News briefs from the Christchurch Convention Centre, Christchurch Town Hall and Westpac Centre for Sport & Entertainment


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        Town Hall builder celebrates his 100th birthday at the venue

        Christchurch Arts Festival demands fast turn around at venues

        Big trade shows attract big crowds

        Executive Chef Andy Gibb on feeding New Zealand's largest business meeting - TRENZ!

        Fresh and fabulous food all year round



1. CHRISTCHURCH TOWN HALL: Town Hall builder celebrates a century at the venue


Chas Luney celebrated his 100th birthday with a party in the Limes Room at the Christchurch Town Hall, the landmark building his construction company (Chas S. Luney Ltd) completed building in 1972. He has always said the Town Hall was the most significant project his company was involved in, event though it wasn't the biggest. "You only get the opportunity to build one town hall in your city." The dramatic oval main auditorium has soaring ceilings, and seats 2584 people.


2. CHRISTCHURCH TOWN HALL: Christchurch Arts Festival demands fast turn around at venues in a performance-packed July


The 6th biennial Christchurch Arts Festival, Applaud 2005, has had venue staff very busy with new acts coming onstage night after night. In one sequence, the Auditorium was set up for the very popular Soweto Gospel Choir, and then prepared for singer Isla Grant the next night, The Finn Brothers the following night and Fat Freddy's Drop the next night. In the James Hay Canterbury Opera had a very successful season with TOSCA, with a tribute evening to Marlene Dietrich between performances as well as the Cuban Omar Sosa Quintet, followed by the Chamber Music New Zealand presenting Dean-Emmerson-Dean on 29 July. And just for good measure the venue also hosted Dorothy the Dinosaur's Dance Party for pre-schoolers, Works of Shakespeare, John Butler Trio, Christchurch Symphony and the Christchurch City Choir's concert of Carmina Burana.


3. WESTPAC CENTRE: Big trade shows attract big crowds


Three major trade expos were held at the venue in July. First was the Christchurch Boat Show (1-3 July) - now the South Island's major boating trade event. Then the Christchurch Star Home Show attracted more than 17,330 people to see the latest in home trends. The South Island Gift Fair (24-26) increases its attendance each year and enjoys the benefits of extra space and car parking at the venue.



4. WESTPAC CENTRE: Spotless Services(NZ) Ltd Executive Chef Andy Gibb on feeding NZ's largest business meeting!


With 1700 attendees the three-day TRENZ 2005 at the Westpac Centre last month was New Zealand largest business meeting. Catering for the occasion was a huge logistical effort for Executive Chef Andy Gibb and his team. They provided morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea daily for the conference goers as well as catering for a cocktail party for 600 at the Christchurch Convention Centre.


Food, glasses and cutlery for the daily catering all had to be transported to the arena. Food was prepped at the Convention Centre and finished off in the large kitchen at the arena and in the kitchens at the adjacant Addington Raceway.


It was a perfect opportunity for Canterbury chefs to show off their province and their skills. "With the best of New Zealand and Canterbury tourism on display, we matched it with the food," says Andy proudly.


For the first day he designed a menu to highlight succulent Canterbury produce; Barry's Bay cheese, Athena Olive Oil, Akaroa Salmon, Canterbury lamb, corn-fed chicken and walnuts.


The second day had a rugby/country theme. Pumpkin shells filled with cheese straws and cos salads served in terracotta pots set the scene for hearty dishes like pumpkin and kumara soup, lamb shanks and galantines of chicken. Another famous Canterbury pastime - racing - was the theme for the final day, when convention goers were enticed by tasting platters of local delicacies and traditional Kiwi buffets laden with platters of cold meats and salads.


"We were quite adventurous at the cocktail party. We served leek puree and risotto in tiny glasses with parmesan shavings - it was a lot of fun."


Designing innovative dishes with striking presentation allows the chef to have a more personal input into the success of a convention, too. "By offering something different, you can help start a conversation," says Andy, who frequently likens the role of executive chef to that of an artist or a conductor.

With TRENZ followed closely by the Rotary Ball and first Lions-All Blacks test at Jade Stadium with which Andy and his Spotless services team were involved, June 2005 was the busiest month in Andy's busy career. "After TRENZ I felt as though I'd already worked for a month, but it was lots of fun and it all went smoothly - in fact, we were all quite proud that the whole thing went so well."


5. CHRISTCHURCH CONVENTION CENTRE: Fresh and fabulous food all year round


Designing menus for three course dinners for up to 1,000 doesn't mean that the food is not taste tempting, eye-pleasing, trendy and of a high culinary standard.


In fact, far from it. As Spotless Services Executive Chef responsible for all catering at the Christchurch Convention Centre, Westpac Centre and the Christchurch Town Hall, Andy Gibb's job may seem far removed from the elite establishments of trend leading celebrity chefs such as John Burton Race, Stephanie Alexander, Rick Stein, and Thomas Keller. But it is these chefs, along with New Zealanders Peter Gordon and Ruth Pretty, who inspire Andy to create fresh fabulous food that does New Zealand proud and have helped define his philosophy on food.


"John Burton Race has bought food out from behind the scenes, highlighting the basics of food and where it comes from. Rick Stein specialises in plain and rustic. Stephanie Alexander has highlighted the need for good butchers' lines. She and Ruth Pretty are in the same mould - they know about the basics of food from what their grandmothers taught them."


Like these culinary gurus, Andy is fervent about fresh, local, in-season produce. He knows about it first hand, too - his culinary CV includes a short stint as a greengrocer! He believes we are uniquely lucky in that our Kiwi produce is the very best in the world. "But it has to be seasonal," he declares. "We need to use our lamb at its sweetest, and our salmon at its peak. Our tomatoes are full of flavour as they have time to ripen slowly in the best conditions and it's the same with our other fruit and vegetables. If a client insists on having a garnish of asparagus when it is out of season, I will use frozen."- but it is clearly something of which he does not approve!


Andy is very much in favour of the industry trend towards Mediterranean flavours. "It makes sense as New Zealand has much the same latitude as Europe and can grow the same produce, although we get hammered by the weather," he reasons. "I'm moving away from the Asian influence but still taking from the Pacific Rim and making the most of what's available around us. Classical food is also making a comeback, but in a modern style. For example Beef Wellington will be now being presented with latticed tops, Portobello's rather than duxelles, and proscuitto rather than bacon. We are doing with food what Picasso did to art - looking outside the square."


Andy is already introducing his approach and creativity to the extensive menus. Just because he's serving several hundreds at a sitting don't means he can't experiment! Among his new seasonal dishes is a highly successful combination of rhubarb and grapefruit with smoked salmon. "It acts as a palate cleanser and is surprisingly good." Citrus with chicken is another Mediterranean flavour he is currently keen on. He and his team discuss ideas for menus. For a recent ball with a Fifth Avenue theme, they devised a selection of dishes to reflect the many different ethnicities that make up New York City - Italian, North American, Middle Eastern, Moroccan and more.


Part of the secret in large scale catering is improvisation. For plating up a sit- down dinner, Andy uses about five or six components, with a chef to serve each one. He redesigns traditional dishes so they can be cooked and served easily.


"Sometimes we deconstruct them, take the basic components and flavours and present them differently. A recent example using a North American theme was adding pumpkin to New York cheesecake and serving it with nutmeg cream anglaise. "You can do that with all sorts of cuisines - French, English, American, and South American. There are lots of stuff out there and lots of combinations."


With Andy in control, diners at Christchurch conventions will be in for some mouth-watering, taste-titillating treats.