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Recipe for Success
A gastronomic approach to teambuilding not only appeals to a cross-section of employees, it can also be used develop key business skills. Karen Doyle peruses the menu of gourmet packages on offer
Gone are the days when teambuilding conjured up images of hours spent staring at projector screens or building cars from drinking straws. Teambuilding these days is more likely to evoke images from the latest instalment of Mission: Impossible – think outward-bound expeditions, assault courses and white-water rafting. But, if death-defying acts are not your style, the universal ritual of cooking is a great way to help staff bond. And, thanks to the rise of celebrity chefs and home cooking, gastronomic glamour can be combined with the acquisition of a practical skill.
Not only does cooking require you to work together towards a common goal, but the hands-on experience is also a sure-fire way to break down barriers and develop team spirit. When the social committee at Tillinghast Software Solutions surveyed colleagues to decide on their team event, cookery and wine tasting emerged as the most popular choices. ‘Cookery and wine tasting are activities that appeal to a different mix of people,’ says Niamh Hensey, who is organising the event. ‘Unlike, say, go-karting, they appeal to different age groups and levels within the company.’
Workshops can be as leisurely or as business-focused as you require, and are about a lot more than simply baking cakes and quaffing wine. Planning menus, developing packaging and pairing food with drinks are just some of the options offered. We’ve sussed out the best gastronomic teambuilding options around – from chocolate making, bread baking and cocktail mixing to whisky tasting and even pub crawling.
The teambuilding pros at Inneventive (tel: 020 7518 2480) have come up with a number of ideas to inspire healthy competition and encourage bonding. The most popular option is based on the BBC cookery show, Ready Steady Cook, and involves two teams racing against the clock to create the most delectable dishes. Tasks can include learning how to cook specific types of cuisine or trying to make pasta from scratch. Similarly appealing suggestions include an evening hosted by a celebrity chef, a summer barbecue, a gourmet masterclass or a canapé demonstration. All involve plenty of wine to ease you through the evening, and a sit-down meal once the cooking is over.
Can Men Cook? is an entertaining teambuilding event from Fortesqueue’s (tel: 0870 901 0203), which aims to answer the age-old question posed in its title with a definite ‘yes’. Hosted by Liverpudlian chef, comedian and team development facilitator Phil Hawthorn, this all-male event takes place in the suitably masculine setting of a shooting lodge in Berkshire, where the team designs its own three-course menu, learns about the ingredients, and then produces, serves and samples its feast.
With venues all over London and the UK, The Teambuilding Company (tel: 0800 975 0728) can host events in locations ranging from stately homes and mansions to medieval castles and hotels. Each package is tailored to your individual needs, but expect to spend between £100 and £150 per person based on group of 30. Packages such as Cuisine Team, Pa Pa Pasta and Team Wok are just some of the themes offered. All activities include professional instruction, team consultations and plenty of culinary sampling.
For a more dynamic take on the cooking challenge, the Cookery Quest from Action Treasure Hunt (tel: 020 8390 8200, squaremeal.co.uk/ath) calls for teams of four or five participants to collect key ingredients from famous locations in London and compete Apprentice-style to come up with the dish of the day. Teams will then rendezvous at a final location to prepare their dishes, and the winners are determined by the quality and presentation of the dishes.
If you’re a frustrated recipe slave, head down to the Underground Cookery School (tel: 020 7426 2171), where chef patron Matt Kemp teaches participants to think like bona-fide cooks. Reassuringly, Kemp’s motto is ‘everything is salvageable’. Events can be tailored to specific requirements, so companies decide when the class begins and how long the group spends cooking, as well as selecting the most suitable menu. The state-of-the-art kitchen, located within splattering distance of Liverpool Street station, can accommodate groups of between 10 and 40.
The Gourmet Challenge (tel: 0207 514 1741) focuses on developing the traditional skills of communication, problem-solving and negotiation through cooking, so careful planning and teamwork are essential in order to succeed. Instruction comes from qualified development consultants and professional chefs, while settings are carefully chosen to suit your team (and budget), with options ranging from the functional to the fabulous.
Business Pursuits (tel: 01442 286800) offers Asian cooking evenings hosted by Maureen Sua-Neo, executive chef of Singapura Restaurant Group. The engaging and vibrant two-hour workshops are suitable for groups of between 20 and 200, and can be held in a number of venues around the UK.
The family-run Quest (tel: 01380 831388) offers a ‘Recipe for Success’ teambuilding event that allows participants to tackle common developmental issues, such as decision-making, time management and trust. Groups are divided into small teams, responsible for producing a gourmet meal. Tasks include shopping for and preparing the ingredients as well as executing and sampling the dishes.
