Benton Convention Center gets more than a facelift

by Kristi Maier

| @triadfoodies

You’re going to be seeing some big changes soon at the Benton Convention Center. At its recent client appreciation dinner, the Twin City Quarter unveiled and laid out in detail its plans for its massive facelift for the center set to begin in January.

The city of Winston-Salem earlier this year approved spending $17.5 million dollars on a renovation project that will allow updates at the 46-year-old facility. YES! Weekly attended the dinner and got a first hand view of what’s in store, from a design aspect, which promises to celebrate Winston-Salem’s proclamation as the City of Arts and Innovation. On the practical side, you’ll see new meeting rooms as well as audiovisual upgrades. A new exterior and changes to the lower level are supposed to take place the first half of 2016. A second phase on the upper level will take place from July 2016 through February 2017. A third phase from June 2016-April 2017 will include an addition on the south side and improvements to the entrance on Fifth Street. Officials with the Twin City Quarter, which runs Benton Convention Center, say the renovations and updates are necessary to keep up with competition and to be able to better handle large conventions.

But these superficial updates are just the beginning as officials with TCQ want the Benton Convention Center to be a destination in regards to its food as well and that was quite evident at the dinner. Chef Tim Thompson, an awardwinning chef from Greensboro, recently was hired as Banquet Chef and will work closely with Executive Chef Kevin Woods, among others, at TCQ. Thompson was formerly the head chef at Marisol and won the 2014 Competition Dining Series’ Triad edition. He’s in good company. This year’s local winner, Chef Richard Miller, also hails from the Twin City Quarter as Chef de Cuisine at Graze in the Marriott. Thompson says he took the position as banquet chef because it’s an incredible challenge as the TCQ consists of the Benton, Embassy Suites and the Marriott. “I’m responsible for the banquet operations of all three. The banquet cooks at TCQ are some of the most talented men and women I’ve ever worked with.”

Thompson is especially praising of Chef Woods. “Generally, I’m not the type to play second fiddle to anyone, but I’m stoked to work with Kevin. He’s a very talented chef and has taught me a lot about working in the corporate world. The team at TCQ, with leaders like Grant Minnix, who see the big picture and can look to the future with culinary and hospitality trends, are why Winston-Salem is such a progressive food city.”

Thompson and Woods pulled out all the stops at the dinner, presenting an array of cuisines to showcase that what happens after (even during) those renovations, is more than just a face-lift. On display were an Asian bar with made to order wontons and sushi-type fare, Southern with fried chicken and waffles, a Latin bar with empanadas, a carving station, sandwiches, and desserts with homemade cakes and ice cream and sipping chocolates”” and that was just touching on things to come.

Thompson says that coming from a fine dining background, one of his goals as banquet chef is to elevate the banquet experience. “I want to bring that sort of innovative cooking to the table “”no pun intended.” He adds, “The food we’ve had at the client party is just a taste of the sort of things to come. Chef Kevin has been a huge help in guiding me in the creation of the new menu items and his knowledge of large-scale food service has aided in creating practical menu ideas. It’s pretty easy to deliver avant garde food to a two-top, but delivering to a party of two hundred is a different story.”

Thompson adds that he has no problem keeping it intimate though. “It’s great to have these conventions come in and we want to be known for the food that we prepare for those larger events, but”¦ we really want people to want to get married here too.”

Throughout the entire 16-month process, the Benton Convention Center will remain open, which is one of the reasons the city decided on a three-phase approach. !

KRISTI MAIER is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.