From the Waste Management Phoenix Open to your most special events, M Culinary Concepts is the company to call for thoughtful, sustainable, fun food. We chat with Partner and Director of BizDev, Michael Stavros, about what makes M Culinary Concepts the premier food and beverage experience in the state.
PHOENIX magazine: How long have you been working at M Culinary Concepts and how did you get started with the company?
Michael Stavros: I joined M Culinary as Director of Sales of our M Catering division in January 2010, after many years with Aramark Sports & Entertainment and a boutique caterer before that. I had no intention to have a career in hospitality, but I couldn’t be happier that I’ve had just that. I found my home, my people, at M Culinary Concepts and in this crazy-awesome industry.
PM: What do you think makes M Culinary Concepts “the F+B experience” here in Arizona?
MS: The hospitality industry by nature is experiential. Over the last several years, though, food and beverage have found their way to the top of people’s list of experiential moments. Dining has become a truly multisensory experience. As the old expression goes, we eat first
with our eyes – presentation is everything. And it certainly doesn’t stop there. A dining experience must include tempting aromas – sense of smell is so deeply connected with our memory and enjoyment. Engaging sounds offer almost musical notes – the “clink” of a single large ice cube in small batch bourbon cocktail. Rich textures and flavors, sometimes layered and complex, other times refined and uncomplicated, are perfect to the touch. The interaction with those serving us connects us in the moment, ideally when needed but never intrusively.
At M Culinary, our chefs deftly curate menus featuring local and seasonal ingredients. Our liquid architects design signature cocktails and mocktails, pair wines and celebrate craft beers. Our knowledgeable staff provides attentive service, anticipating requests before they’re even uttered. From the simple to the sublime, the intimate to the elaborate, M Culinary offers moments to savor because we ARE the F+B Experience.
PM: M Culinary Concepts isn’t just a catering company. What else do you guys offer?
MS: What started in 1997 as a single fine dining restaurant, Michael’s at the Citadel, has grown – evolved really – first into a catering company, and today into a hospitality service provider. We are at our heart a catering company, serving clients and their guests at private events, weddings, charity galas and spectator events of all sizes and scopes with M Catering (worth noting that we got the Phoenix Open opportunity because of the restaurant). For more relaxed in-home celebrations and corporate events, we created Main Course Catering, a buffet-only option with the same commitment to service as M Catering. With our acquisition of Nibblers Catering, we added corporate delivery and drop-off services – on time, on your table, on budget.
Years ago we had only the restaurant and original catering company, both of which were seasonal businesses. The summer months were tough to say the least – we needed to find ways to stay busy. We needed to find ways to keep our best team members working with us. Through a restaurant connection, we partnered up with a company feeding wild-land fire fighters around the western United States. We eventually won our own contract. Today we have multiple complete, state-of-the-art mobile kitchen units ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, each capable of feeding up to 3,000 fire personnel per day. Suddenly our summers are not the challenge they used to be.
Through another restaurant connection (are you sensing a trend here?), we found ourselves tasked with running the cafeteria at Brophy College Prep. That same year, our client at DHL asked us to do the same at their Scottsdale facility. All of a sudden, we were in the business of feeding employees at their workplaces. Today we offer academic, corporate, manufacturing and tech clients a range of business dining services. We manage on-site cafeterias, vending, open markets, coffee services and pantry services. We also developed a service delivering and serving hot & cold meals, sandwiches, salads, sides and snacks, all prepared fresh daily in our commissary.
With all the knowledge and experience we’ve gained over the years, we decided to launch a consulting arm of our business, M Culinary Associates. We work with a variety of clients including local restauranteurs, regional convenience store chains, and national hotel brands. We design comprehensive F+B programs and provide hospitality solutions for them, all with the goal of enhancing the customer experience while improving the bottom line. We’ve even modified that model already. Today we are partnering with festival producers and event promoters to develop new F+B opportunities and service styles at large-scale events here in Arizona and throughout the country. I guess we just can’t help ourselves – we love what we do so much, we just keep finding or creating new ways to do it!
