When planners create a meeting or event activity that involves food, look out. The engagement grows and who knows what direction the participation might go. Here’s an example.
“We find that when groups come in for our tastings, they leave with not only great memories, but they’ve actually enjoyed a lot of camaraderie among themselves, whether it’s a corporate or business group or a side meeting during a conference,” says Jim Milligan, founder of Fustini’s Oils & Vinegars, which turns 10 this spring.
Fustini’s locations are in Traverse City (the company’s headquarters), Ann Arbor, Holland and Petoskey. Each brims with everything from the new Traverse City Cherry and West Michigan Blueberry balsamic vinegars to Sicilian Lemon vinegars to Avocado and Walnut oils.
He and his team, including corporate chef Andy Stewart, accommodate tastings regularly at their shops. Beyond tastings, the company’s School of Cooking features classes aimed at every level of cooking enthusiasts. “Our chefs and guest chefs bring many styles and a wide variety of food to prepare and enjoy for groups and special events,” Milligan explains.
“We took our administration group there and everyone enjoyed it very much,” says administrative assistant Chris Parsons of the West Michigan Whitecaps baseball team. “We had delicious food and learned some valuable cooking lessons. Chef Andy did a great job with an interactive demo.”
Cathy Sniegowski, who’s attended a class in Holland with her husband’s work group of 16, says “I love the classes—the chef can relate to everyone, no matter the skill level; it’s very relaxing and enjoyable.”
Indeed, these types of events are starting to sell like hotcakes. Food trend expert Christine Couvelier of Culinary Concierge (culinaryconcierge.ca) says Milligan’s events are gaining in popularity because “Consumers know more about food than ever before. Whether that is from food TV shows, food magazines, gourmet grocery stores or travelling with a culinary focus in mind, everyone wants to be first and wants to experience new tastes.”
Couvelier presents a regular trend watch report to groups of meeting planners at conferences and conventions throughout North America.
Classes such as those at Fustini’s are successful because they not only are educational, but they may be a great way to allow attendees to be ‘first’ to do a new and different tasting class.
“This also is an easy taste [oils and vinegars] that attendees can adapt to their own home cooking," Couvelier says. "Oils and vinegars are really a fabulous ingredient that can be flexible to any recipe from any ethnicity.”
Milligan adds that the oils and vinegars make memorable favors for conferences and events. “We have small bottles that attendees can conveniently take with them,” Milligan shares. Corporate gift orders and custom labels also are available.
All four Fustini’s stores offer tastings, group events and classes.