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Case Study in Building A Community: [a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals]

Event: Cowell Culinary Chaos
Objective: To celebrate internal award winners and promote a culture of community
Result: Multi-award winning event with record level guest interaction and attendance


Over the past few years, hotels hosting the Annual Staff Awards Gala for this client had offered up one culinary disappointment after another.  Whether it was running out of food, allowing it to go cold, suspicion of mild food poisoning, or menus that were just plain boring, our client was facing the tough crowd of her annually disappointed colleagues who love to eat, and lots!

So, to win back the faith of this audience, this Gala had to be all about food and building a community feeling.  Great food!  Interesting food!  Fun food!  Loads of food!  We were in need of a Culinary Innovation!

This was a tall order that required innovating the way food was incorporated into a corporate event all the time building a community with values. Our guests couldn’t just eat it.  They would have to create it.  Play with it.  Live it!

Cowell Culinary Chaos was the answer. An inclusive, fully interactive cooking competition, inspired by Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen that needed to involve 350 guests all at the same time!

Deciphering the Recipe

Three teams competed from Registration, through the Cocktail Reception, and into the Finale and evening activities.  They had to complete food prep recipes by filling in the blanks with words they received at Registration.   Each team had a different recipe with its own set of words, but they included both real and decoy items, so they even had to work together to sort out which words to even use! 

Shopping for Ingredients

Then, team members sourced missing ingredients or tools from The Pantry, shelves located around the room, filled with all of those real and decoy items.  Each team’s Chef – their boss! – began prepping.  But, teams had only the 90 minute Cocktail Reception to prep their recipe, so if someone arrived too late and had received a key ingredient word card at Registration, like “chicken stock” for a soup recipe, too bad!  Stir-fry it is!

Time for Cooking

After dinner and Awards, the 30 minute cooking phase of the competition began.  So, the recipes now had a new section with more missing items!  Guests could be heard proclaiming, “This must be what the centrepieces are for!”  We had tastefully designed arrangements containing the last few ingredients and tools.  Things like salt, watercress, chicken stock, even the tableware the entrée was to be plated on!

Judging the Masterpiece

Then came the tasting and critiquing of whatever the Chefs managed to put together!  One Chef, whose team was sabotaged repeatedly when opposing members hid their equipment, stole their words, and ‘used’ the wrong ingredient by accident, presented the prop fished that had been displayed as an ingredient on The Pantry shelves!

And it’s a Winner!

In the end, the winner of the cooking competition wasn’t the only victor.  Cowell Culinary Chaos won back the faith of the guests in catered corporate events and the hotel realized that a collaboration with an experienced event planner can produce a ground-breaking calibre event. Vancouver witnessed a culinary innovation engineered out of creativity and the need for something new!


A hallmark of our event services is identifying our clients’ major objectives, and keeping these present through every step. For Cowell Culinary Chaos, the goal was to right a wrong – this crowd’s expectation of high-quality food had been crushed after several years of negative food-related experiences. Our major objectives were:

  1. To stuff guests full of delicious food so that we received ZERO complaints
  2. To host a competitive and fun, food-related activity involving all 330 guests
  3. To recognize and celebrate internal award-winners, promoting a culture of achievement.

Our purpose was clear: we needed to Innovate the Culinary experience!

Objective One

We tripled the number of canapés we would regularly order.  280 dozen hors d’oeuvres were ordered for 320 guests!  Followed by a full buffet dinner, including desserts and hot beverages, some of which were served on a food-themed strolling table.  We also provided customized coupons for twenty-five pieces of artisanal candy for the candy bar, which was open until midnight after the cooking competition, complete with branded baggies.  Guests could choose from fourteen different candy varieties such as Chocolate Bacon Toffee, Champagne Bears, and Mint Chocolate Caviar.  In the end, only two dozen canapés, pan-scrapings, and not a single piece of candy were left over! They consumed a TON of food!

Objective Two

The volume level told us of our success.  A professional comedian Emcee entertained throughout the evening.  During the prep phase of the cooking competition, he provided running commentary, filled with lots of food jokes. But he had to shout over the guests cheering on their team mates in community.  The same was true during the cooking phase, when teams were supporting their VP Chef so they could present something for judging.  Hundreds of guests were fully engaged, their competitive natures harnessed to the max, as they went to the ends of the earth to both support their team and sabotage the others!

Objective Three

Every year, colleagues are recognized, so this was not the challenge.  In years past, this ceremony had become nearly an hour of speeches, putting everyone to sleep or sending them home early yawning.  Our challenge was to spice it up!  Not only was everyone revved up after such an innovative Cocktail Reception format.  But by designing the conclusion to occur after the Awards Ceremony, not a single guest left early.  Instead, screens on either side of the main stage allowed even guests seated all the way to the back to bear witness to the owner and CEO recognizing the achievements of her employees. 

Guests went home not only stuffed full of great food and filled with memories of being surrounded by food-themed components, but also with elegant candies, themed drawings by a caricaturist, and chef aprons and hats embroidered with the customized event brand.  The success of Cowell Culinary Chaos was most certainly do to remaining dedicated to our client’s event objectives – to innovate this company’s culinary experience and building a community culture internally.


Challenges in the event industry are normal for us. As we are always trying to stay cutting-edge, we view challenges as opportunities to break the mould and be memorable. But almost nothing is more challenging than, after spending months planning an intricate cooking competition for several hundred guests while thinking of everything, one hundred additional guests RSVP’ing two days before the event. For this event, that was a 50% increase in numbers we’d already guaranteed.

We had to rework the recipes to ensure there were enough word cards. We had to source, embroider and ship that many more gift aprons and hats. We had to redraw the floor plan to squeeze in ten more tables. We had to increase the canapés by dozens. We had to order several more pounds of artisan candy. And most importantly, all of this meant we had to ask our client for nearly 50% more money. Building a community event was a priority no matter what!

Not only did we meet all of these challenges head on, coming up with efficient and creative solutions, but our client perceived it as ‘effortless,’ a fact that we pride ourselves on to this day.

Event Documentation

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