Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) Acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Narrm, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present, and to Elders of all First Nations communities that visit MCEC.


25 Years of Wining and Dining

MCEC Executive Chef, Peter Haycroft joins us to talk about the trends that’ve shaped business event menus over the past 25 years and gazes into his crystal ball with some future predictions.

Conference food has come a very long way from ‘chicken or fish’ options, and the omnipresent buffet table of years gone by. We know good food and wine is one of the most important components of an unforgettable event. At MCEC, we proudly design, create and deliver an extraordinary culinary experience for every guest, every time. From herbs grown in our very own courtyard through to produce sourced from local suppliers, our dishes hero only the freshest and best produce Victoria has to offer.” - Peter Haycroft, Executive Chef, MCEC


Q: What were popular menu items?

A: Common nineties entrées included items such as bruschetta, antipasto platters, crab cakes, fried calamari, conference classics included assorted finger sandwiches, filled focaccias and Caesar salad and let’s not forget molten chocolate cake for dessert!

Q: What were we cooking with?

A: In nineties kitchens you’d be sure to find mesclun lettuce, Portobello mushrooms, mascarpone cheese, Dutch carrots and the ubiquitous sun-dried tomato.

Q: What were you reading?

A: The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver and Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Companion.

Q: Event catering trends?

A: A modern Australian style was emerging. Gastro-pubs were becoming more common and everything was stacked ‘tian’ style. Plates were liberally sprinkled with herbs and sweets dusted with sugar, presenting a challenge for waiters to carry plates without leaving a fingermark.


Q: What were popular menu items?

A: In the early noughties foams were huge, sous vide was another popular technique on show. Basil pesto was prolific, so was hummus. Popular finger food items included tapas, mini pies and sushi. For mains there was pepper crusted tuna and confit duck. For dessert it’s hard to forget the cupcake craze and frozen yoghurt was another common menu item.

Q: What were we cooking with?

A: You’d often find produce such as beetroot, blood orange, beef cheeks, witlof, cauliflower, quinoa and EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) drizzled on everything.

Q: What were you reading?

A: Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain and Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.

Q: Event catering trends?

A: Spanish Chef Ferran Adrià brought the ‘molecular gastronomy’ trend into the mainstream with his acclaimed el Bulli restaurant. Colourful oils and sauces were drizzled around the plate as a feature. People were becoming more engaged with eating sustainably and issues such as seafood sustainability started coming to the forefront.


Q: What were popular menu items?

A: Popular items from the last decade included ‘dude food’ such as ramen, sliders and mac and cheese. Conversely healthier options also continued to grow in popularity and dishes such as poke bowls and acai bowls emerged. All day breakfast was huge and it would be remiss not to mention smashed avocado on toast. Macarons replaced cupcakes and filled donuts were available in every kind of flavour.

Q: What were we cooking with?

A: Vegetables became the hero, cauliflower replaced every carb imaginable and kale was everywhere. There was a growing interest in fermented food, such as kimchi. Matcha flavoured desserts became mainstream.

Q: What were you reading?

A: The Noma Guide to Fermentation by Rene Redzepi and Origin by Ben Shewry.

Q: Event catering trends?

A: The origins of food became a big factor, people grew more interested in where their food was coming from and eating seasonally and sustainably. This also birthed movements such as locavore, bean to bar and an increased interest in plant based options. On the other end of the spectrum, BBQ was huge and smoke and flame featured heavily in menus. Food was no longer just about taste, how it looks on the plate become just as - if not more - important as we saw the rise of ‘insta-worthy’ food.

Looking to the future

What do the next 10 years hold?

I think more and more customers are focusing on sustainability across all touchpoints. People don’t only want to eat ethically and locally, they want to ensure every element of the dining experience is sustainable, this includes ditching single use plastics and offering alternate packaging options.

There’s a growing interest in urban farming, the opening of Melbourne SkyFarm is a great example of this. In the coming years hopefully you’ll see more and more of our menu items coming from just across the river!

You heard it here first.

What will we see on menus this decade?

I’m tipping on-trend menu items and ingredients will include corn, basil, tacos, citrus, vanilla, lamb, squash, radishes, scallops, sushi, cucumber and toast and vegetable purees.

Hungry for more?

Learn more about our food philosophy, meet our suppliers and check out our menus .