Thousands of caterers, event planners, wedding planners and associates in the industry all gathered in Las Vegas March 13-16. Workshops were held at The Mirage and the tradeshow floor was at the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The workshops were packed with excellent content and the tradeshow was brimming with new innovations and trends. Of course, networking with other professionals in the field was integral to the success of this event.

Content of the workshops ranged from food photography to technology applications and how to use them to trends and how to apply them successfully. It doesn’t matter what your role in the industry is, there were workshops to meet your needs. When talking with the attendees their biggest complaint was there were so many good workshops it was hard to choose which ones to attend. For smaller companies that was a big challenge. A few larger companies brought several team members to the conference and each of them went to a different workshop and they shared information. As a journalist I had difficulty choosing which workshops to check out because many of them covered topics of personal interest.

The tradeshow offered so much more than booths handing out literature and samples. It too was content packed with a “Tasting Bar,” a culinary competition, book signings by celebrity chefs, demos by local and national favorites and of course the ever popular giveaways. New this year was “My Favorite Things,” hosted by Emily Ellyn “Retro Rad” Chef from Orlando of Food Network fame, Jack Milan chef, entrepreneur and caterer and Sasha Souza celebrity event planner. The trio dished on their favorite products offered by the sponsors and lucky attendees were given swag to take home. All attendees were entered into a raffle and they gave away more than $15,000 in prizes from the sponsors.

The Headliner Stage showcased demos by local and national personalities. Sam Marvin of Echo & Rig, together with his head butcher, did a live butchery demo, which was loaded with tips and tricks, with handouts of their recipe for porchetta which they also demonstrated. Leticia Mitchell of locals favorite Leticia’s Mexican Cocina gave a full on presentation of catering trends in Mexican cuisine and tips with Mexican flavors. For those in the audience without deep knowledge of Mexican cuisine, this was an eye opener on how to bring those ideas to their repertoire. Simon Majumdar, globally known for his inspired Indian food, teamed up with local favorite and US Foods Executive Chef Vic Vegas to demonstrate Indian style street food and southern comfort food and how to incorporate those flavors into events. And finally, Too Hot Tamales and owners of Border Grill, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, gave a fun filled demonstration on catering events large and small with their signature style and flair. They also talked about how they continue to use their food truck for catering events because it does double duty at a venue, offering cooking space and logo identification.

In addition to all the star power that was present at the convention, the trends displayed on the tradeshow floor and talked about during workshops were stunning. My favorite trend was “Going Green.” Displayed throughout the tradeshow floor were palm leaves, bamboo and other composite materials that are compostable, used as elegant serving pieces. There were plastic cups made from post-consumer recycled materials, some of which were recyclable and others that were compostable. This was a trend throughout the show, including workshops where waste reduction was mentioned. It’s not only a priority for the environment, but in some cases a requirement at certain venues and can reduce clean up and pack out time too. Top of the food chain, so to speak, was Edibles by Jack featuring edible Asian style spoons to serve bite sized hors d’oeuvres. Because they are edible, there is no waste at all!

Another hit topic was new applications and software to assist in event planning like All Seated. Collaborative and free, All Seated assists event planners by creating 3D representations of venues with users’ data input so they can make real world seating charts, guests lists and timelines for each event. Users upload blueprints, architecture info and stats and All Seated creates the floor plan digitally so the user can see all of the columns, pillars, entries and exits to manage guest and server flow. For event managers and planners that do offsite events, this is a time saver and brilliant addition to their arsenal of tools.

If you are in the catering or event managing arena, Catersource is a must attend event. Next year’s conference will be in New Orleans.