Cooking For 5 To 15 000 With Chef Hans Lentz
Have you ever woneded what it would be like to be the chef of a monster operation, cruiseliner, casino or convention center?
To shed some light on this type of job, this month we interviewed Chef Hans Lentz, the newly appointed Executive Chef of the nation’s largest convention center - McCormick Place.
G.C. - Can you describe the scale of the operation; how many outlets, event
rooms, size of the smallest event size of the largest?
H.L. - McCormick Place comprises four state-of-the-art buildings. These buildings have a combined total of 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space, 1.2 million square feet all on one level, making it the nation's largest convention center.
McCormick Place foodservice operations includes show floor dining in permanent and portable locations, full-service dining in Restaurant 270, two casual dining food courts, five coffee café locations including Starbucks, McDonald's, Connie's, Au Bon Pain and catering services including in-booth catering and private events.
In addition to expansive exhibition space, McCormick Place also features
- 173 meeting rooms offering 600,000 square feet of space
- 4 ballrooms ranging from 21,000 to 100,000 square feet
- Assembly seating for 18,000 people
- 4,249-seat theater (Arie Crown)
- 3 theaters seating 300 each
- Ceiling heights up to 50 feet
- Easy access and 6,000 parking spaces
G.C. - What is the largest single banquet event that you and your team take care of?
H.L. - Our annual Chicago Auto Show Gala, “First Look for Charity” in February caters to 15,000 guests.
G.C. - What is the smallest event?
H.L. - Private functions in meeting rooms starting from 5 guests to exhibit catering for individual orders.
G.C. - How would the menu differ for these (small and large) events?
H.L. - The biggest difference would be the preparation and delivery time as well as product selection. While thinking about a menu for a large event, we have to select products that represent our modern concepts while considering how we can keep freshness and appearance at optimum levels.
G.C. - Does the process greatly differ between a small and large event?
H.L. - Scale and overall planning, logistics, and ingredient choices are different for larger events. Creativity, value and food quality are the same.
G.C. - What specialized equipment do you use or plan to use?
H.L. - Pre-plated rethermilization production for large events which helps protect the integrity of the product
G.C. - You are tasked with elevating the F&B for events to a new level, this would seem a heady task. Can you tell us about the about thestrategy/process you will employ to accomplish your goal?
H.L. - There is already a hard-working, talented and experienced team of people who are experts in catering for this volume, so we can build on that strength. What we're doing involves art and science. Art of creativity – is one of the keys to infuse creativity, vision, color and add value to the menus and presentation – always pleasing to the eye as well as the palate. The science of planning – to manage the size of the operation, a lot of detailed and strategic planning is required with regard to scheduling, large-scale purchasing, equipment, delivery and virtually every aspect of the business.
G.C. - What new elements will you introduce?
H.L. - Normally in a food operation of this size, customer expectations are of an institutional experience; we want to provide something closer to a restaurant experience featuring fresh and, where ever possible, locally grown products. We want to introduce modern twists to presentation, seasonal menus and healthy, but delicious options.
G.C. - How do you tackle staffing challenges. Do you have a regular crew or is it mainly temporary? How many culinary staff do you oversee?
H.L. - We have a core staff off approximately 100 cooks. During spikes in volume, we supplement this by utilizing local labor agencies.
G.C. - What attracted you to this job?
H.L. - I was attracted to the reputation and scale of the operation, state-of-the-art facilities, logistical challenges, and a well established crew in place who are open minded to changes and the opportunity to make a difference.
G.C. - What advice would you offer to a chef of the future that would like to pursue a career in large volume catering?
H.L. - Develop organizational and culinary skills, choose an operation where you can learn, keep focused on clean, colorful, fresh presentations and never forget that your staff is the most important asset.