From left to right: Shaun Ritchie, William Bowman (both Servers), Margaret Tays (Restaurant Manager), Tobias Gessner (F&B Director), Josh Lavoie, Cadence Allen, Trevor King (all Servers)
At the end of June the G20 Summit was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The InterContinental Toronto Centre is directly connected to the Convention Centre and was the prime location for several head of states and their delegations. If you should ever be in a similar situation, here is a quick guide on what or what not to expect: Start your planning and organization early; but, I can ensure you: it will change (more than once). The information you will receive is most often last minute, due to security reasons.
Several weeks before the summit we were contacted by Health Canada about their process requirements. They scheduled an in-depth inspection as well as Food Handler Refresher classes for all culinary colleagues. During the summit our culinary staff was under the watchful eyes of Canadian and Toronto Public Health agents, who were present in the kitchen 24 hours / day. Samples of each meal that was served to a leader (or their direct family) were bagged and stored for 14 days for inspection – just in case.
The entire hotel was swept by security and sniffer dogs were brought to every area of the hotel including the guestrooms, banquet space, kitchen and Azure Restaurant.
After the sweep (4 days before the actual summit) deliveries to the hotel were limited to emergencies only. Since we had only limited freezing storage, we contacted one of the food suppliers for a complimentary freezer truck.
One foreign leader checked in to the hotel with an entourage that included a number of chefs. Be prepared to host delegations that choose to bring in their own food for the leader and to provide some cooler and storage space.
Other delegations brought “food watchers” who needed to be present in the kitchen every time their leader’s meal was prepared. My tip: build a good relation with the food watchers and it will be a lot easier – don’t be afraid to give out your cell phone number. In fact, make sure your cell phone is charged, you will use it a lot! Delegations will use your existing menus as a guideline, but they will order whatever they feel like.
The leaders we had in house were very health conscious and liked our offerings of local, Canadian products. Be ready to make a dish more than once; time schedules change as do dining venues. The President may nosh in the limo en route to the airport. Don’t fret about the plate, napkin and set of silverware you will never see again.
Believe it or not, but one world leader arrived without a private chef or a food watcher; she came directly to our Azure Restaurant and helped herself from the breakfast buffet.
The culinary and banquet teams were also tasked with feeding RCMP officers who were stationed throughout the hotel and surrounding areas, 24 hours a day; a group of some 400 fairly healthy eaters each day for the whole week. Once you get a good picture of what business level to expect in banquets and the outlets, a quick count of your china, glass, silver and other equipment might be a good idea. We rented some items to be on the safe side.
One of the highlights was a dinner for the G8 spouses Friday night, hosted by Canadian First Lady Laureen Harper.
To prepare the menu, our Executive Chef and myself consulted with Mr. & Mrs. Harper’s personal chef, Oliver Bartsch, and we were advised against anything that would be difficult to eat or could end up on the dress of the First Lady of… So, soup was not an option. A few weeks before the dinner, Chef Bartsch and organizers from the Summit Office came for an official tasting and approved the menu with very few minor changes. Wine pairings from our Sommelier had to be submitted and approved. For this dinner we arranged for special deliveries to be brought to the hotel; the drivers had to be accredited in advance and the trucks were screened and escorted by police to the hotel.
The dinner began with a terrine with carrots, pickled baby leeks & mushrooms, cucumber gelee, yoghurt sauce and mache salad. This course was paired with 13th Street Winery, 2008 Riesling Funk Vineyard Old Vines Niagara Peninsula, Ontario.
The second course was a pan seared yellow perch, lovage scented fish eggs lié, peppery white asparagus ribbons, oven dried vine tomatoes and chili oil. The Peninsula Ridge, Viognier Reserve 2007 from
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario paired this course.
For the main course we served roasted veal tenderloin, golden beets, parsley puree, port wine reduction, potato croquette and paired it with the Burrowing Owl Merlot, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia.
The spouses finished their dinner with a white chocolate mousse with cranberry glaze on a shortbread crisp with citrus reduction and a maple Leaf tuille, perfectly paired with La Face Cachée de la Pomme, Neige Reserve, Montérégie, Québec.
Surprisingly for this meal, there were no special dietary requirements and all spouses enjoyed their evening.
The service staff for the dinner went though several training sessions, had a special manicure at our Spa and had to perform a final presentation for the Summit Management Office; everything had to be perfect… and we succeeded.
During the two day summit we changed the hours of operations for our Azure Restaurant to 24 hours operations. The hotel was booked with five delegations from different time zones and the adjustment was very much appreciated by each delegation. The change also ensures that you will have colleagues at the hotel at all times, in case the following shift can not come in due to protesters etc. Even though there were protesters and violence a few blocks away, we had minimal impact on colleagues not showing up or being late. The security fences kept us safe.
Several bilateral meeting were held in the banquet space of the hotel. Over the weekend we had around 13 head of states walking in and out of the building (well, most of them used a motorcade). Depending on the schedule of the meetings, be ready for quick turn-overs; each meeting set up has to look impeccable and it can not show that there was a meeting in the same room just 5 minutes before. Again, here is when good and close contact with the liaison from each delegation important and helpful.
Security officers were on each floor and many guest rooms were turned into delegation offices. Count your banquet tables ahead of time and schedule enough banquet housemen to set them up. This will begin as early as one week before the arrivals. Also, remember that it takes time to put everything back in order.
Three final pieces of advice:
First: You never know what will happen; you may even meet “The Beast”
Second: Wash your hands; you never know who may shake it!
Third: You will work more hours than the day is long, but trust me, it’s worth the time and effort. It’s an interesting, exciting, exhausting, once-in-a-life-time …and fun experience.
By: Tobias Gessner, Director of F&B @ InterContinental Toronto Centre