo Prestige has earned plaudits for the speed and quality of the catering service.
As well as handling major events, Sodexo Prestige provides catering and hospitality expertise at some of Scotland’s most renowned venues, including Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the national stadium at Hampden Park, and Perth Racecourse.