Taste Trends: Purvill Chaney, Executive Chef, Duke Energy Convention Center
Some people are fortunate enough to be born into their life’s calling. Chef Purvill Chaney is such a lucky individual. A consummate culinary professional who discovered his passion for cooking while working as a chef in his parents’ restaurants in his hometown of Flint, Mich., the budding chef wasted no time in embarking upon a professional career path in hospitality after college, cutting his teeth as a sous chef at a local Hyatt Regency. Since then, Chaney’s long and storied career has included more than 27 years with Hyatt at a dozen different locations in multiple cities followed by a 15-year tenure at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he now oversees a more than 100-person kitchen staff as executive chef.
Never one to shy away from challenges, Chaney has cooked for a who’s-who of celebrities and dignitaries over the course of his extensive career and takes great pleasure in cooking up customized, ahead-of-trend menus to surprise and delight guests at the DECC. He also happens to be an award-winning ice sculptor!
“Every day is new, and with each day, a new challenge,” Chaney said of his job. “Whether my team is creating menus and overseeing mass production to serve more than 120,000 meals for the World Choir Games or adapting menus to accommodate the many dietary needs of guests, I’m proud of our ability to customize and deliver one-of-a-kind experiences during trade shows, conventions, meetings and events of all types. I never work a day in my life because I love what I do each and every day!”
Passionate about training the next generation of culinary professionals, Chaney makes a point of giving back to the Cincinnati community, focusing on local sustainability efforts and promoting the events industry to a diverse population of young people. Through his annual work with Frederick Douglass Elementary School and its garden club, Chaney and his team enjoy hosting 30-40 students from the Cincinnati Public Schools at DECC’s state-of-the-art kitchen, where they receive hands-on training to learn how to prepare and cook vegetables from their garden to create a nutritious meal.
Corporate Event News enjoyed sitting down with Chaney to learn about the latest cutting-edge trends in food and beverage, how event planners can work around tight budgets, rising costs and supply chain issues without sacrificing taste and quality, and who has inspired him most in his career.
What are the biggest and most exciting event culinary trends you’re seeing right now?
Clients are focused on comfort foods but even more so focused on amplifying the experience for their attendees. The art of the presentation is almost more important than the food itself. I love putting an artistic display together to amplify their event and meet their goals.
Charcuterie is now being expanded into the “sweet treat” category with dessert charcuterie displays—in the same vein as an expansive meat, cheese and nut presentation. Small petit fours, cookies, cake pops and other delights are paired with individually portioned mousses, custards and fruit compotes to create a beautiful presentation with options for every taste and desire.
Prior to COVID-19, dietary-conscious menus (such as gluten-free, keto, vegan and vegetarian) were a growing trend. Is this still true, and if so, do you foresee this accelerating in the future?
Very true! Carbs and gluten, meat or no meat? Allergies and additives? It used to be that vegetarian options were the focus, but now special diets are being demanded. Flourless cakes, no bread on the table and options for entrees that are more sensitive for today’s palates are all under scrutiny and gaining popularity. Some clients even proactively choose to go gluten-free for their menu, as this is the highest dietary request. It keeps it simple yet still pleases.
Pro tip: Communicate with your guests in advance to determine how many and what type of special meals you will need to offer. Having the ability to plan ahead with these requests will not only help your budget but also guarantee that your guests feel “heard” and accommodated.
Many event planners are working with tighter budgets now. What are your top tips for overcoming this obstacle while still providing delicious fare for attendees?
In Cincinnati, 75-80% of our menus are customized. We’ve always been able to work within budgets, but now we have more to consider due to rising costs, supply chain issues, etc. Recently, we’ve seen more vegetable-forward meals, focusing less on proteins due to their rising costs. So, for a duet, instead of fish and chicken, we’ll do fish and cauliflower steak. Or my favorites is short rib and cauliflower steak.
- Go for the bites! Plan your catered events in non-traditional hours. Instead of a sit-down meal try hosting elegant cocktails and appetizers from 4-6 p.m., so guests can make it dinner if they choose.
- Limit the traditional cocktail hour to 30 minutes prior to your event, then offer beer and wine with dinner. There’s always a place for a cash bar as a backstop.
- Watch your guarantees. With the changing demographic and attendance levels softening, keep your counts realistic knowing that a paid RSVP does not always equate to an attendee, especially for fundraisers.
- Work with a venue focused on sustainability. Make sure your supplier has a partner in providing leftover meals to the community to limit waste.
- When menu planning, look for exotic dishes that go a long way. For example, paella is exciting and visually appealing, and pasta with a variety of toppings and limited proteins, starches and salads can go a long way.
Are you seeing any improvements in diversity in executive chef roles in convention centers?
I believe so. I have a passion for training up-and-coming talent, but also working in the community to introduce the culinary field to a diverse population. The Duke Energy Convention Center and OVG Hospitality make community a priority, and I take an active role in promoting the culinary field, working with local elementary school garden clubs and participating in career days and through our involvement with the Institute of Hospitality Leadership, which is an initiative created here in Cincinnati to increase skilled and diverse talent in the hospitality sector.
Who or what has most inspired you throughout your career?
The people. I truly enjoy interacting with our clients and guests, both internal and external. In addition to having a great team, I’ve had the privilege of cooking and being in the presence of many celebrities and dignitaries, such as Oprah Winfrey, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Dali Lama and the NFL Commissioner during the Super Bowl, to name a few.
Check out Chef Chaney in action here.