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Archive for the ‘Farm to Table’ Category

Cooking Competitions for a Team-Building Activity

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Executive Chef Craig Mason demonstrated how to
make soft-shell crab legs at a tasting last summer.

Clients are often asking for team-building ideas. They want to incorporate team building into their meeting on an afternoon, but aren’t sure what that activity will or should be. The conference planning team starts by asking curious questions such as what they hope to achieve from the team building activity. From there, the conference planning manager can help determine the most fitting activity based on their desired outcome.

A cooking competition is another idea for team-building. Planners can coordinate with the venue to utilize portable stove tops or hot plates to host a team-building cooking competition. A safety lesson sounds like the first step to a successful event, but here are some ideas on how a cooking competition can relate to company team-building meetings:

  • Focusing on corporate wellness, teach attendees aboutthe science of Food for Thought and how it affects their work performance. Using the lesson plan, group attendees to create several smart food for thought meals and snacks for health and awareness as well as brain-friendly options to increase work productivity.
  • Create teams and give each team random, rare ingredients to use. Challenge attendees to a fast-paced Top Chef competition to motivate each team to work together and prepare an edible meal with unusual ingredients.
  • Speak to the venue contact on the Executive Chef’s availability on the day of your meeting. See if he or she will offer a cooking lesson on a rather difficult dish. Pair attendees in groups of 2 to work together and at the end of the class, ask each pair to vote on the best replica of the dish. Last year, Executive Chef Craig Mason of The National Conference Center had many requested guest appearances for meetings at NCC – he spoke at over 15 events on food for thought, farm to table and more. Email your conference planning manager if you’d like Executive Chef Mason to speak to your group!

The best team-building activities give the attendees actionable intelligence and goals. As a planners, the most important thing you can do following a team-building event is to reflect on what was learned and how it can be applied into the day-to-day workings of the office. To find out about other deliciously fun corporate team building events, ask your personal conference planning manager. Why do you think cooking competitions become the new popular team-building activity? How do you incorporate team-building into your meetings?

Eating like a Hunter, Gatherer: Will It Mean More Dietary Requests at Your Meetings?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

In the coming months, expect a surge of attendees with extreme dietary restrictions.
They’ll note that they can only eat natural foods like meat and vegetables, also known as a Paleo diet

Almost all of the predicted 2012 food and beverage trends have proven true – rise of the celebrity chef, food and wine pairings, entertainment, and menu narratives. One in particular is growing rapidly – Dietary Restrictions. Last year the popular F&B growing trend was hyperlocal; local began with Executive Chefs in New York City growing vegetables on their roof and hiving honey bees. It was a new trend that fascinated diners, then it became a sustainable, eco-trend. Now, hyperlocal has become a part of a new dietary restriction F&B trend. There’s a mass exodus of  unnatural foods in our diets. Large portions, no ulterior story, and frozen out of the box, all historically made up the food and beverage industry. This year, the new F&B trends will be consist of small portions, natural foods, preferably with a menu narrative and local, if possible.

Hoteliers want to satisfy their guests, attendees, and planners by not resisting new trends. And planners, you may find stories about obtaining fresh local food interesting, but in particular, hotels participating in this move towards local helps your guests’ dietary restrictions. These new attendee dietary restrictions will be more extreme than the large percentage of the population who claimed to be gluten-free after tennis player, Novac Djokovi went to a non-gluten diet and won the Men’s US Open Final.

