Meagan Catafi, training and program manager at California Police Chiefs Association, didn’t learn anything classified at the CIA—the Culinary Institute of America, that is. Nine years ago, attending the prestigious school helped Catafi land an internship creating pastries at celebrity chef Elizabeth Falkner’s (now closed) Citizen Cake in San Francisco. Catafi says the experience at the farm-to-fork restaurant taught her the value of creatively staying under budget.
In her Sacramento, California-based role with CPCA, that means selecting a cheaper, yet still flavorful, beef cut for her events over what a steakhouse might serve. “It always comes back to hospitality and the quality of ingredients,” she says. “You could have something super fancy that looks delicious but tastes terrible. I look at who my audience is and what they are going to enjoy—and does it hit my budget?”
For an annual convention with 400 police chiefs in attendance, Catafi says certain eating stereotypes hold true, so she curtails her creativity in favor of serving traditional snacks like coffee and cookies. Catafi adds the Women Leaders in Law Enforcement Training Symposium (900 attendees) lets her branch out with lighter fare like hummus, oatmeal and crudites.
“The average meeting planner isn’t as familiar with cuts of meat and what’s in season,” says Catafi, who usually sticks with beef at her events. “That knowledge allows me to do a lot more with what we have.”
The money Catafi saves on the main course often gets poured into her true love: dessert. For CPCA’s 50th annualconference last year, she splurged on a chocolate and caramel fountain, uncertain how it would go over with attendees. “By the end of the night, the fountain [was empty],” she says. “It was a huge hit.”
While Catafi doesn’t have the time to contribute to the sweet stations during her events, she isn’t necessarily out of practice. “My kids have awesome birthday cakes,” she says, noting she also does wedding cakes when time permits. What else would you expect from someone driving around with a custom license plate reading “CakeMa”? “A lot of people come up to me asking about [that],” she says, “and I have business cards for those occasions.”
Other than picking up a knack for sweet-making, Catafi also met her husband, Anthony, at the CIA. While Anthony, a general manager at Blaze Pizza, stuck with the restaurant biz, Catafi is glad she switched to events so she could raise a family. “The hours [spent running a restaurant] are horrible,” she says—a profound statement coming from a meeting planner.