Twin Cities NACE Conference: Seating Trends, a History Lesson and Global Flair

Last Wednesday, I ascended the escalators of the downtown Minneapolis Hilton to find a small line in front of a metal detector. Inside the ballroom were flags with the seal of the President and the Vice-president all set up like a press conference… and  while NACE National President Greg Casella was a very lovely person, I was pretty sure that all this fanfare wasn’t for him. The staff of the Hilton pointed me down the hall to another ballroom – which was decorated with a variety of styles of tables and wasn’t nearly as stuffy as the first ballroom. I’m sure that Vice President Biden enjoyed his brief stay in Minneapolis, but I’m sure that the attendees of the NACE Twin Cities Chapter Conference had a much more lovely, educational time.

Five sets of tables were constructed throughout the ballroom for our lovely lunch, reflecting a few different trends in seated decor. One attendee styled a Chef’s Table for a lunch party (above); another set up a row of two-tops, which played with the idea of intimacy at a lunch event. The Wedding Guys styled a steakhouse-style table, with chairs on one side and Cort’s white banquettes on the other. Another setting also incorporated lounge furniture into their luncheon tables, and, one of the most globally inspired settings was an Asian-style table that allowed attendees to sit down into the floor.

NACE President Greg Casella of Catered Too! in San Jose, CA, and Nicole Fitzpatrick of Calihan Catering in Chicago, IL spoke about the history of NACE within the context of 20th century food trends. One of the ideas that struck me was the introduction of (slightly more common) global travel in the 1960s – and the realization that global foods were more than just the very Americanized chop suey. With the prominence of the Travel Channel and celebrity chefs, we’re seeing the same thing fifty years later: our idea of global cuisine is getting wayyyy more specific. We’ve gone beyond Asian to Vietnamese, and beyond pork meatballs and lettuce wraps to more adventurous offerings like variations on bánh mì. In fact, the closing session of the NACE Twin Cities conference featured bánh mì-inspired tacos, which were neverendingly delicious.

Both Casella and Fitzpatrick also addressed the challenges of feeding a large group of people efficiently, with concern for sustainable ingredients (Calihan Catering only uses organic), and with coaching customers on how this may lead to higher prices. They talked about considering space and knowing your kitchen when you’re off site – two things that I definitely plan to discuss in Catersource in the future!

One great idea that I wrote down: a corn roasting and husking station for outdoor events! It sounds super easy and very fun.

Another great idea that I tasted: caipirinhas. After reading about them for ages and being extremely intrigued by their fresh lime and sugary flavor, I finally tasted one, and I learned how to pronounce their base spirit: cachaça, which tastes like a cross between tequila and rum. Such a delicious, fresh beverage. I know they’ve been around for a little while, but I hope to see them on many menus for years to come.

One final note on the NACE Twin Cities conference: Caterers were talking about challenges they’ve overcome in the past few years, and how they’ve saved the day on numerous occasions. Do you have any stories where you’ve saved the day? Contact me at I’d love to hear about them.

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