A gourmet writer’s guide to business networking, part 3

A gourmet writer's guide to business networking, part 3

Chicken dishes: safe but so boring

By now you’ve probably seen the two earlier articles in this series about my gastronomic experiences at business breakfasts and buffets. This week I get my teeth into (geddit?) the sit-down lunches and dinners many of us have to endure…bon appétit.

Sit-down lunches and dinners

Chicken, rubber. Oh, such a favorite! And such a badly reproduced favorite! The great thing about chicken, though, is that a) it’s cheap and b) it doesn’t offend too many people. And it doesn’t matter what exotic name the caterers give the chicken dish on the menu, it’s still rubber chicken whether it’s dressed in an exotic-sounding sauce from deepest Cambodia or cheap red wine.

Christmas (and Thanksgiving) turkey. Now this one really does sort out the men from the boys, or of course the women from the girls. How many business Christmas/Thanksgiving lunches or dinner do you go to where the turkey and trimmings are even remotely like the tasty jobs that Mom or whoever in your family makes? OK, when you’re talking a group of maybe 20 or 40 or more, to provide food of a high standard is something of a challenge. In the UK, we don’t do Thanksgiving, unfortunately. But we do a lot for Christmas. And in the main the turkey makes corrugated cardboard seem appetizing, the vegetables look like an Irish bog in January and it’s all you can do to cheer to whole terrible mess up by smothering it in instant gravy.

Jerky turkey. No, I’m not joking. Some years ago I went to a women entrepreneur’s Christmas lunch at a local Jamaican restaurant and the main dish consisted of a few bits of turkey gristle floating in an oily, rust-colored sauce and tasted like Piri-Piri flavored sewage. Later I learned that whoever the chef was should have been sterilized at birth because proper Jamaican food is delicious.

Prawns / shrimps. How these are named depends on where you live, but even just the vapor from the hot grilled variety (vapor contains allergens) makes me embarrass myself and others. At a conference one time I was sitting at the back of the meeting room adjacent to where the luncheon was due to be served and when staff brought in steaming hot grilled prawns (shrimps to you North Americans) I got one whiff and started feeling faint. I dodged out of the meeting and locked myself in the ladies’ room until the damned things had had time to cool down. Lots of people have shellfish allergies and lots more don’t eat it for religious/cultural reasons. Why, then is it so popular with caterers?

Salmon. Popular for business lunches and dinners these days because the farmed variety has become affordable but many people still think it’s a luxury treat. Trouble with salmon is that unless it is cooked just right it’s either as edible as a small pink brick, or if undercooked is still heaving with potentially lethal bacteria. Much as I love it, I avoid it at business meals for that reason, especially as anything fished out of the ocean or lakes can be particularly upsetting to sensitive guts.

Savory pies. The Brits love savory pies: roughly chopped meat (usually pork) with herbs and sometimes vegetables enclosed in a cold, hard pastry that makes pre-mixed concrete look fluffy. You then eat it with some tasty pickle and what the Brits call “salad” – normally a couple of dressing-free lettuce leaves, a few slices or tomato and cucumber, and nowadays a politically correct sprig of parsley. I have yet to see such savory pies in North America (apart from the delicious Québecois tourtière) and if I do, will seriously consider relinquishing my Canadian citizenship. Yuk.

Vegetarian dishes. Vegetarians continually complain about the lip service they are paid at business luncheons and dinners because the dishes concerned are usually bad culinary clichés. However in recent times I have noticed that these menus sometime contain something a bit more interesting than a Quiche Lorraine or a mushroom risotto. In fact these days I often choose the vegetarian option despite not being a veggie, purely because – especially at lunchtime – it tends to be lighter and more appetizing than the other options.

Yorkshire pudding. Here in the UK – especially if you come from northern England – Yorkshire puddings are not just popular, they are intrinsic to the entire gastronomic culture everywhere from Birmingham north to the Scottish border. When you’re a southerner, as I am (albeit an honorary one as I am a sneaky Canadian) a Yorkshire pudding is a savory pastry the size of a baseball with a hollow in it for gravy, and is used as an accompaniment usually to traditional English roast beef. Further up the country, though, larger versions rather like hollow pizza bases are served to hold not only gravy, but also meat and vegetables so making a complete meal. It’s a bit like eating dinner out of your shoe. Smaller versions are often served at business banquets and are usually soggy and flaccid.

What experiences have you had with the culinary elements of business lunches and dinners? Please share…

photo credit: estherase via photopin cc




  1. Like you I often select the vegetarian option as it’s usually tastier than the other options and a better choice than over-cooked, tough, bland meat offerings. As for the Christmas menu with turkey and all the trimmings – that’s got to be one of the worst options. I pity those who are subjected to endless Christmas menus this party season. Pre-prepared, reheated dishes served at room temperature given the distance from kitchen to table and the numbers being catered for in surroundings not usually used for dining. Ah, I’ve had a few!

    • Sorry to see you’ve had some bad experiences, as I have, Clare! But as you say, vegetarian options often are better and tend not to be so “mass-produced” as the mainstream dishes, so they’re fresher and tastier.