You can use your loaf (the obvious pun was too hard to resist) at Wild Yeast Bakery (tel: 0845 458 0060), which offers a three-day bread-baking workshop specifically designed by a business trainer to develop team dynamics. Between getting to grips with the planning, baking and delivery of specialised breads to a top London restaurant, participants will be able to sit down and reflect on team strategies and review what they have learned.
Heading out of London, Coghlans School of Cookery (tel: 01246 453131) in Sheffield has designed teambuilding days that are fun, informative and good at raising staff morale and encouraging communication. A typical day will start with welcoming coffee and pastries, followed by hands-on cookery with a personal tutor, prize-giving at the end of the day and a goodie bag to take home. A full-day session is priced at £150 per person, while a half-day costs £85.
Consider combining an away weekend in the Scottish capital with a session at The Edinburgh School of Food & Wine (tel: 0131 3335001). The school’s Cook-In Teambuilding Competition gives groups of up to 30 the opportunity to get their hands dirty in the demonstration kitchen. After a presentation from an experienced chef, each team will prepare a four-course meal within a specific time period. Alternatively, take a couple of hours out and try the wonderfully named Mixing, Muddling & Shaking session. You’ll be learning the art of cocktail-mixing while munching on a delicious selection of canapés.
Just an hour from London on the train, Maverick’s Gourmet Games (tel: 01509 882324) are run in the elegant Noseley Hall in Leicestershire. Tailor-made packages might include learning to cook a particular dish or mastering the art of sushi. Teams will rival each other in preparing the best five-course meal, with expert chefs guiding the group through the menu. Packages usually cater to between four and 20 people, although larger groups can be discussed, and prices start at £100 per head.
There’s nothing like a drop of alcohol to break the ice, and the interactive events from industry leaders Taste of the Vine (tel: 01428 656 319) – think wine, whisky and beer tastings, as well as cocktail demonstrations – sure help to do just that. Each event is designed to create a fun, highly interactive environment that combines tasting, comedy, improvisation and the development of life-skills. Gourmet tastings, where you can sample fine cheeses, olives and chocolate, are also on the agenda. Taste of the Vine has venues across London and the UK, and can accommodate groups of up to 1,200. We at Square Meal are particularly taken with the City Trail Challenge, a treasure hunt that sends teams to ancient wine houses, smugglers’ tunnels and landmark locations around the City and South Bank.
Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of tasting opportunities on offer at Bankside’s wine attraction Vinopolis (tel: 0870 241 4040), which also tempts with cocktail-making, whisky tasting and beer masterclasses. The most popular event here is the Epicurean Challenge, where groups are taken on a virtual journey to the classic wine regions of the world, and given the chance to experiment with wine. To add an element of competition, participants are asked to match six mystery wines to specially prepared food.
Want to juggle bottles à la Tom Cruise in Cocktail? Poisson Rouge (tel: 020 7267 3646) offers a fun Cocktail Challenge where you’ll learn the art of free-pouring and mixing using a variety of branded spirits and unusual liqueurs. There’s also a Beer Challenge, in which participants need to think and act like a brewer in a task that calls for them to create, blend, bottle, cap, foil and label a new beer.
Create Cocktails (tel: 020 8548 4022) – popular with the likes of Kate Moss and The Darkness – is a funky mobile cocktail service offering the services of expert mixologists. As well as training bartenders at some of London’s top nightclubs, Create also arranges corporate team events.
Similarly, ‘Freshly Squeezed’ is a new teambuilding activity at the Squeeze Cocktail Academy (tel: 020 8969 6606) in Notting Hill. With a ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ attitude, guests are taught the basics of spirits and mixers as well as the skill of bottle throwing – all in just four hours.
For an action-packed event, Corney & Barrow (tel: 020 7265 2500) will organise a treasure hunt through London, with teams deciphering clues and stopping at Corney & Barrow bars for blind wine tastings. The event costs £45 per head and includes beer, wine and canapes.
Set up by wine boff Rebecca Dunphy, Sniff and Spit (tel: 01424 427702) is a professional wine-tasting company with a fresh, unstuffy approach. It offers a host of tutored sessions, such as ‘Sniff the Difference’, ‘Call My Bluff’, and ‘I Get a Kick from Champagne’, which are sure to get your team working together in a fun and competitive environment.
For a more sophisticated wine experience, cheese gurus Paxton and Whitfield (tel: 01451 823460) run bespoke workshops highlighting the perfect partnership between cheese and wine. Alternatively, brush up on Britain’s favourite smelly stuff with The Cheese School, a teambuilding option that will help you to choose cheese with confidence.
The tutored wine and whisky tasting sessions at Milroy’s of Soho (tel: 020 7437 9311) are relaxed, unpretentious affairs. A knowledgeable tutor will guide you through the extensive portfolio of whiskies and wines, and all tastings are accompanied by a buffet.
