The Anatomy of a Food Fest
Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration (WGSHA) plays host to four food fests every year highlighting themes ranging from popular television shows to global cuisines. Each food fest brings a vibrant range of food choices to Manipal while also celebrating the theme chosen by the planning committee.
With the next food fest around the corner, The Manipal Journal caught hold of Mrinal Sethi, Ashim Ahluwalia, Prayag Shettri, Ayush Malwani, Ahana Bahr and Yaga Shetty, all of whom are members of the planning committee of the upcoming California themed food fest, to discuss what exactly goes on behind-the-scenes of a food fest.
The Workforce: People and Departments
WGSHA has four houses, and each house handles one fest throughout the year with two fests happening each semester. Ten permanent departments (including Overall, Service, Kitchen & Bakery, Sales & Marketing, Controls, Housekeeping, and Accounts) work over ten gruelling days with the heads of each department chosen by vote.
Appealing to the Senses: Theme and Ambience
While the cuisine chosen might be broad, planners try to narrow it down to a particular element of the cuisine (in this case, California), to have a clearer focus. One main reason for this is that having broader themes makes décor planning confusing and complicated and the ambience always has to match the food.
The Californian Retreat isn’t entirely Californian cuisine but rather dishes that are popular in California. The reason? California isn’t just home to a cuisine but is a culture in itself. Facets of Californian culture like Hollywood and Beverly Hills will be showcased through the ambience (décor and live music).
The (In)valuables: Money, Time and Resources
These three things determine how the entire fest is going to shape up. Ayush, the Overall Head, explains that sourcing isn’t really an issue because of the extensive practical experience that they gain through college.
The biggest constraints put on them were in terms of time and budget, resulting in most of the ideas being scrapped. It is because of these budget constraints that ‘minimalism’ has to be practised, all the while capturing the true essence of the theme. Consequently, they were unable to incorporate wine, beer-batter or pork into their dishes.
The Journey of an Idea
It is common for food fests to evolve through time, from the drawing board to the dining table. In this case, the initial theme was Hollywood. However, planning an entire fest around such a narrow theme isn’t easy.
Menu planning is something that organisers are well-versed at. It’s based on narrowing down the ingredients, comparing ticketing costs to the cost of ingredients, calculating taxes and profit. Going into loss should obviously be avoided, and therefore the menu is planned keeping the tastes of the audience in mind. The planning committee quipped that most of the initial ideas for the menu were very different and were scrapped due to the previously mentioned time and budget constraints.
One such idea was to have a fine-dining experience rather than a casual one. Taking into consideration that junior students would be conducting the service, they decided to go down the casual route.
Catering through Creativity: Marketing
“We cater to the Manipal audience by giving them something that they do not get anywhere else, like Bavarian Roast Chicken or Peanut Butter Brownies. The students want good food and we’re here to serve exactly that. We also cater to different audience preferences like in the case of allergies or if someone wants gluten-free or sugar-free food,” added the planning committee.
When one sees the names of the dishes, it is clear that Hollywood was an inspiration (Seth Rogen’s Climax, Al Pacino’s Feast). “Such names are also a marketing strategy. We were keen on making the names fun and interesting,” says Ahana, the Head of Marketing. (Sheen’s Love Bite, go figure.)
Marketing strategies of food fests also include banners and discounted coupons.
Working Together: Communication
According to the planning commitee, the biggest mishaps happen because the interlinked departments fail to communicate with each other. While problems are few during the planning stages (ticket sales and licensing charges being the biggest challenges), things don’t always go according to plan on the day of the event.
The planners elucidated by citing an example: “Say, there is a lack of coordination between the service team (that takes the order) and the kitchen team (that makes the food) and the order is messed up. We have to answer to the guest, who has paid 650, which is frankly, on a student budget, quite a lot of money.”
However, for the planning committee, the food fest is about the work experience. “The motive is for us to learn and we have the drive to work,” concluded Mrinal, the Kitchen Head.
Photographs Courtesy: Indranil Sarkar
‘The Californian Retreat’ is set to take place on 25th January at Chaya, Fortune Inn Valley View.