Glamour, glitz and a sense of anticipation were the order of the day at Le Méridien Grosvenor House hotel on Tuesday, where the Cateys - Caterer & Hotelkeeper's 19th annual awards ceremony - took place. Champagne flowed, while some of the stars of the hospitality industry came together to award and applaud friends and colleagues.
For Jane Cartwright, Caterer's group projects manager, who is responsible for the organisation of the event, the night was the culmination of 12 months of preparation - a process that involved the Grosvenor House's conference and banqueting team, florists, chefs and wine suppliers, audio-visual specialists, and many more.
"We start work on each Cateys the day after the previous one," Cartwright explains. "We organise a debriefing session over lunch the next day to discuss what worked and what didn't, and what to do next year to move the event forward. By the end of July, we've started to kick ideas around."
This year's theme was the elements. The menu, flowers, audio-visual effects and entertainment were designed to reflect fire, water, air and earth. Florist Lesley Telling put together red-hot pokers in red water, lilies with real goldfish, grass and daisy turf with terracotta worms, and bubbles and gypsophila for the table centres. Meanwhile, the "elements" menus and wines were tried and tested several times before the team felt they had got it right.
"It's important to give our audience something new," Cartwright says. "I'm always aware that we are entertaining senior VIPs and leaders of the industry, many of whom have been at the Cateys before. They've been there, got the T-shirt - so we have to make sure each event is different."
Group projects manager for Caterer & Hotelkeeper
Role: "I am the main point of contact for the hotel, the event sponsors and the suppliers."
How many Cateys have you worked on? "Twelve."
Greatest fear: "That someone turns up who has not been allocated a table - then one of the team doesn't get their dinner, I guess!"
Funniest moment: "We kept referring to this year's Catey theme as 'earth, wind and fire'. So Lesley Telling, the florist, came up with a tongue-in-cheek idea for 'wind' which involved a big glass bowl filled with several cans of baked beans, topped with a single flower!"
Executive conference and banqueting manager, Le Méridien Grosvenor House
Role: "Co-ordination of the event, including liaison with the Caterer team, the production company and all hotel departments."
How many Cateys have you worked on? "Four."
Greatest fear: "Meeting with the fire officer to discuss our 'hopes and dreams' for the evening, and praying that he wasn't going to tip water on our flames."
Funniest moments: "Meeting for our first preliminary planning session for the following year created some very amusing ideas - some were revealed during the show, but you had to use your imagination for the rest."
Assistant conference and banqueting manager, Le Méridien Grosvenor House
Role: "Working with Claire, I focus on the overall room decoration and table plans within the parameters of the theme, using new ideas and within the budget constraints allowed."
How many Cateys have you worked on? "Two."
Greatest challenge: "To exceed our audience's expectations while showing everyone what we can do when we put our minds to it."
Greatest fear: "Having 900 top industry heads focusing on and judging our every move. It's something you have to remember all the time during the planning stages and at the event."
Florist for Lesley Telling Floral Design
Role: "Designing and arranging the 'four elements' flowers."
How many Cateys have you worked on? "Four. It's always great fun."
High point: "Solving the challenge of the four table arrangements. To portray the four elements in flowers was difficult. I wanted to show the elements but add a twist and get people to laugh."
Greatest fear: "The fish die or someone eats one."
Funniest moment: "We had fun and games with the earth arrangement. Along with the daisies we put in terracotta worms, but it was suggested we have real ones. Ugh!"
Executive chef, Le Méridien Grosvenor House
Role: "Responsible for creating the menu for this year's dinner in line with the 'elements' theme."
How many Cateys have you worked on? "Two."
High point: "Working on the Cateys is always a privilege. It's a prestige job, as I'm doing it for my colleagues in the business."
Greatest challenge: "It's not easy organising a team of 30 chefs for a job like this. You have to plan everything in great detail."
Head pastry chef, Conference and Banqueting, Le Méridien Grosvenor House
Role: "Responsible for creating the dessert and petit fours."
How many Cateys have you worked on? "Seventeen."
Greatest challenge: "With 'air' being the theme for the dessert, we were keen to do an iced souffl‚ for 900 guests. The end result was an iced raspberry soufflé, with tuille biscuit swirl rising up from the souffl‚, like a tornado. This effect was further enhanced by the smoke swirl in the glass plate."
Biggest headache: "The dessert this year caused me a couple of sleepless nights as the iced soufflé, and the delicate twirl, being so large, have never been recreated at the hotel before."
Carrying the theme through to the menu was straightforward for some courses, but a little difficult for others. The team first thought about which elements lent themselves to a specific course - the idea of using a soufflé for the dessert to illustrate "air" came quickly, for example. But the element that posed difficulties was water. Fish emerged as an answer to the problem, and the second course - watercress and salmon mousse wrapped in courgette - started to take shape.
Fire, too, was easily translated to the menu in the form of flame-roasted rib-eyes of English beef (and the chilli relish just added a touch more heat to the dish).
Finally, the first course drew out executive chef Fabrizio Cadei's Italian heritage with a rich galette of field mushrooms with garlic and organic summer truffle oil - a good earthy tone.
Seaview Brut NV, Australia
Galette of field mushrooms with garlic and organic summer truffle oil
Bourgogne Blanc Grand Clos de Loyse Château des Jacques 2000
Watercress and salmon mousse wrapped in courgette
Zevenwacht Pinotage, Stellenbosch 2000, South Africa
Chargrilled rib-eye of English beef with chilli relish
Asti Spumante, Sant'Orsola NV, Italy
Iced raspberry soufflé
Coffee and the elements