Boston Cooks Up Strategy To Attract Convention Business

Food cooked for large groups — large as in thousands — is often held to a lower standard than food served almost anywhere else. At weddings, trade show lunches, and most corporate events, you pray the meal will be edible. What you get is woefully overcooked chicken, salads dressed hours ago, desserts with enough gelatin to make them bounce.

Amid fierce national competition for conventions, Boston’s biggest kitchens are now striving against the odds to also be the best. The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center at the waterfront, known as the BCEC, is trying to lure visitors here with a reputation for good food, locally grown when possible, locally sourced year round. And they’re not just preparing meals for a few hundred diners. They routinely cook for 2,000 or more.

When the BCEC invited the Globe to help cook one of these huge meals, the opportunity was irresistible. Could a kitchen this size really make decent dishes? We were prepared for the worst and pleasantly surprised by what we found.

The BCEC is the largest building in New England, and the kitchen is appropriately gigantic. With nearly 50 ovens, dozens of walk-in refrigerators, and many 50-gallon pots (they’re large enough so you can climb inside and hide there), the massive space requires conveyor belts to move food, and scores of chefs, cooks, kitchen staff, and servers.

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