What will these new dietary restrictions be? Lifestyles such as primal and paleo have become popular, and traveling with these special restrictions will be not change eating habits. A primal/paleo diet is based on hunter, gatherer lifestyle – individuals will consume only vegetables, berries, meat, nuts, and eggs – no processed foods or sugar. Books like Primal Blueprint are not about a fad diet, but focus on starting a new lifestyle and eating clean; also referred to as “reprogramming your genes.” Any processed foods or sugars are considered forbidden. For attendees who will become wrapped up in this new way of life, they’ll also ensure they’re continuing to practice it at meetings and conferences. Planners, this could mean many more dietary restriction requests referencing a diet of only natural, unprocessed foods, limiting all dairy (recipes that call for cream, milk, cheese), pasta, beans, muffins, breads, pizza, chips, dessert, beer, cocktails (liquor). If the cavemen didn’t eat it, neither will they and this means at banquets and meetings, too. This is feasible for a venue to accommodate, but you’ll want to get the venue advance notice. Ensure that all your attendees’ dietary restrictions have been submitted to your venue contact at least 72 hours in advance or more, especially when there can be 100+ people who have restricted themselves to this hunter, gatherer lifestyle.

Have you already begun to see these extreme dietary restrictions become popular? How are you accommodating these requests and facilitating conversations with the venue contact? Tell about it below.


Loudoun Meets Italy Wine Dinner

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Buon giorno! Ciao! Have your reservations been made for the LOUDOUN meets Italy WINE DINNER? On Thursday, May 17th at 6:30 PM, you’re invited to an evening of Italian cena and vino. Over a four-courses and a tasting of four Tuscan wines, you’ll experience an authentic Italian dinner and wine-devu. Executive Chef Craig Mason is incorporating local ingredients into the entrees, so you’re in a treat and the best of both worlds – Italy +  Loudoun. Andrew George, wine expert with Ruffino Estates will be sharing why he chose to pair certain wines with particular ingredients. Ruffino Estates is known for their award-winning Italian wines and is highly rated by Wine Spectator magazine. Reserve your seats now - we look forward to seeing you with your friends and family! Ciao!

Download MENU

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 at 6:30 PM
The National Ballroom @ The National Conference Center
4 course menu + wine pairing $75 per person
4 course menu + wine pairing $45 per person [in-house guest]

Make your reservations online or by phone, 703.724.6032.



Earth Day Recap with [PHOTOS]

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

This past Friday, a class of eager students from the sixth grade Ecology Club at Belmont Ridge Middle School came to NCC  to help clean up the creek. With rubber gloves, claws and trash bags, the students were equipped to pick up trash along the creek bed that leads to the Potomac River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

The students also came to assist in the release of an owl by Blue Ridge Wildlife Center. The owl was originally found injured in the vicinity and was rehabilitated and ready for release.

Kurt Krause, General Manager and Dave Lay, farmer with Linda’s Mercantile came together to teach about local produce and how businesses can source locally from farms like Linda’s Mercantile. Farmer Dave also demonstrated how his tractor runs on NCC’s used cooking oil.

You can see when Holly Morris, news anchor with FOX 5 becomes amazed that leftover canola oil from NCC helps run the tractors at Linda’s Farm and Mercantile which is then used to plow the fields.

Brickman landscaping was also on-site to plant a trees with other members of the Professional Landcare Network, who were celebrating PLANET’s National Day of Service with other lawn care and landscape professionals volunteering in communities across the nation. TurfMutt, PLANET’s real live mascot dog joined us as well.

Before the sun came out, it was a foggy morning; it reminded us of something out of a movie. Nature at its finest!

What ways did you celebrate Earth Day?

Chocolates Galore Recap

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Chocolate lovers find themselves in pure bliss every year at the YMCA’s Chocolates Galore and More to benefit the D.C. metropolitan YMCA programs. Friday night at the 2012 Chocolates Galore and More event, over 850 people showed up at The National Conference Center to support the cause and “nom” on tasty hors d’oeuvres and chocolate desserts.

Enjoy some of the photos from the night:

Pastry Chef Jason Reaves of Market Salamander was awarded “Critics Choice Best Dessert Presentation”

Scrumptious Truffles by Goodstone Inn & Estate

MC2 Confections won the People’s Choice Best Tasting Dessert for her locally crafted chocolates;
MC2 debuted her gorgeous treats for the first time one year ago at Chocolates.
This year, she showcased a new decadent treat, cinnamon dusted cacao cluster.

