It’s another episode in our Oh-Ah-Ha Live series, where we kōrero with people who dedicate themselves to the business event industry. Today we meet Sarah Searancke from Sarah Searancke Catering. Dedicated to uncompromised quality food, she dumfounded herself with her own success in the business event catering industry. Turns out she wasn’t only a bad-ass while tackling the food scene in London’s blue-ribbon hotels many, many years ago.
Kiwis in general are not particularly known to blow their own trumpet, but let me tell you: the Business Event Industry in Aotearoa is brimming with talent and passion. And it shows! As a tiny country, we’re up there with the rest of the world when it comes to putting on an outstanding business event.
But here’s an inside secret: you’re extra-lucky if you can attend an event in Wellington that is catered for by Sarah Searancke Catering. It’s universally known that Wellington is the Aotearoa Shangri-La for foodies. And anybody who thinks Business Events go hand in hand with average kai, has never attended an event that was catered for by Sarah. We’re talking high-end food that show-cases the Wellington area and is absolutely mouth-watering.
Sarah has been kind enough to join us for a kōrero in Oh-Ah-Ha Live and we are downright over the moon to have her. (This is where I imagine a big round of applause!)
The Start of the Business Event Catering Journey
Who knew that a couple of recipe books strewn around the kitchen bench and a pair of parents with a passion for entertaining would set Sarah on her professional journey as a chef?
Many years of focussed training and apprenticeships in restaurants frequented by the rich and the famous helped Sarah hone her skills. This was followed by a stint in London as one of three female chefs in a chef brigade of sixty. It solidified her talent. ‘We took a lot of crap, but we were bad-asses!’
By the late 90s, Sarah was back on our Aotearoa shores as the Head Chef of Shed 5.
The shift towards catering happened when Sarah had the opportunity to work for a caterer. Sarah adored how everything was so well organised. It lit a spark.
Sarah Searancke Catering was born.
The Business Event Catering Dream Team
These days, Sarah spends most of her time behind the scenes. What started as a modest office catering company gradually grew into a business event catering business that now successfully serves enormous crowds. The largest affair Sarah can remember is ‘Toast Martinborough’, which had her just under 3,000 people licking their fingers.
TSB Arena, Shed 6, The Opera House, and The Wellington Racing Club are all familiar terrain these days. The kitchen will always be Sarah’s playground, but she now employs her food knowledge mainly during the sales process.
But while Sarah is responsible for the culinary side, hubby Nigel has a knack for accounting and IT. The combination of their talents and skills are the foundations for a successful business team.
According to Sarah, it’s simple:’ I love to cook, he loves to eat. Apart from that we stay out of each other’s way. Although I do occasionally get tapped on the fingers when it comes to budgets.’
But difficult times call for creative approaches.
Our level 4 lockdown brought the entire business event catering industry to a halt. Initially it meant a welcome moment of peace, but the talented team saw an opportunity and quickly acted upon it.
Within a few weeks, ‘Let’s Cook’ was feeding Wellingtonians simple but delicious meals made from local ingredients. ‘It meant we could continue to support our local suppliers and also keep our staff going. Event managers were doing deliveries and I was happy to go back to stirring the pots (literally) for a little while.’
A Renewed Focus on Local for the Future
As our country came out of lockdown, ‘Let’s Cook’ returned to the fridge. But who knows what the future may hold.
At the moment, Sarah Searancke Catering is focussed on the retail contract with Venues Wellington they recently won. In two words, it means Sarah will be working the food outlets and kiosks of all the Venues Wellington events. It’s an exciting opportunity, because it means the company can focus on the local market AND showcase all our sensational local Wellington products.
Think of all the glorious coffees, refreshing craft beers, full-bodied local wines and delightful glasses of gin we will be able to savour.
Ah-Ha moment: A Brave Push into the Business Event Catering Market
Which brings us to our obligatory Ah-Ha moment.
For Sarah, that moment came when she and the team outdid themselves with the successful big push into the large event market. It was massive because of the scale of things, but it also meant new business premises and a new kitchen.
‘It was a very rewarding experience, and it gave me a lot of faith in the industry and a belief in what we do as a company. It really makes you question how much further we can take this journey into the world of Business Event Catering.
Despite the current global situation, I’m optimistic about the future.’
Sarah is a qualified chef with over 34 years’ experience and has worked in many of Wellington’s prestigious hotels, fine dining restaurants and cafes. She spent a good period of time in kitchens throughout London, including the acclaimed Hyatt Carlton Tower.
Sarah established Sarah Searancke Catering in 1997 to combine her passion for high end, good food with exceptional service to catering for large events. She drives the success of our thriving special events business. She has led a quality service culture with values that bring out the best in our people through open communication, mentoring and continuous improvement.
Sarah feels extremely dedicated to the food industry and fortunate to be a part of it. With Sarah’s vast knowledge and experience, she has built a team of true professionals and this shows in their daily interactions with customers.
Sarah strives for perfection, has a keen attention to detail, a flawless approach to coordination and has a true sense of style in everything that she exudes.