This blog describes my very own personal experiences from being a young English man, from a tiny village in South Wales UK, to living the life and rubbing shoulders with the stars in Los Angeles. this will demonstrate my development and should hopefully provide a few entertaining stories of my experiences. I hope you enjoy it, and feel involved with my time here in the United States.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Awards, Inspiration, Education, Recognition and Ironing.

It was that time of year again, time to pack up, go to Vegas, and take on the world’s largest catering conference; Catersource and Event Solutions.

As you may or not know, I applied for a scholarship through the ICA, and was successful! The ICA sponsored my gala tickets, education package, and money towards travel and hotel. Needless to say I was delighted to have been given such an opportunity!

The Conference was held at the new Cosmopolitan hotel, which was jaw dropping. Or as Joanne said… it was “sexual” They had amazing led displays, mirrors everywhere, sleek modern furniture, and that was just the lobby! The rooms were just as impressive, with nice firm mattresses, Samsung widescreen televisions. Then you had the bathroom; the shower was a room in itself! A huge black tile shower with great pressure, and a tall full-length window that showed into the bedroom…. That’s right, a window into the shower from the bedroom…. Creepy? Luckily there was a blind, but it was on the bedroom side! So if you had strange friends that would have a fascination in pranking you, this would be ideal.

I had the fortune of sharing a room with Mr. Art of seduction himself, Patrick “Paterico” Sullivan. It wasn’t until I was led on my bed and turned my head to the side and saw “Paterico” eyeing himself up in the mirror in the bathroom, that I noticed this window problem. I looked for no more than a second, where he then turned and caught me looking! We both laughed and said, that has to stop straight away… Vegas was getting weird already.

Sharing a room with Patrick was definitely an experience. First off he has a heart of gold, and is very considerate. On the other hand he is very particular. Everything has a place and everything is folded to perfection. Also, if you ever need anything, he has it… the awards night (which I will get to later) was a suit and tie situation, and I left my navy tie at home! So I was going to go tieless. Paterico steps up and says “hold that thought”… head first into his suitcase he goes, and pulls out a rainbow of ties, every color and pattern you can think of, and points out a navy one and says “how about that one?” of course it was the exact tie I was thinking of. You need it, he’s got it.

Oh! And Lets not forget his ironing skills. He is probably the only person I know that would travel with a tin of starch… He does benefit from it though… you could cut vegetables on the ironed creases of his shirts!

So on Sunday, February 27th we all arrived, and went along to the main ballroom to help out Dan Smith and Joanne Purnell with their seminar “Dazzling Appetizers and Zazzy Beverages for the Cocktail Hour”

So in steps server Aaron Kaniecki in his finest black bistro to take the stage, while Pauline Parry, along with friends and fellow professionals Marcy Blum and Eddie Zaratsian took stage to try all the cocktails and appetizers provided by Dan and Jo. Meanwhile behind the scenes Patrick Sullivan is proving he is a man of many trades by making celery caviar.

So yet again with Good Gracious! you end up in positions you never dreamt of, not at one point while signing my visa papers, did I think I would be on stage in Vegas in front of hundreds of people…

Now my sole purpose in this seminar is to take either appetizers or cocktails from Dan and Jo (point A) over to Pauline, Eddie and Marcy at their lounge (point B). The distance between point A and point B is about 10 feet, but that distance in front of hundreds of fellow professionals turns to 100 feet, the drinks turn into ice on your tray wanting to slide everywhere, and what is usually a steady hands in placing appetizers on the table, turns into a trembling mess…. It’s a little bit different under pressure…

As if that wasn’t enough… Pauline Parry, my loving, wonderful, understanding, low maintenance boss, if you didn’t already know, is my Aunty. And if you were at Catersource this year, and specifically at Jo and Dan’s seminar, you would of learnt this information. She just decided to mention it when I was in the middle of walking the 100mile gap, while shaking like a leaf carrying slippery cocktails…. Now everyone’s eyes are on me!

“Everyone I would like to introduce you to Aaron, he is our Brit who is on a two year training visa with us, and he is working very hard to stay here permanently and also received the ICA scholarship award, oh and did I mention he is my nephew….” (Applause, applause, applause)

All I could do is let out a nervous smile and a wave, which now looking back on it was a bit like the queens wave. The things you do under pressure.

Needless to say the seminar was a huge success, with people crowding around the stage at the end to try and get just a few seconds with the speakers.

Monday arrives, and it is time for me to get to my ICA duties. Part of the deal for attaining the scholarship, is to volunteer to man the ICA inspiration zone, the lounge and the tradeshow floor booth. The ICA wanted to achieve 100 new members, and to get as many current members as possible to re-sign during this conference.

It felt so good to be able to give back to the organization that had given me such a golden opportunity, so I wanted to get as many new members as possible.

First of all I needed to get accustomed to the area I was in. This first time around I manned the ICA Inspiration Zone, which was filled with 5000 hours worth of work. This was in the form of pictures, examples, menus and much more. People could walk up, pick up a binder that tickled their fancy, and have a good look through and hopefully become “inspired”. New members to the ICA would receive a disk containing all the information within these binders, or people could bring their own USB Flash drives and download the information for themselves. Having such a brilliant area to work from made it easy to sell. The reason to sign up was there in front of you! It was down to me to slap the icing on the cake and make them sign!

Through the experience in the Inspiration Zone I managed to get a few new members! Not only that, I got to have a chat with some key ICA players, such as Jody Wimer, Pat Christofolo and Richard Kalnins. Probably the biggest compliment came from Pat. I said to the group that I had to leave to attend a class, and Pat responded “are you sure you can’t stay? You seem to be a natural at this, you are talking as if you have been on the board your whole life!”

