The Edmonton EXPO Centre and its grounds have long been a hub for large events in our city, evoking thoughts of bustling trade shows and conventions where visitors line up at food court concessions. But nestled beneath the 522,000 square-foot event space is an industrial kitchen that boasts a culinary team of nine Red Seal chefs supported by top-notch stewarding and banquets teams. These teams not only have the expertise to serve 3,500 banquet guests in one evening, but also to create multi-course meals for specialty plated dinners.
Since becoming a member of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) in 2018, the Edmonton EXPO Centre has made big changes to their kitchen operations. In September 2018, Executive Chef Jiju Paul came onboard to lead the team in a new direction. In February 2019, Arthur Chen joined the organization in a newly created Executive Pastry Chef, position which would expand the kitchen’s culinary offerings. The appointment of these highly skilled chefs reflects a renewed commitment to culinary and venue excellence at the Edmonton EXPO Centre.
With an innovative Executive Chef at the helm and new opportunities to grow, the Edmonton EXPO Centre’s culinary team is ready to challenge client and guest expectations with custom menu creations, local food integration and impeccable service.
Your menu, your way
Adaptability is key in a venue the size of the Edmonton EXPO Centre, especially when it comes to menus. On any given day, the culinary team could be contending with breakfast for exhibitors, lunch for a business conference and dinner for a corporate gala—and within any of those events, numbers, budgets and tastes can vary significantly.
“We are very involved because every client is different, every event in this building is different,” says Paul. “I work closely with each client alongside our event managers to find out their audience, their budget and their ideal dishes, and then we go back and forth to create a menu that excites them.”
Customization is being taken to new heights at the Edmonton EXPO Centre with the transformation of the Hall H kitchen into a dedicated pastry kitchen. Chen, who has represented Culinary Team Canada and created desserts for Queen Elizabeth II, is keen to show off his mastery of desserts and chocolate to clients and guests.
“We make all of our desserts in house and customize them to fit our clients’ vision,” says Chen. “Dessert is the last dish of the entire meal, so we want to make it a dish to remember.”
Let’s get local
The movement to purchase more local food has swept through the culinary industry, and the Edmonton EXPO Centre is no exception. At the Edmonton EXPO Centre, local food is sourced from suppliers within 160 kilometres of the venue.
“There are many benefits to purchasing local food products for our kitchen,” says Paul. “Beyond the environmental and economic benefits that strengthen our partnerships with local producers, local ingredients taste better because of the seasonality and freshness of the products.”
Environmentally, purchasing local food products reduces the carbon footprint of food transportation, as items do not need to travel as far to get to the kitchen. The economic value comes from less money being spent on freight fees and supporting local businesses, which keeps spending within our own province. When a venue that hosts more than 150 catered events per year chooses local, the impact is elevated—and if one of the largest commercial kitchens in Edmonton can source locally, so too can others.
The Edmonton EXPO Centre has started producing its own local food with the addition of two rooftop beehives in July. The colonies grew over the summer from 40,000 to approximately 80,000 bees, and the culinary team has already started using small amounts of in-house produced honey in Chen’s dessert delicacies.
Serving up an experience
No plate reaches a guest without the help of the Edmonton EXPO Centre banquet and stewarding teams. According to Banquet Manager Maglan Pillay, each dish served at the Edmonton EXPO Centre is an opportunity to ensure visitors have a great memory of their time at the venue.
“We want our guests to be wowed by the service they receive every time they come to the Edmonton EXPO Centre,” says Pillay.
To the guest, a well-executed catered event feels seamless. Meanwhile behind the scenes, moving parts and sudden obstacles can throw off even the best laid plans. During one event, both elevators from the kitchen to the main floor broke down before food service. To improvise, the team created a human chain up the stairs to transfer each plate to the event space. “Things are always going to happen—we have a backup plan for the backup plan,” says Pillay.
What’s the recipe for providing service with a smile to thousands of guests? Culture and hard work. “We try to create a home for our team,” says Pillay. “We have team members who, on a daily basis, want to put their best foot forward for their guests, their department and the Edmonton EXPO Centre as a whole.”
More than anything, the culinary team at the Edmonton EXPO Centre wants you to leave the venue with a memory worth sharing. Sometimes, this means serving up the unexpected.
“Most restaurants or event spaces will have your standard, well-known options,” says Paul. “We can serve our guests the foods they are most comfortable with, but when they reflect back on the meal they had at the Edmonton EXPO Centre, do they talk about it? That’s the goal.”
Here’s to food worth talking about.
Experience the Edmonton EXPO Centre’s culinary expertise for yourself at the Winery Spotlight Dinner on November 28. Visit edmontonexpocentre.com to find out more.