PM: How does M Culinary Concepts maintain a high standard when your capacity ranges from dinner for 2 to dinner for 200,000?
MS: We at M Culinary Concepts are guided by three core values: inspire PASSION, INTEGRITY always, and make huge FUN! We share them with our team members from day one, and we celebrate them every chance we get in all areas of our company. Our “food comes first” philosophy drives us to use the highest quality ingredients – locally sourced when possible – in our seasonally inspired menus. Our unwavering commitment to produce experiences that surpass expectations (it’s in our mission statement!) motivates us to deliver indulgently personal service. We delight in getting just as many compliments for our service as we do for our food, no matter the size or scope of the event or dining service we are providing.
In all that we do, though, we want more than anything to have FUN. We know that if we are having fun, then attendees are having fun. It’s been interesting watching and being a part of
our culinary evolution. We started out as “fine dining” – don’t get me wrong, we still very much love it and do an exceptional job of it. Today, though, our clients and their guests want to enjoy their dining experience, often by interacting with our food and our team. As a result, our chefs have reached new levels of excitement for their craft. They have “jam sessions” with each other as well as our Event Producers, café managers, and beverage specialists. No idea is too crazy – we just ask ourselves, “Can we make this work? Can we make it taste amazing? Can we make it an experience?” If the answers to all three are, “hell yes!” then we create our next great thing. This season, we are in love with our “Cheese on Draught.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. You grab a plate of nacho chips, walk up to what looks like a beer tap, pull the handle, and out pours warm beer-infused cheese sauce! Throw in a toppings bar and you’ve got your next favorite experiential food moment. And we’re having fun!
PM: M Culinary Concepts has been the food and beverage provider for the Waste Management Phoenix Open for 20 years. How have you seen this event grow and how has M Culinary been a part of raising the dining standards for this festival-like event?
MS: Our first Phoenix Open was in 2000, when we catered a single corporate tent for that year’s title sponsor. We served about 6,000 attendees over five days in one area. At this year’s tournament, we served about 220,000 attendees over six days in just about every hospitality area on course. Every year we work with the Thunderbirds as they develop improved or new hospitality environments in their quest to raise more money for the many charities they support. We happily accept their challenge of raising the bar for cuisine at a spectator event.
We’ve moved way beyond standard “festival fare,” offering globally inspired fare at buffets and chef-action stations alike. This year in various areas around the course, we served freshly baked artisan pizzas, hand-pressed panini sandwiches, carved duck, build-your-own taco & burrito bars, and one of my personal favorites…six different kinds of dim sum! We even deliver “suite boxes” to the Sky Boxes, each filled with gastropub favorites like pretzel bites & mustards, chicken wings & dips, and deluxe charcuterie boards. And of course we offer vegan and gluten-free items in all areas. For this year’s tournament, we produced over 200 tons of food – that’s 400,000 pounds!
Beyond providing delectable food, we are proud to do our part for Waste Management’s “Zero Waste Initiative,” raising the environmental standards for one of the most highly attended spectator events in North America. The title sponsor since 2010, Waste Management is determined to make the WM Phoenix Open the “greenest show on grass.” For our part, we use only 100% compostable service ware including plates, utensils, napkins and cups. Even our suite boxes are compostable! Straws are gradually disappearing from the course.
Our Zero Waste efforts continued even after the tournament ends. Thanks to our Culinary Team’s tireless efforts to streamline our food prep, we ended up with only 19,000 pounds of leftover food, or less than 5% of all food produced. (by the way – any restaurant serving just 2,000 people in a week would be thrilled with that, never mind a catering company serving 220,000!) As we do every year, we partnered with Waste Not, a local nonprofit, to “rescue” the leftover food from the course and our commissary. Their team distributed it to shelters, facilities and organizations throughout the Valley. That 19,000 pounds of rescued food fed upwards of 25,000 people in need. The Zero Waste Initiative has aligned beautifully with our culture, because at M Culinary Concepts, we envision a community nourished by selfless difference-makers.
To learn more about M Culinary Concepts and the array of gourmet food and beverage services they offer, visit www.mculinary.com