Sheree McDowell, pastry chef at Ayshire Farm in Upperville describes her different macaron desserts.

Your next dessert at The Wine Kitchen should be these
white chocolate goat cheese cupcakes from Sweetz Bakery.

Ayrshire Farm Catering won Critics’ Choice Best Hors D’oeuvre presentation for their
scallion pancake with braised veal and pickled vegetables.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Critics’ Choice Winners:

Best Tasting Dessert – Lansdowne Resort
Best Dessert Presentation – Market Salamander
Best Tasting hors d’oeuvre – Lansdowne Resort
Best hors d’oeuvre Presentation – Ayrshire Farm Catering

People’s Choice Winners:

Best Tasting Dessert – MC2 Confections
Best Dessert Presentation – Cupcakes & Moore
Best Tasting hors d’oeuvre – Lansdowne Resort
Best hors d’oeuvre Presentation – Lansdowne Resort

Photo Credits: Rebekah Pizana of Gourmet Amore, Leesburg Today, Chocolate for Breakfast and Jennifer Garrett Aurili.
We hope to see you next year!

An Excecutive Chef Mason Recipe: Three Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomato Pappardelle with Fresh Mozzarella!

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

It’s been quite some time since we last featured a recipe from Executive Chef Craig Mason, this recipe and article is featured on for “Meatless Mondays.”

We’re thrilled to present today’s Meatless Mondays recipe courtesy of Executive Chef Craig Mason. Mason, the executive chef at The National Conference Center, made headlines recently with his 2012 Food Predictions, in which he identifies some trends in the culinary world. And the news is good for greenies: Chef Mason predicts a rise in sustainable local foods, more restaurants focusing on fish instead of red meat, and more natural foods seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic only, so food tastes the way it should. For more on his 2012 Food Predictions, click here.

And now, for his Three Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomato Pappardelle with Fresh Mozzarella!


Vegetable Broth, hot 16 oz
Olive Oil 2 T
White Wine 4 oz
Sundried Tomatoes, Julienne 8 oz
Pappardelle Pasta, cooked 2 lbs
Button Mushrooms, Sliced 8 oz
Portobello Mushrooms, Sliced 6 oz
Shiitake Mushrooms, Sliced 6 oz
Fresh Rosemary, chopped 1.5 t
Fresh Tarragon, chopped 1.5 t
Fresh Garlic, Minced 2 T
Shallot, minced 2 T
Fresh Mozzarella, Julienne 5 oz
Fresh Basil, chiffonade 2 T
Kosher Salt as needed
Fresh Ground Black Pepper as needed


Sauté garlic and shallots in olive oil until translucent and fragrant. Add sliced mushrooms and tomatoes
and sauté until just tender; add all herbs except basil. Deglaze with white wine. Reduce by half. Add
cooked pappardelle and hot vegetable stock. Toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in
a large pasta bowl, putting fresh basil chiffonade and mozzarella julienne on top.

Serves 6.

Bon appetit!

Review of Lightfoot Restaurant in Leesburg, Virginia

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Nestled in the historic downtown streets of Leesburg, sits an award-winning restaurant inside of an old bank. The building, which was built in 1885 , opened in 1905 as the People’s National Bank. In 1992, the building opened as Lightfoot Cafe and reopened as Lightfoot Restaurant in 1999, with a full-service dining room. The interior space of the restaurant is still steeped in rich history which includes tall ceilings with distinctive wood-work, a large metal bank vault in the center (our favorite) and walls adorned with unique French posters from the 1920′s.

There’s a patio in the back of Lightfoot where guests can dine and enjoy live jazz or samba in the warmer weather. We dined at Lightfoot on a Sunday afternoon between lunch and dinner, politically “linner” as some call it. With the cold weather and the odd hours, it was slow business but all the more attention on us.

Arugula Salad, tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette with goat-cheese,
sun-dried tomatoes roasted walnuts and finished with a balsamic glaze.

