It's Party Time

At the two political conventions this summer, food and drink carry big votes.

July 21, 2004|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

It takes a lot of work to nominate a presidential candidate. Victor Modic can attest to that.

The co-owner of Ice Art, an ice-carving company in Cedar Grove, N.J., is working long hours to plan nearly 50 sculptures for the Republican National Convention, including the kind with liquor sluicing down an ice luge.

"We'll probably do it with a large martini glass," Modic says, "and a spigot in the center."

This, in the name of democracy: your convention delegates guzzling booze off a giant ice cube.

Luge shots are but one of many food and drink concepts in the works for the conventions, where consuming refreshments - plentiful and, more importantly, usually free - is as time-honored a ritual as the roll call of the states.

It's safe to assume that at the Democratic National Convention in Boston next week (July 26-29) and the Republican National Convention in New York City Aug. 30-Sept. 2, the party scene will be almost as important as the politics.

Like the presidential contenders they're feting, the foodies will try to show they're working in the best interest of America. That means both events will make obligatory nods to the unofficial Atkins and South Beach delegations, with chefs offering lower carbs in the convention halls, high-protein energy snacks in the hospitality suites and enough nuts and berries for an entire forest of political animals on the scene.

Still, in the end, a convention is nothing without excess.

"With this group, caution goes out the window - they're in a party mood," says Dan Searby, vice president of marketing at Restaurant Associates, one of four firms that won bids to cater inside Madison Square Garden during the Republican convention. "If somebody wants us to do sushi Latin fusion, we'll do sushi Latin fusion. If somebody wants low carb, we'll do low carb. But at these events, you want a very visual impact both in the food and the design, so the dietary and nutrition concerns are very much in the back seat."

So, in Boston, NXTevent caterers is planning a private party with the signatures of famous statesmen, including Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, replicated on top of the food in edible handwriting. In New York, Restaurant Associates is concocting the Dr. Pepper Sorbet, made from President Bush's favorite soft drink.

Here, political kitsch is not just for T-shirts; it's for the digestive tract.

At the Boston bistro Masa, conventioneers can drink a fizzy Kerry Berry with rum, mint and raspberry coulis or a Bloody Teresa - a cocktail named for Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, with a bloody-Mary tomato base to celebrate the fortunes of the Heinz ketchup heiress. At the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Manhattan, Republicans will be offered a vodka, champagne and passion-fruit drink called the Compassionate Conservative or tequila-rum-laced Texas Two-Step to wash down the obligatory red, white and blue tortilla chips and the G.O.Peanuts.

With the national spotlight on the host cities, food becomes edible P.R.

This Saturday, for example, 15,000 members of the media are expected at Boston's convention site at the FleetCenter for what has been dubbed the "Momentum" party. Boston is attempting to portray itself as a city on the move by putting all the bite-sized snacks on wheels - either on rolling carts or rickshaws or little electric cars.

Caterers believe only good can come of stuffing the national media, so at this event up to 100 different Boston restaurants are expected to offer 300 pieces of finger food each. To make the gorging even easier, journalists won't have to walk to food stations but can sit in one spot and wait for the food to roll to them.

"We've heard from a lot of media that have been to other conventions, and it's typical catered food, tends to be a very across-the-board bland food that doesn't speak out about the city," says Lynne Kortenhaus, president of Kortenhaus Communications, the Boston event planning firm that is staging the media party. "So we really wanted to use this event to showcase the food and the different kinds of restaurants in and around the city."

The media will be well-tended all week. Delaware North Cos., which owns and operates the FleetCenter, will take a break from stocking concession stands, private parties and luxury skyboxes to supply the media tent with provisions - specifically, 1,800 pounds of coffee and 2,700 gallons of New England clam chowder.

Kevin Doherty, the executive chef for Delaware North Sportservice at the FleetCenter, expects to feed a third of the 30,000 people inside the convention center. Making food available at 10 different locations, through seven different 35-item menus, is more complicated than catering a Celtics game, but he says he's undaunted.

"I've done pretty major events," Doherty says. "The tall ships coming to Boston, the king and queen of Spain, the president of Ireland, business anniversaries - like a 10th anniversary for 7,600 people on a field in the mud."

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