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It’s Time to Start Looking at Things in Different Ways
Serving It Up
Stations in Action
It's Time to Start Looking at Things in Different Ways
In this economy, clients are on tighter budgets and are looking for creative ways to keep costs low while maintaining the quality of their events. With this, the biggest trends in 2009 are focused on value. We talked to caterers from across the country to get a look at the different trends that are emerging this year. The consensus is that most events are still going to happen, but, as budgets are shrinking, value for the catering dollar will continue to be more important than ever.
Formal seated events are giving way to casual receptions in lounge-like settings where there is increased interaction among guests and even with the catering staff. Action stations are still hot as they can provide impact without adding too many additional labor dollars. Mixologists are coming out from behind the bar to concoct cocktails. Wait staff with painted faces are donning costumes to give ethnic food stations or regionally inspired menu items more emphasis. Mini-plates and tasting bars are generating a buzz as guests chatter about familiar comfort foods with a twist, late night munchies or the dessert items they'll take home.
These are the trends that are emerging in different markets, and they are creating added value in ways that engage and entertain guests.
In bringing more value to the table in 2009, caterers are being creative with their tried-and-true recipes by using more inexpensive cuts of meat. Pork belly, short ribs and hanger steak are in demand now. Presentation and seasoning makes this possible for Orlando-based Puff ‘n Stuff Events Catering while Merri-Makers Catering & Special Events of Edison, NJ, is doing more braising, smoking and stewing of meats in response to budget-conscious clients.
Contemporary retro menus containing identifiable and nurturing foods are another leading trend. "These foods bring people back to other times and places," says Alison Awerbuch. The executive vice president and partner for Abigail Kirsch Catering Relationships in Tarrytown, NY, and her staff are, "incorporating more modern and creative ingredients and elevating the presentations, flavor profiles and garnishes to these tried-and-true dishes." Some examples are tiny Portobello sirloin burgers with truffled potato chips, blanketed franks lollipops (Abigail Kirsch’s take on franks in a blanket), smoked salmon croque monsieur, buffalo duck confit firecrackers, contemporary caprese, miniature BLTs and tiny Greek salads in micro cucumber cups.
In addition to harkening back to simpler times, clients are looking for a little fun to keep people’s minds off the economy. "People want their events to be fun and playful," says Joachim Splichal, chef and founder of Los Angeles–based Patina Catering.
Serving It Up
These days, caterers and chefs are on the lookout for nontraditional vessels for serving food. As part of her signature style, Marja Claire Martin of Marja Catering in Santa Fe, NM, uses seashells as salt and pepper vessels. For Chicago-based Limelight Food Unlimited, Rita Gutekanst and Marguerite Lytle stock their bars with unusual containers repurposed as pitchers.
In Ontario, Gourmet Cuisine’s Executive Chef Caesar Guinto invented his own serving "sleigh," a long, custom-built Plexiglas tray with holes drilled in it for passing hors d’oeuvre. DC-based Occasions Caterers has created party rovers. These moveable food carts light up and can serve up to four different types of food. Glorious Events of Atlanta has built a mobile buffet. This interactive idea has the costumed server passing out food from a cut-out portion in the middle of a round table, essentially wearing the table.
Stations in Action
Puff 'n Stuff Events Catering is getting more action from their action stations by having the wait-staff wear theme-inspired costumes. Dessert and cocktail action stations are becoming more popular for caterers, like Merri-Makers Catering & Special Events’ candy-bar station, complete with signature bags for taking goodies home. And, Patina Catering’s crowd-pleasing cocktail stations are manned with mixologists concocting and muddling drinks using nontraditional and often savory items like cucumbers.
Much like a display in a retail environment, Culinary Crafts of Salt Lake City is using vertical buffets, allowing guests 360-degree access to food items served on three shelves. This concept has allowed them to easily serve over 650 guests with no waiting in buffet lines. The company’s upward trend continues with food ladders featuring "steps" or shelves done in a high polish, black lacquer finish. Using transparent surfaces suspended from a light bar, Culinary Crafts' "floating buffets" are ideal for dessert or small plate presentations.
Societal shifts in food preferences also have caterers offering more vegan and vegetarian stations. At Abigail Kirsch Catering they have developed a wild mushroom station that includes table-carved smoked Portobello mushrooms served on warm Tuscan beans and greens, truffled seafood filled cremini mushrooms, smoked duck morel mushroom spaetzle, grilled eggplant roulades filled with shiitake mushrooms, mascarpone and wilted leeks and mushroom-shaped parmesan crisps. With the variety of menu items offered at the station, they can satisfy both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. This seems to be a direction that stations are taking — offering more than one item and ways for the guest to customize it to fit their eating habits.
Taking the cool weather into account can also inspire the creation of customer-appealing stations. Culinary Crafts serves up Spanish hot cocoa with cinnamon churros just outside the entrance of the event.
With reception-style events gaining popularity, this is the time of the small plate. Smaller servings allow caterers to have a "best of both worlds" approach by serving mini-plates of comfortable, familiar foods along with trendier and more decadent items. Small plates are also being incorporated into action stations where chefs are preparing food and plating it onto mini-vessels so that guests receive a garnished plate that is created especially for them. Puff 'n Stuff calls this the "restaurant effect."
Combining food flavors, tastes, textures and even color often results not just in new ways of preparing or pairing foods, but even reaching new food frontiers. Molecular gastronomy offers chefs gifted with a dash of technical thinking seemingly endless culinary possibilities, including practical applications. "Xanthan gum, agar-agar and other additives help us get the best presentation, texture and color off-site," says Puff 'n Stuff Events Catering owner/president Warren Dietel.
An example of how molecular gastronomy goes from practical to whimsical is Windows Catering Company’s liquid olives and tuna strawberry served as a passed hors d’oeuvre for the Alexandria, VA, caterer. If you thought fish and fruit was an odd flavor combination consider Limelight Food Unlimited’s dark chocolate, peanut butter, banana and bacon Panini.
Creative butler-passed items for Abigail Kirsch Catering Relationships include the caterer’s "sips and snacks": a fusion duck roll served with a sake spritzer and miniature chipotle lobster rolls with sips of chili-rubbed Bloody Marys.
New culinary creations for Global Gourmet Catering + Event Planning of San Francisco include "late night munchies." These are tray-passed edibles like truffle frites in bamboo cones, and soup shooters and sandwich bites like three cheese and figgy jam on sourdough over heirloom tomato bisque served in tray-passed demi cups.
And, caterers continue to put twists on traditional items. Glorious Events is turning sushi into a skewered item and tray-passing it. For the trendy heart-healthy crowd, Culinary Crafts is making a variety of options to traditional French fries such as Portobello, polenta, sweet potato and chickpea fries.
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