Team building: cooking the books

Apart from being among the UK’s top accountancy firms Moore Stephens
International Ltd, Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young Global Ltd, Grant
Thornton, KPMG, PwC and Tenon have something other in common ­ they have all
sent staff and clients cooking.

In kitchens designed to mimic the comforting atmosphere of a family home,
accountants are the latest breed of business professional to be found stirring
saffron risotto in Le Creuset pots and kneading dough for homemade ravioli at
Venturi’s Table Corporate Cookery Centre. The experience is sensory, hands-on,
invigoratingly non-corporate and is proving the perfect way to help accountants
and their clients build genuine business relationships.

The centre offers business people the chance to get to know colleagues and
entertain clients over cooking a gourmet meal from scratch and then enjoy it
around the table together. Since the centre opened in 2005 its classes have hit
on the latest business trend through packaging the now fashionable practice of
cooking for the corporate market.

Last December, bookings for the classes were up 320% year on year and the
centre has hosted twice as many people in 2007/2008 as it did in 2006/2007.
Aside from accountancy firms, the centre’s client list boasts some of the
biggest names in UK and International business including the likes of Google,
GlaxoSmithKline, BAA, Cancer Research and BSkyB… to name a few. But businesses
do not come for just cookery instruction. The centre’s cookery experiences are
all about using the process of cooking and sharing delicious food as a way to
develop professional relationships, motivate and encourage under-pressure teams
and inspire best performance.

For centuries, families have used the kitchen and the dining table as a way
to bring people together and help people feel part of something special.
Venturi’s Table applies these principles to business life.

The business is the brainchild of a Milanese mother/ daughter team Anna
Venturi and Letizia Tufari who foresaw the potential of cookery to become a new
form of teambuilding in 2004. So far, its success has shown it to be a welcome
addition to the teambuilding market as in just three years the centre has helped
over 7,000 business professionals bond ‘without noticing’.

There are no flip charts, score cards or anything at all which would give
businesspeople the impression they are on a corporate ‘teambuilding’ experience
at the centre. They believe companies experience a real improvement in the way
their staff interact, and that corporate relationships are genuinely deepened
and not just temporarily ‘forced’ with obviously contrived activities justified
with business jargon.

Tasting session

It’s fair to say that I approached Venturi’s table with some trepidation.
Adding brown sauce to beans on toast is my way of coming up with a signature

Agreeing to get involved in an event with some of the good folk from Tenon, I
fully expected to find stressed tax bosses, corporate financiers washing the
dishes to cover the bill and a bit of a ‘working’ atmosphere.

Thankfully nothing could be further from the truth.

The loud hubbub I heard as I approached Venturi’s Table was not a prelude to
a scene from hell’s kitchen, but more of a grand Italian-style family

As the vino and conversation flowed, Tenon staff representing its Windsor
office were working alongside Venturi’s’ chefs to put the finishing touches to
the wonderful three-course lunch that lay ahead.

As my stomach rumbled, Tenon tax director John Underhill explained why its
trips to Venturi’s Table had worked so well for the firm in recent times.

‘The level of enthusiasm and concentration shows it’s been very successful,’
says Underhill. ‘We’ve chosen something that everyone’s interested in but they
don’t necessarily all have the skills in.’

The event encourages ‘social integration’, as Underhill puts it, where
everyone has a common interest and don’t feel under pressure.

And that’s not just limited to teambuilding. Developing business
relationships with clients has also been successful. ‘If you want to talk
business you can – or not.’

Not wanting to be dragged away from all the fun, Underhill got back on with
the job in hand.
With discussions of their day’s cooking exploits and tall tales flowing,
Venturi’s chefs put the finishing touches to the meal and lunch was served.

If Tenon’s team puts in as much effort with clients then I’m sure they’ll do

A full-up Accountancy Age hack made his way back to the office
wondering when more nice accountants would invite him on another cookery lesson.

Tenon’s Menu

Saffron risotto served with vegetarian ragu

Chicken breasts stuffed with pistachio and rolled in pancetta, green
beans, Salsaverde and Italian potato salad

Amaretto and chocolate peaches served with crème patissiere and lemon

Kevin Reed is acting features editor for Accountancy Age
and self-styled taste tester

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