Chef Owens had an early start in the food business. Working alongside his mother, who owned a few restaurants when he was a teenager, he fell in love with the industry. Through that hands-on experience and working with great people over the years he is now the Banquet Catering Chef for French Lick Resort. His strong convictions for doing things right and teaching those around him are skills he utilizes while overseeing banquets and catering at the resort.
Paul Owens: We prepare our standard menus yearly, keeping favorites and adding new options, including five different theme menus. We also do custom menus throughout the year, especially for groups that come in several times (a year). There are some signature items too. For example we have tomato juice, which was invented at the French Lick Resort!
We also base menus on the season and have been working to use as many local items as possible. This past year we worked with over 20 local growers. For smaller groups and tastings, I can shop the local farmers market. There are also some great local (cattle and pig) farmers we use, but typically we can only incorporate their meats for smaller events.
MM: What recent changes have you seen for event menus and how have you accommodated these changes?
PO: We definitely see more requests for special dietary needs, in the case of most events it is chef’s choice for these entrees. When it is just for a few people, I will have the event manager ask individuals if they have a preference for a particular dish.
MM: What can groups do to make the most of their budgets and still create a great impression?
PO: Some suggestions I offer groups are to steer away from buffets or drop some items off the menu. For example, at lunch omit dessert or other items; or we can use the lunch dessert as their afternoon break. We can also do something basic, yet tasty to save money like fried chicken, ham, and mashed potatoes.
MM: What have been some of your most creative menu projects?
PO: Our parent company is Cook, Inc. and they have all their regional and district meetings with us. We love to experiment and this group is always open to trying new things and the bonus is that they offer us instant feedback.
We also do a Chocolate Fest and we always try to get a little crazy with our creations! We’ve done chocolate jalapeño poppers, chocolate covered bacon, as well as milkshake and waffle stations.
Another fun event was with a group who had a Hawaiian theme. We created huge pineapple trees as edible centerpieces. There was a beach design with trees made out of carrots and green peppers and brown sugar was used for the sand.
MM: It seems like there is always some new food trend, what’s “hot” now and how are you incorporating these with group events?
PO: One trend is using unique cuts of meat, tri-tip and flat iron steak are a couple items we’ve been working with; then we incorporate special salads and marinades.
MM: What do think will be the next big trend in food and group menus?
PO: Competitions are big. We will take a group and split them up into teams, then myself and other chefs teach them to cook an entire meal. After we’re done, we have a group of impartial judges decide the winning team. It usually lasts up to three hours and then the group is served the same meal prepared by us.
Tasting menus featuring six to seven different items (small plates) are popular. We also offer regular demonstrations where people can watch us prepare items and ask questions, we treat culinary like an activity.
MM: What does your “dream” menu look like?
PO: My dream menu comes from childhood memories, recipes from family. My mother made the best breaded pork chops with scorch gravy - you leave fat and oil in the pan and dust flour over top of it, then cook it until it is dark brown. To finish it off you add milk and pepper. Another can’t beat menu is a tradition from my father. Every Saturday he would marinate ribeye steaks and grill them while enjoying two martinis.