Hearing those words from such a well-accomplished and respected caterer was a definite confidence boost.

Of course Catersource is all about education, and boy do they have it in abundance, classes going all day, every day from every topic you can think of.

So for me at this moment I am interested in sales, client relationships, social media and marketing aspect of the event industry. So I went along to “Story Selling” by Cliff Schamber of Marriott International who did a fantastic job. This class was about incorporating story telling into your sales pitches, this develops a relationship with the client, demonstrating that you are talking from experience, therefore they have reason to trust you. Very interesting.

Other classes I went to included “You Made The Sale, Now What!?” by Frank Christian from Festivities Catering, “Making Money with Meryl – Design” by Meryl Snow from Festivities Events, “How to Effectively Manage Social Media” by Jeff Hurt from Velvet Chainsaw, and many more.

Though all these classes were great, the one thing I will take away is the people I networked with. The great thing about Catersource is everyone is there for a good time and to make friends, so finding people to hang out with is pretty easy.

I managed to meet some very interesting and knowledgeable people within our industry, such as Kristina Raines of A Joy Wallace Catering Production. Kristina was such a warming person, very “cheeky” as we say in England, and had a great sense of humor. I think she didn’t stop making fun of me when we were first introduced… so of course I gave some back! I enjoy a good banter. Of course there were some of the seasoned Catersource goers, Joanne Purnell keeping the tempo high with her partner in crime Ken Barrett, Pauline Parry doing her Pauline Parry thing, and then there was new edition Josh Parker from Verterra, who had a suite and held late night parties for everyone! (there were some interesting nights there…. But hey what happens in Vegas…)

One thing I also found, was following my recent visit to Kentucky for CaterArts, I recognized and knew a lot of people at the conference. Not to mention I got recognition from my oh so confident performance on stage on Sunday… People would come up to me and say “you’re Aaron right?”
ME: “yes I am…” (not having a clue who they are)
STRANGER: “we saw you on stage! Great job!”
ME: “ummm… thanks?”
STRANGER: “let me buy you a beer…”

celebrity overnight.

Now at this conference there is an award ceremony, called the Spotlight and CATIE Awards, which are national recognitions for caterers and producers alike. Let me start off by stating that there was a food I had never tried before… something so obscure, so different so strange yet so good… lion. Yes, I ate lion. It has a strange salty taste, and you cannot help but squint when eating it because you know what is in your mouth! Oh well, an experience nonetheless.

Back to the awards, Good Gracious! had two CATIE nominations, first was Dan Smith for Innovation and Mixology, which he went on to successfully win, and another for Best Table Top Design with Michelle Nowak, Sadly we were unable to secure this one, but still an amazing achievement to be nominated.

Also we were all eagerly anticipating one of the pinnacle moments of Pauline Parry’s career, where she was going to be inducted into the Event Solutions Hall of fame for 2011.

Bob Estrin, long-term friend of Pauline, and previous recipient of the Hall of Fame Award was the person to introduce the catering diva to the stage. As he mentioned her name, the whole room erupted… whistles, screams, chanting all for one person.

A huge sense of pride overwhelmed me not only because she is my boss, but also because she is my aunty. To be involved in business with her is such a pleasure, and an amazing opportunity. I am so proud to be part of the Good Gracious! Team.

As she stood up there, she owned the stage, a slight quiver as she first grabbed the microphone… but that was soon surpassed with fabulous stories and advice. As she read off each page of her speech, she would throw it behind her, as if to say lets move forward. Reflecting her personality perfectly if you ask me. Always looking to move forward with purpose and direction.

It was a proud night for all. If you have time, see Pauline accepting her award below.

Later on in the conference the ICA (International Caterers Association) had their Annual General Meeting, which is where I would be receiving my scholarship award. There were great speeches made by all, and a few other recognitions given out. One of which was unexpectedly given to me?! I received a Star Award for my helping hand in CaterArts, I was completely shocked and deeply humbled by the award.

Not only that, there was one other surprise to come. Pauline Parry, once again being praised and recognized for her amazing achievements, by receiving the ICA John Mossman Award, which has only been given out a hand full of times in the 30 year history of the ICA. The award demonstrates dedication of service towards the ICA.

An emotional Pauline stood up to accept her award and was speechless; it was so great to see her friends recognizing her and her dedication to the job she so dearly loves.

Finally, the trade show floor… I needed a map to get from one end to the other… IT WAS MASSIVE! You walk through and you have everything from fine cuisine, to big trucks. Video games to live bands, it had everything! No wonder this is the largest catering conference in the world! If you can’t find what you are looking for here there you just aren’t going to find it.

Catersource was unbelievable… stimulating, educational, emotional, tiring but worth every single penny. From Catersource you are sure to find one person you connect with, you will find new tricks to move your company forward, you will see how designs were done when you didn’t think they were possible!

I would like to thank Pauline for encouraging me to progress and presenting me with such amazing opportunity, the ICA for granting me a scholarship so I can take part in this amazing conference, and all the people who shared their knowledge and experiences with me.

Key Learning Points:

• Paterico is a, party manager, bar tender, chef, caviar producer, driver, human resources, womanizer, ironing expert and a pretty decent guy to share a room with.
• Pauline Parry IS a catering super megastar
• You can eat lion
• Networking is good for everyone, no matter what your position is
• Knowledge is key; attending classes is nothing short of positive.
• Doing is learning. Put your new skills into practice.
• Don’t look directly into the tickle hole

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