The plant-powered revolution is upon us. At least, it is here in Australia with rising demand for plant-based food and a high number of vegans per capita.
That’s part of why here at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), we’re jumping on the bandwagon. Plus, our creative culinary team love to develop food for the future; event menu designs authentic to our food philosophy and food trends alike.
According to Colmar Brunton research, 42% of Australians are either reducing the meat in their diets or cutting it out completely. And researchers at Finder found that one in four Aussies will try a new diet this year, so those numbers could certainly increase.
But that doesn’t mean we are going vegan. Rather, we pay attention to what our customers want and develop event food and menus accordingly. We’ve moved beyond offering the token vegetarian dish. With more people going veg, our customers are choosing items that everyone can eat, ensuring no one feels left out. But they have to taste amazing. For 2022 and beyond, MCEC has increased plant-based options across the board and made them truly gourmet.
Event Food: Menu Planning
Our new menus feature vegan and vegetarian dishes made from fresh, local ingredients: food as an experience, channeling Melbourne's distinct culture and character. Executive Chef Peter Haycroft said of the event menu development: “A focus on vegetarian, vegan and gluten friendly options has been really important… Plant-based and vegetable dishes are becoming mainstream. There are a lot more people requesting them.”
Cocktail menu highlights include the divine new canape Green Mango, Tofu, Edamame, and Sambal Rice Paper Roll with Nam Prik (yum!). Meanwhile, the vegan Koo Wee Rup Asparagus with Coconut Labneh and Puff Grains entrée on our gala dinner menus is busting with indigenous flavour. “The asparagus season for Victoria is between September and January,” says Peter. “And it is only grown in one area: Koo Wee Rup, which is just outside of Packenham. Maybe 40 minutes’ drive if you get a good run down the Monash.”
“When the asparagus season is in full bloom, our local produce is exported all over Australia and the world. Koo Wee Rup supply 80% of asparagus across the world. Meanwhile, asparagus on Aussie shelves right now is imported from Mexico. We certainly promote asparagus strongly throughout the period when it’s in season, because that is when it’s at its best.”
For mains, MCEC is proud to offer plant-based dishes that imitate meaty alternatives, such as the Bud’s Burger, on our grab and go retail menu. We are happy to accommodate vegan meat if a customer requests it. But when it comes to steak or burger alternatives for cocktail or gala event menus, our chefs prefer to use wholefoods: single-source plant foods such as falafel, cauliflower, or King Brown mushroom (Peter's pick). They consider faux meat a little bit of a fad. “We’re about health and flavour and real, raw food made into something spectacular,” says Peter. From a vegetarian perspective, conference delegates adore the Gnocchi: “It is phenomenal: one of our most requested and highest selling signature dishes,” he says.
Vegan Event Menu Design
So, how can you find our list of options? Event organisers get access to our comprehensive Menu Guides, which are split out by event type and feature hundreds of dishes. This allows them to work with our team to plan their dream menu design for breakfast, cocktail, gala, conference, and beyond. Events at THE LUME Melbourne, meanwhile, have a separate menu planning guide. We have increased plant-based options and taken some meatier dishes off across all menus – and we may go even further in the years ahead.
From a logistical lens, increasing plant-based food items also works for our culinary team. When it comes to menu design, special dietary requests have gone up from 25% to 40% in just one year. Karl Edmonds, our new Executive Sous Chef – Culinary Development, says: “It makes sense in terms of managing separate requests. If the offering is there you don’t need to produce anything extra.”
Food Experiences: New Melbourne Flavours
Karl’s exciting new role involves ideation, new food concepts, supplier relations and developing our annual menus. He constantly innovates, reviews processes, and ensures MCEC is at the forefront of food trends. Therefore, he has been key in masterminding some of the new vegan-friendly event menu items. Karl says: “We put a lot of thought and care into the development of plant-based items to bring them into our new menus.
“Before this – I’m going years back – vegan items were not really prioritised… They didn't give you an ‘Ooh, Ahh’ Moment. We are proud of what we have achieved and believe it doesn’t matter if you are vegan or not: you’ll love it.”
With some egg- and dairy-free dessert options already available, vegan Sous Pastry Chef Renae Hooper is going further and currently working on a plant-based tiramisu made with coconut. Karl says: “She tested her tiramisu a couple of weeks ago... If you were none the wiser, it was close to passing off as a traditional tiramisu. There are some tweaks to be made but we could potentially see this item on our menus soon. It was very impressive.”
Ready to be impressed?
MCEC’s plant-based event menus are available now so get in touch with our team today and start planning your next cocktail party or gala dinner.