During Michael Swann's six years as executive chef at Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, it wasn't uncommon to see him making the rounds at tables during dinners for 5,000 guests. Thinking small while executing on a grand scale has always been the philosophy of Swann, the decorated and well-traveled chef recently hired to oversee operations at InterContinental Hotel.
"We want to go back to the simple fundamentals of what it sounds like for oil to sizzle in the pan instead of this big production," says Swann. "We're going to cook restaurant food in a banquet setting."
Swann's new role will be to oversee culinary operations of InterContinental's banquet services in all three hotels, the C2 restaurant in InterContinental Suites, Moce Cafe and Bar in the Holiday Inn Cleveland Clinic, and Table 45 and the North Coast Cafe in the InterContinental Hotel.
That's no small task, but it's one Swann certainly has been primed for. Preceding his work at Opryland, he served as executive chef of Marriott and Renaissance hotels and resorts and went on to become culinary director at Georgia World Congress Center and a consultant. He has been seen on Food Network's Dinner Impossible and been recognized by Food & Wine magazine as a Rising Star Chef.
And now he's chosen Cleveland. "When the general manager asked me, 'Why Cleveland?,' I looked at him and said, "Well, why not Cleveland?" says Swann. "InterContinental, it's an infinite brand. I say I left the best for last."
The Suites' menu already is undergoing an overhaul, and room service will soon follow. The buffet will be upgraded to be mindful of guests who stay multiple nights. For example, the styles of sausages, egg tarts and quiches may change from day to day. In Cleveland, it's easy to slip into heavier, more robust spreads, but Swann emphasizes that won't be the focus. "I'm really trying to go with more light, healthful options in the morning," he notes.
That mindset carries over to InterContinental's jewel, the modern, eclectic Table 45, where Swann already has begun collaborating with chef de cuisine Matt Anderson, who recently joined the team from Crop Kitchen.
Swann has always had a strong flair for Mediterranean flavors. It shines through such dishes as pan-seared diver scallops served over chickpea puree with savory raspberry sauce and fresh thyme.
But he also draws influence from his travels to Southeast Asia, Europe and South America. A level-one sommelier, he's excited by wines coming out of places such as Mendoza, Argentina and hopes to incorporate more wine pairings.
"You have to have a balance of world food and funky stuff, food that just shakes it up," Swann says.
Plans are in the works to push the quality of sushi and energize the glass-enclosed chef's table. To build on world-inspired flavors, Swann hopes to bring the international student exchange program he executed at Opryland.
To maintain restaurant-quality food throughout the banquet operations, Swann is utilizing a state of the art "rationale system" technique, where each plate is arranged cold and maintains a perfect flavor profile. "With this particular process, we're really able to elevate the presentation," he says. "Every dish is a work of art."