Service was superb, making the restaurant’s desired ambiance of “an intimate, unique dining experience” a success. Our server was very knowledgeable of the wine list and helped us make a selection that would pair perfectly with our entrees. He was also very attentive to water refills and was kind to keep checking up on us even when the slow afternoon crowd begin to transition into a popular evening dining spot.

Peking Duck Quesadilla, with water chesnuts, basil & shiitake served with
carrot-scallion-bean sprout-salad and spicey-smokey hoisin sauce

We opted for the duck calamari because it was a different entree that’s not on every restaurant’s menu. Most of the ingredients on the menu were local, helping Lightfoot meet the criteria for Loudoun’s Destination Restaurant Program.  All of the plates seemed like large-portions for upscale dining so you certainly get your money’s worth compared to the petite plates at other establishments.

Fried Calamari, with flash-fried peppers with lemon zest and marinara sauce

We enjoyed all the entrees (and maybe even too many, but we certainly don’t feel guilty). The calamari was the one dish we could have gone without and that’s only because it was just too much food. At the end of the meal, we had to decline dessert but really had an eye out for the frozen peanut butter torte. Even with a full stomach, we still couldn’t make room for their world’s smallest sundae on the menu. Local dessert wines included a Raspberry Merlot from Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg – something we’ll be sure to save room for next time.

Our vote: A+, there isn’t anything we’d change about the food, the service or the ambiance. We are continuously recommending it as a place for guests, travelers and friends to dine at for lunch or dinner in Leesburg. We can’t wait to go back and hopefully save room for dessert!

Smart Snacks that get you through TSA

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

OK, we must admit plane food isn’t always appetizing nor is it typically all healthy. You usually are found throwing out the cookies and the pretzels from the snack pack in order to make it healthy. Smart Meetings released “The Healthiest Airline Menu Options” in their January issue. It seems in some of the cases, lower airfare means lesser quality food. Southwest Airlines, known for their $59 one-way deals fell last in the line-up with nuts as the healthiest option. And, if they have salt – that definitely doesn’t make them healthy.

We’ve listed 5 Smart Snacks that will make their way through TSA without a hiccup. Our intentions are healthy and practical:

  • Luna, Lara or any high fiber bar – Protein is a huge plus too, but any all-natural bar high in fiber will hold you over on the flight. Avoid bars high in sugar (>17 grams of sugar) to satisfy your hunger cravings. Slip it in your carry-on and you’re all set to go!
  • Almonds – Bring a baggie of almonds or the can. Enjoy or share with your neighbor; make sure you choose unsalted.
  • Apples and bananas – Fruit is allowed but if it’s been opened such as a grapefruit, it needs to be wrapped. Like peanut butter or hummus with your fruit? Better follow the 3 oz rule, TSA considers all spreads a liquid.
  • Celery, cucumbers and broccoli – Full of fiber and water, eat as many veggies as you’d like without ever reaching for your wallet to buy a snack.
  • Customized trail mix – Easy to snack on and customizable, we give this snack 5-stars. Combine dried fruits, unsalted nuts and maybe some semi-sweetened dark chocolate chips.

Smart snacks keep you full. However, if you’re thinking greek yogurts and cottage cheese, remember it must be 3 oz or it won’t make it past the TSA lines. What’s your favorite snack to travel with?

Where the heck does your uneaten food go?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

A student in the agroecology program at Florida International University
made prior arrangements with ARAMARK to compost food-waste in a nearby garden

Did you tune into Food Network’s special, “The Big Waste“, a show where big name chefs like Bobby Flay are challenged to create a multi-course gourmet meal with food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Waste reduction at ARAMARK is also a huge initiative to help create a positive impact on the environment. As a property in the ARAMARK conference center collection, we’re currently taking great strides to reduce solid waste, over-production and create a smaller carbon footprint.

So, where the heck does your uneaten food go?

