‘As a restaurateur, I want to make people happy – with catering that’s as special as the location.’ A year and a half ago, catering pro Volker Koppenhagen became Head Chef at Dr. Thompson’s Seifenfabrik with this idea in mind. The event location with industrial charm on the outskirts of Düsseldorf offers large event spaces, including a winter garden and an outdoor area. The former soap powder factory specialises in parties and events for up to 700 people. For these occasions, a hospitality team of up to 30 permanent employees are on hand to provide culinary support throughout the event.
Catering as an all-round concept
‘Really successful catering is part of an overall concept that should stick in guests’ memories,’ explains Koppenhagen. The atmosphere is crucial too – from lighting and music to decoration. ‘When guests come to us and find a huge, flickering fireplace that contrasts with the chilly darkness outside, this helps enormously with the overall concept,’ he says.
‘When choosing our ingredients, we make sure that the flavours evoke memories and are representative of the season.’ The winter menu, for example, includes a smooth roasted chestnut soup and a vegan Savoy cabbage and vegetable roulade with a white mulled wine sauce, glazed red cabbage and herbed potatoes. And does the food taste good and fit with the concept? ‘We get to see that directly at events,’ says the caterer and adds: ‘And that’s the best part.’
Varied and individual
For events off the premises, the Seifenfabrik works with a partner to provide food trucks. These invite you on a world tour – from Japanese to Italian cuisine and from regional meat specialities to fusion cooking. The trick is to provide variety and avoid long queues, so each truck has its own offering. The team spices up classic catering fare like burgers or curried sausage with exotic ingredients like wagyu beef or buffalo mozzarella.
Koppenhagen has observed that guests’ individual wishes are becoming ever more important. Two of the most unusual requests of his catering career were huge challenges for him: ‘One guest wanted a five-course, five-star meal deep in the forest – and another in a field in deepest Bavaria. The more difficult the request, the more fun it is ultimately to implement it.’
Half-cooking for freshness
‘With buffets there’s always the problem that at the start of the evening everything looks great but by the end it’s no longer looking so fresh,’ says Koppenhagen. ‘We counteract this with half-cooking,’ he explains. Half-cooking means that the last step in preparation and serving is done live in front of the guests. For example, premium duck burgers are freshly grilled before being plated up with homemade buns, red cabbage, sauces and sides.
With several live-cooking stations, the queue for the buffet is history, and fresh preparation also helps to better manage food consumption. ‘For example, when we cook pasta directly at an event and don’t need the previously calculated quantity, the rest can stay in the chiller so we don’t throw away unnecessary amounts,’ explains Koppenhagen.
Where is this heading?
Ever more frequently, Koppenhagen receives requests from guests who are consciously choosing resource-saving and sustainable hospitality. Suitable catering provision combines sustainably produced ingredients and appropriate preparation techniques, but decorations and waste management must also fit with the concept.
‘We focus on fresh ingredients and high quality. Suppliers are selected by us personally and are constantly checked,’ says Koppenhagen. He maintains this basic principle, although like all restaurateurs, he is struggling with challenges like rising energy prices and staff shortages. ‘Budgets are getting smaller and smaller, and many people are beginning to skimp on quality. But that’s the wrong way to go,’ warns Koppenhagen. He’s convinced that finesse can also be cost-effective. For the Seifenfabrik, he works meticulously on new recipes and his own convenience solutions. Everything that can be prepared for live cooking is pre-cooked and stored, for example sauces and marinades. ‘It’s important to re-assess yourself regularly and motivate yourself to improve all the time. There’s no standing still.’