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A Lesson in Menu Flexibility With Pechanga Resort's Executive Banquet Chef Hunter Gonzalez
Being the executive banquet chef at Pechanga Resort & Casino is a study in flexibility, from executing a chocolate and wine festival in time for Valentine’s Day to summertime chili cook-offs or catering to 1,500 hungry leathernecks for the annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball, where chicken and lots and lots of sirloin are the menu items du jour for “First to Fight.”
Added to the mix are a multitude of company holiday parties, splashy weddings at the resort’s Journey at Pechanga golf course and working with the Temecuela, California, resort’s 13 restaurants to add even more options.
And his job isn’t getting any easier, as in March Pechanga is set to become one of the largest banquet and catering facilities on the West Coast with a Pechanga Summit event center expansion that translates into 40,000 square additional feet of space as part of a $285 million project that will double the size of the resort. Project highlights include a 568-room hotel—bringing its total room count to 1,090—a standalone luxury spa, 70,000 total square feet of additional indoor and outdoor meeting space, a fourth-floor green roof, a nearly five-acre pool complex and two new eateries.
“We’re looking to expand into off-site venues as well, such as downtown, by participating in smaller festivals and the hot-air balloon festival in Temecula,” Gonzalez said. “We can do all kinds of sizes and events on-location, but we can also go off-location, as we have the equipment and the staff to take our operation and be mobile with it.”
Gonzalez said Pechanga’s banquet staff is set to double to service the new event center expansion, which debuted in December and will have a capacity for up to 4,400 for banquets.
But the ability to facilitate consumption on a mammoth scope, as well as provide customization on a massive scale, is what Gonzalez contends sets his operation apart.
“We just try to get as creative as possible, honestly,” he said. “We’re trying to push our limits and offer the guest the best experience we can, even if it’s just tray-passed hors d’oeuvres, or if it’s a live carving station with prime rib, turkey and ham. It just depends on what the guest is looking for. We offer anything that’s already on our property or anything that’s not on our property.”
Customization is the keyword for group dining programs.
“Get in touch with our catering staff and they’ll start picking your brain and guide you,” Gonzalez said. “Some people know exactly what they’re looking for, so that info gets sent out to us and we work with the kitchen, and sometimes they want to work directly with me, as it’s easier for me to answer those questions for them.
"We can do a casual buffet or an upscale plated dinner, and we can do duets and trios, and put different package pieces into one, such as ... guests engaging with live stations or a [sushi demonstration]," he added.
“We have our core menus, but any of those can be customized. Say they don’t like the mahi-mahi and want Chilean sea bass—no problem; we can accommodate anything they’re looking for. We can go all out and do anything live—it all depends on the budget.”