Currently, our food and beverage department is accumulating all your wastes daily to process in a food pulper, which are then disposed in a trash compactor and weighed. Executive Chef Craig Mason says all of this helps NCC’s food and beverage department adjust production methods and essentially do our part by not placing as much in the landfills (less sold waste and a smaller carbon footprint). In other efforts to reduce over-production, leftovers are also being tracked and weighed. ARAMARK properties from hospitals to universities are energetic about making a positive impact, such as converting solid waste into fertilizer and fuel. Read about the other ways ARAMARK is protecting the environment.

Is there a small step you suggest for people to reduce their carbon footprint? Tell us below.

2012 Food Trends & Predictions

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Amuse bouche, complimentary served bite-size “snacks” wet your palate and offer more value for the money

“Goodbye Thai food and burgers,” says Executive Chef Craig Mason of The National Conference Center. He states those crazes have come and gone. Last year, I’d say his predictions were like hitting the bull’s-eye in a game of darts. Mason’s 2011 Food Predictions included more quasi-meal places like Chipotle would appear on the map and Chefs would prepare food with less seasonings, sticking to the basics – salt, pepper and garlic. Executive Chef Craig Mason’s 2012 food predictions are a list of commodities and concepts he views as popular in the next year:

  • Farm-to-table and more of it – Mason predicts a continuation of the current farm-to-table movement. He says local will begin to make strides towards becoming “the normal,” and almost expected. He doesn’t necessarily believe organic will be the standard in consumers’ food purchasing but foresees shopping at farmers markets to grow in popularity.
  • Flavored Vinegars – “We’ll see it more in restaurants first,” Mason explains, “Weird flavored vinegars, such as pomegranate vinegars, house-made vegetables and fruit pickles will be among those to start the movement.” Watch out for the follow up in grocery stores.
  • More heirloom food – You’ll begin to see fruits and vegetables that aren’t common or have disappeared from the produce section. Among those uncommon fruits and vegetables, Mason says will be honey crisp apples. 
  • All about value! – People spending money on dining out will be looking for the best experience with their money. He states, “People want to go out and be seen. The intrinsic need to go and be seen is human nature, but people will be looking for more value for their money in terms of service experience.” One trend the Executive Chef foresees, more restaurants incorporating amuse bouche, which Mason describes as little “snacks” to wet the appetite and awaken your taste-buds. Unique, up-scale establishments typically serve these single, bite-sized hors d’oeuvres; but in 2012, you may see them in places offering more value and experience for your money.
  • Imported wines – In 2011, Mason predicted an emphasis on local wine, but in 2012 Mason says there’s going to a high demand for higher-quality, value-priced wines from places like Spain and South America. He also believes the market should anticipate a high demand for natural wines that entailed minimalistic farming, meaning the farmers spray when they have to spray, rather than spraying everyday.
  • The explosion of special diets – Mason says there’s already a confusion of preference versus dietary restrictions. In 2012, consumers will be even more caught-up in diary-free, gluten-free, soy-free, rice-free menu options as a personal preference, rather than a dietary restriction.
  •  A great whole-grain explosion - Not only will 2012 see the trend in special diets but Mason predicts diners will begin to see different grain varieties on the menu. Quinoa will be a staple on many menus, barley will begin to replace rice and whole-wheat pizza will be a new menu addition for pizza-lovers.
  • More atmosphere – The Chef who enjoys grilling outdoors, predicts (and probably has secret wishes) that new restaurants will cater to people who enjoy a fun atmosphere. Mason says, “2012 will be the year of leaving behind the stuffy restaurants and sitting outside in a fun atmosphere, a place where people can have great food in jeans.” He also says beer gardens will become more popular.
  • Small chocolate treats – Dessert-lovers will see a resurgence of chocolate in main-stream dining. Tiny desserts such as chocolate truffles on a smaller dish will become the new trend.

How will these meal trends affect your events in 2012? Would you add anything to this list; if so, what would it be?