Everybody loves chocolate, and now you can combine business and pleasure with a chocolate-orientated teambuilding event. Fresh Tracks’ Chocolate Challenge (tel: 01920 822220) sets teams the task of making and packaging chocolates from raw ingredients and then filming a TV commercial. Teams are later judged according to quality, profitability and originality, and each performance is reviewed to draw out parallels with everyday office life.
Situated just a short walk from Chancery Lane, My Chocolate (tel: 020 7269 5760) is the first London-based company dedicated exclusively to hosting chocolate-making workshops. The individually designed corporate teambuilding session costs £72 per head, and begins with an introduction to the history of chocolate and a lesson in how to cut, dip and decorate different varieties (including fudge, gianduja and dark chocolate truffles). Then it’s down to business as each team receives a golden envelope with a challenge enclosed; teams are expected to develop a brand identity and marketing slogan as well as designing eye-catching packaging for their box of chocolates.
If you don’t have the time to head out for the day, Chocolate Delight (tel: 0870 770 2919), will come to you. It offers a nifty two-hour chocolate making workshop at premises across Europe, and will set up everything you need beforehand. After a brief talk from a chocolatier, groups will be guided through the task of creating and packaging delicious hand-made Belgian truffles.
On arrival at the Underground Cookery School – so called because it is housed in the basement of an old church – we were greeted with Champagne and canapés, which immediately set a relaxed tone for the evening. Our group consisted of about 40 new team members from across Europe, but the friendly chef/patron Matt Kemp got everyone chatting right from the start.
After a briefing on the evening’s programme, we were split into groups of six and set about working in the spacious, fully equipped kitchen. A relaxed and informal atmosphere prevailed as teams rotated around the different ‘prep stations’, ensuring everyone was involved in all aspects of creating our gourmet meal. Starters were roast onion and goat’s cheese tartlets, the main course breast of chicken, baby new potatoes and garlic broccoli, and for dessert a yummy chocolate torte. When we were finished, staff set up the dining area as we enjoyed a few more drinks, and then we were allowed to sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labour. I think teambuilding through cooking is a great idea as it is highly interactive and you get to know your fellow workers much faster than if you simply went out for dinner.
Underground Cookery School, tel: 020 7126 2171
Teambuilding usually works best in small groups, but, by arranging venues banquet-style and splitting large parties into tables of eight, Taste of the Vine manages to take the concept further, adding a teambuilding element to wine-tasting events for groups as large as 1,200. We joined a ‘No Taste Like Home’ challenge for 250 and were pleasantly surprised at how well the format suited a group of that size.
The event, which in usual Taste of the Vine style is as much about putting on a show as a tasting, puts English sparkling wines up against famous Champagne brands in a hilarious interactive experience that sees the company’s wine experts turn comedians as they introduce the blind-tasting concept in a light-hearted yet informative way. Members of each team must then pull together, sharing their recently acquired knowledge as well as their tasting notes, in order to score points for their table in a blind tasting challenge and wine quiz.
Telling your Dom Pérignon from West Sussex’s best sparklers may seem like a straightforward task but our table certainly enjoyed some lively discussion – and the buzz built up steadily through the night. By the end of the tie-breaker quiz, people were standing on their chairs and waving table numbers high above their heads for a chance to secure the last few precious points. Our table won, by the way.
Taste of the Vine, tel: 01428 656319
Part masterclass, part nursery-school art class, the Cocktail Heaven evening run by Create Cocktails combines messiness and fun with the acquisition of a bona fide skill. I already knew my fellow trainee mixologists, albeit in a work context, so the evening at a central London bar started with pleasantries over a cocktail before the mixing began. Once we’d been introduced to mixology maestro and owner Charlie Homberger – these guys and girls are all top professionals – we were divided into teams and taken step-by-step through the first recipe, a raspberry mojito. How hard can it be, I thought? Well, harder than a fairly dazzling demonstration made it look. Our team of three squeezed, stirred and muddled its way through to the end result: three raspberry mojitos that tasted almost like the real thing.
Fortified by the consumption of said mojito – purely to test the consistency, of course – our attention turned to a Lemongrass Martini and, finally, a Strawberry Shortcake shot (note to self: adding the cream before the alcohol results in curdled mess). We had been furnished with the basic skills required to turn out a good selection of drinks, so the final task was to create our own cocktail. After some deliberation as to the content of this concoction, we decided on a formula; as it happened, not a winning one – sadly, the first prize, cocktail-making set, went to another team – but it was a pretty good effort nonetheless.
The guidelines stipulate that ‘the winning team will have shown exceptional skills and an ability to work as a cohesive team unit’, a phrase that suggests a level of decorum not entirely in evidence on the night. All in all, though, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a great way to socialise with people I’d usually see only in the office or the pub. I departed sticky-handed and a touch fuzzy-headed but armed with the recipe for a damn good mojito.
Create Cocktails, tel: 020 8548 4022
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Summer 2007