With all but the briefest pause, for the better part of 60 minutes, I started to wonder when it would end. The sound of plates clanging together as they shuffled along the conveyor belt and the occasional shout from the far side of the room, were the only sounds in this food amphitheater. From the bottom to the top, every member of this team was focused and on the ball, and creating a contagious level of energy I’ve never experienced before. In fact, if it wasn’t for one of the sous-chefs breaking the routine as we neared the last 100 plates, I think I’d still be there feeding my food obsession. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let me go back and tell you how I found myself well past the yellow line at the Shaw Conference Centre.
During the last foodie meet-up, I was lucky to cross paths with a gentleman by the name of Bin. While not a blogger himself, his love of food brought him out to meet the locals. After a few hours of fantastic conversation, I felt lucky that he was daring enough to take the plunge. I’m a strong believer that if there is something that brings people together, it’s food. If there is a downside to these food gatherings, it’s the uncertainty that arises when the nights over; leaving you wondering if, and or when, you might encounter each other again. It should go without saying, I was pleasantly surprised, and elated to see an email from Bin in my box one day. Inquiring about whether I’d be interested in seeing the inner workings of the Shaw Conference Centre’s kitchen, I jumped at the chance. Expecting at first that my ‘tour’ would involve seeing the kitchen, and not much else; Bin kicked the adventure up a notch (Emeril Style). Not only would I get to see the kitchen, but I’d be able to blend into the crowd during a busy Friday night, and watch all the action go down!
Meeting a few minutes before the plating dance was to take place, Sarah, Bin, and myself, briefly touched base with Chef Simon Smotkowicz. A friendly and welcoming leader, Chef Smotkowicz instructed us to make ourselves comfortable and ask whatever questions came to mind. Now let me point something out. Everyone in the room was about to play a vital role in serving 3000 plates; and we were told be make ourselves comfortable. We didn’t have to stand against one wall or hide behind cupboards. In fact, there was no Chef Gordon Ramsey antics to speak of. The room was an orchestra of food, and we had front row seats from whatever angle we pleased. This was the equivalent of a food dream.
As the food and hot boxes started to appear, I swear that I heard a chorus of knuckles being cracked in preparation for the coming task. With the conveyor belt pulling along empty plates, hands quickly, and carefully, placed item on top of item, creating a colourful feast for the eyes. If anyone doubts that we eat with our eyes first, this rainbow plating of treats will surely prove you wrong. And just as quickly as the plate started it’s journey, waiting hands at the end of the table, were busying storing the plates in preparation for the table side serving. The efficiency, along with the care and attention put into everyone’s plate was clear throughout the evening. The culinary team was able to count; fix, sort and supply the plating team with every bit of direction needed. Oh, and the plating team, they just so happen to be the serving staff as well. So next time you have a question, concern, or comment, just remember the staff here are vested in the process and truly do have your best interests in mind.
As I walked out of the Shaw and into the cool, rainy night, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. Not only did I have the opportunity to get up close and personal with 3000 plates of food, but I was welcomed with open arms by every employee at this party. Chef Simon Smotkowicz is the real deal, and doesn’t shy away from the big or small. His passion for food means that his menus will not just leave you full, but full of good food. Before my night of education, I wouldn’t have known that besides large catering evenings like high school graduations, the Shaw’s kitchen is also available for more intimate groups. If I can leave you with one last item it’s this; deep in the bowels of the Shaw Conference Centre, there is an amazing level of care being put into your food, and no matter the size of your group, I think the only fair option is to give the Shaw, and its staff a serious consideration for your next event.
Shaw Conference Centre
9797 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada