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.

Plant Based Event Menu Design at MCEC

Plant-Based Event Menu Design at MCEC

By Deni Kirkova|

The plant-powered revolution is upon us. At least, it is here in Australia with rising demand for plant-based food and a high number of vegans per capita. That’s part of why here at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), we’re jumping on the bandwagon. Plus, our creative culinary team love to develop food for the future; event menu designs authentic to our food philosophy and food trends alike.

According to MCEC’s own 2022 report, Australia and Britain have the most vegans – with 42% of Aussies either reducing the meat in their diets or cutting it out completely. And researchers at Finder found that one in four Aussies will try a new diet this year, so those numbers could certainly increase.

But that doesn’t mean MCEC is going vegan. Rather, we pay attention to what our customers want and develop event food and menus accordingly. We’ve moved beyond offering the token vegetarian dish. With more people going veg, our customers are choosing items that everyone can eat, ensuring no one feels left out. But they have to taste amazing. For 2022 and beyond, MCEC has increased plant-based options across the board and made them truly gourmet.

Event Food: Menu Planning

Our new menus feature vegan and vegetarian dishes made from fresh, local ingredients: food as an experience, channeling Melbourne's distinct culture and character. Executive Chef Peter Haycroft said of the event menu development: “A focus on vegetarian, vegan and gluten friendly options has been really important… Plant-based and vegetable dishes are becoming mainstream. There are a lot more people requesting them.”

Cocktail menu highlights include the divine new canape Green Mango, Tofu, Edamame, and Sambal Rice Paper Roll with Nam Prik (yum!). Meanwhile, the vegan Koo Wee Rup Asparagus with Coconut Labneh and Puff Grains entrée on our gala dinner menus is busting with indigenous flavour, ticking all our boxes.

“The asparagus season for Victoria is between September and January,” says Peter. “And it is only grown in one area: Koo Wee Rup, which is just outside of Packenham. Maybe 40 minutes’ drive if you get a good run down the Monash.”

“When the asparagus season is in full bloom, our local produce is exported all over Australia and the world. Koo Wee Rup supply 80% of asparagus across the world. Meanwhile, asparagus on Aussie shelves right now is imported from Mexico. We certainly promote asparagus strongly throughout the period when it’s in season, because that is when it’s at its best.”

For mains, MCEC is proud to serve plant-based dishes that imitate meaty alternatives, such as the Bud’s Burger, at our retail cafes. We are happy to accommodate vegan meat if a customer requests it. But when it comes to steak or burger alternatives for cocktail or gala event menus, our chefs prefer to use wholefoods: single-source plant foods such as falafel, cauliflower (Karl), or King Brown mushroom (Peter). They consider faux meat a little bit of a fad. “We’re about health and flavour and real, raw food made into something spectacular,” says Peter. From a vegetarian perspective, conference clients adore the Gnocchi: “It is phenomenal: one of our most requested and highest selling signature dishes,” he says.

Vegan Event Menu Design

So, how can you find our list of options? Our event customers get access to the MCEC Menu Suite: a comprehensive menu design guide with hundreds of dishes. This allows them to work with our team to plan their dream menu for events spanning breakfast, cocktail, gala, conference, and beyond. THE LUME, meanwhile, has a separate menu planning guide. We have increased plant-based options and taken some meatier dishes off across all menus – and we may go even further in the years ahead.

From a logistical lens, increasing plant-based food items also works for our culinary team: special dietary and menu requirements have gone up to from 25% to 40% in just one year. Karl Edmonds, our new Executive Sous Chef – Culinary Development, says: says: “It makes sense in terms of managing separate requests. If the offering is there you don’t need to produce anything extra.”

Food Experiences: New Melbourne Flavours

Karl’s exciting role involves ideation, concepts, supplier relations and coming up with our annual Menu Suites. He constantly innovates, reviews processes, and ensures MCEC is at the forefront of food trends. Therefore, he has been key in masterminding some of the new vegan-friendly event menu items. Karl says: “We put a lot of thought and care into the development of plant-based items to bring them into our greater menu package.

“Before this – I’m going years back – vegan items were not really prioritised… they were pretty much out of the freezer and allocated to an event. [The offering] wasn’t great quality, and it didn't give you an ‘Ooh, Ahh’ Moment. We are proud of what we have achieved and believe it doesn’t matter if you are vegan or not: you’ll love it.”

With some egg- and dairy-free dessert options already available, vegan Sous Pastry Chef Renae is going further and currently working on a plant-based tiramisu made with coconut. Karl says: “She tested her tiramisu a couple of weeks ago... If you were none the wiser, it was close to passing off as a normal tiramisu. There are some tweaks to be made but we could potentially see this item on our menus soon. It was very impressive.”

Ready to be impressed?

MCEC’s plant-based event menus are available now so get in touch with our team today and start planning your next cocktail party or gala dinner .