Event organizers are no strangers to fam trips, which familiarize them, as decision makers, with a sense of what a particular destination can offer attendees. These trips typically have a packed itinerary filled with site visits, a dizzying download of square footage stats, and meals — lots and lots of food. When I joined 11 event professionals from the U.S. and Canada on a trip to Hamburg, Germany, in early August, the Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten had a twist in store for us: We were to lace up our shoes and roll up our sleeves to help prepare a meal, from start to finish.
Andreas Block, executive chef at the property, met us in the morning at the Isemarkt, a bi-weekly farmers market underneath Hamburg’s U3 subway line. Block split our group into three teams with an Amazing Race–style assignment: Use €50 to track down and purchase the necessary items for lunch. After working in kitchens in China, Malaysia, and Austria, Block has learned plenty about selecting the right ingredients, and he offered some advice before we began our searches. “Do not just look for the lowest price,” he said. “Find out how far the food traveled.”
We divided and conquered, tracking down the six ingredients on Block’s shopping list. Per Block’s directions, we walked the entire market, comparing locations and prices. Some had to navigate language barriers with vendors. Others discovered that buying halibut at this farmers market was no simple task. My team even learned a lesson on mushroom sales: In Germany, it is illegal to pick and sell chanterelles, so our contribution to the risotto had traveled from outside the country.
After the exercise, we headed to the hotel to join Block and Song Lee, head chef at the property’s Nikkei Nine restaurant. We diced tomatoes, cut dill, marinated halibut, and listened as the two shared tales of what it takes to work in a kitchen environment. “It’s not just about your technical skills,” Lee said. “It takes leadership and collaboration.”
The weight on us was, of course, nowhere near the typical stresses of preparing and serving food at a luxury property. However, playing an active role did deliver a more meaningful meal than simply being served. You gain a deeper appreciation of a dessert of mashed plums and sesame seed ice cream when you bought those plums from a stand, stirred them while they simmered in a wine sauce, and taste-tested with the chef, take it from me. I came home a plum-lover because of this trip.
While our food market and kitchen team-building exercise was a first for the kitchen, it’s easy to see how this activity — which concluded with upscale lunch service in a private dining room — would be an ideal fit for board meetings and other intimate groups looking to make their meal experience more meaningful. Attendees aren’t the only ones who will give it five stars, either.
“For us in the kitchen, we rarely get to interact with guests,” Block said. “So this is extra special to get to invite you in to the place that feels like our home and share the experience.”
I’ll be sharing more from my experience in Hamburg. Stay tuned for a complete wrap-up in the October issue of Convene.