Chef Schuster's Creative Cooking for Groups
As a native of Minneapolis, MN, Steven P. Schuster attended Central Nebraska Technical College’s Culinary Arts Program and returned to his hometown. In 1989 he began working with Kelber Catering Inc. and has been their Executive Chef/Culinary Director at the Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC) for the past 24 years. To keep current, he has also been an active member of the American Culinary Federation Minneapolis Chef’s Chapter since 1993.
Schuster: We publish our menus so they accommodate each group’s individual taste. We have many different groups in the convention center each day with meals being served at many locations and the menus are all different per the meeting planner’s request. With that said we also custom design menus to fit budgets, food types, dietary requirements, size of the group being served and location of the event taking place for ease of service.
MM: What changes have you seen for event menus recently and how have you accommodated these changes?
Schuster: Over the past few years the majority of request we get from our clients are special meal needs, i.e. dietary, gluten free, vegetarian/vegan. My staff has been very creative in developing menu choices that encompass the guest needs.
MM: What can groups do to get the most bang for their buck?
Schuster: It’s very important to know the client’s budget to better help them while in the planning stages of their event. We encourage keeping portion size down, but never lower our standard for quality ingredients. When suggesting meal choices for their lunch we offer having their dessert served for the afternoon break. Another cost savings option is having a water station set with bulk water dispensing systems instead of bottled water. These are just a couple things we’ve put in place help create more value.
MM: Tell us about an interesting challenge you’ve had and how you handled it.
Schuster: In 2005 we had a worldwide conference booked and the size of the group had outgrown the capacity of our building. We were looking at 8,000 people per event. The entire staff worked for months out with weekly meetings to discuss each event one-by-one and how every aspect of it would work to best accommodate the conference. The number of events in the four days of the convention were staggering. As a company we hit the mark with the meeting planners and they had a very successful conference.
The volume of food was incredible. The attendees and staff consumed 2,591 lbs of roast beef, 936 lbs of Spaetzle dumplings, 3,440 lbs of fresh chicken breast and 2,180 dozen dinner rolls and breadsticks. Plus we went through 23,310 scrambled eggs, 9,000 strips of bacon, 4,135 lbs of fresh cut fruits and berries for breakfast over three days. Meeting the staffing needs in the kitchen and expediting the food going out was monitored at all times. I had to be hands on throughout the conference with all the staff. This was the largest event challenge I have ever had.
MM: What are the latest food trends and how are you incorporating these with group events?
Schuster: The buzz is all about fresh, locally grown, manufactured and/or raised within a certain distance of the facility. Wherever possible we are purchasing the freshest products in our market. We especially like to use fresh produce from local growers during the summer growing months into fall harvest time. In the wonderful state of Minnesota there are many well known food manufacturers that we feature in our menu choices to fit the client request for their attendee’s meals. Some meeting planners request this information be provided and we are proud to be able to accommodate their request.
MM: What do you see as the next big thing?
Schuster: Current things we’ve accomplished and are working on include:
Comfort foods that are freshly made, tasty and healthy.
Working with the concerns of the client and meeting planners to keep their cost within their budget. One new thing we have done is a smaller dessert portion on the lunch menu. We present them precut but serve them whole allowing them to become an edible centerpiece for the table. This also helps keep serving times shorter and attendees can return back into a session quickly.
Healthy afternoon breaks adding assorted nut butters served with fresh celery and apple wedges.
Asian culture fusion in our food courts by adding fresh spring rolls made to order, giving the guest a healthier choice to enjoy.
MM: What is the best part of your job?
Schuster: Working with food and being able to creatively meet the challenges each day. I have this passion for food that is never ending. The best part is seeing this come through my staff in the work they are doing each day.
MM: If you could create your “dream” menu, what would it look like?
Schuster: Wow! I have been living that dream for the past 24 years now. I can say this because I get to create and prepare with my staff some pretty amazing menus. My goal is to always keep searching for new food trends. It has been a tremendous pleasure being able to live the dream and be here as long as I have with Kelber Catering.