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Texas Takes on the Trends

Catersource + The Special Event along with Art of Catering Food showcased some of the top trends of the year

It was a Texas-sized affair when Catersource + The Special Event along with Art of Catering Food rolled into town. From trending flavors to show-stopping techniques, there was inspiration around every corner. The event may be over, but inspiring catering and food trends seen during the week will live on. Let’s look at some of this year’s hottest trends and how you can incorporate them into your business.

All photos courtesy Ivan Piedra Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc./SpotMyPhotos, unless otherwise


Michael Cerbelli’s: The Hot List™ showcased Sugar Lab Pro’s custom cocktail garnishes that can be branded or themed to any type of event thanks to their 3D printing technology. 

Edible extras

Companies are constantly trying to find new and creative ways to solidify their brand in the minds of their clients. A growing trend among caterers when working with corporate clients is the use of edible branding, such as food stamps, custom logoed pancakes, cocktail messages, edible ink, custom sugar garnishes, and branded ice. 

Abstract Ice served branded ice cubes during Susie Perelman's (Mosaic) session. 

These edible extras are a way to personalize an event while also serving as a conversation starter for attendees. 

“It’s a whole experience from a sensory standpoint,” said Kristin Banta (Kristin Banta Events) during her annual trend session at Catersource + The Special Event.

Craving caviar

2024 will be the year of caviar. Caviar has been growing on menus over the past couple years, but it has really hit its stride over the past year thanks to the popularity of the caviar bump. 

The caviar bump is simply this: a dollop of caviar is placed on an event attendee’s hand and then is licked off. 

“You need to not be afraid of caviar and think that it’s solely a luxury product,” said Sean Dent (Local LA Catering by David Lefevre) during his session on caviar as part of Art of Catering Food. “The caviar bump takes away the edge of caviar’s luxury—it's interactive, it’s fun, it’s for everyone.”  

A perfect hors d’oeuvre that incorporates caviar (or trout roe in this case) is a blini: a miniature pancake accented with crème fraîche and chives during Art of Catering Food. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc.

Don’t be mistaken, though; caviar can in fact mean luxury, which is why it’s also a great upsell opportunity in myriad ways. Garnish your hors d’oeuvres with a dollop (click here for a brunch recipe that uses caviar), serve them alongside a champagne or vodka flight, or even set up an entire caviar buffet atop a beautiful ice bar. 

“Make no mistake, luxury is a thing,” said Michael Stavros (M Culinary Concepts) during his annual trend session as part of Catersource + The Special Event. “It’s going to be the year of caviar...from the least expensive roe all the way up to the most expensive beluga.” 

A lot of folks remember growing up on Frito Pie (particularly in the '50s, '60s, and '90s), which was served during the Opening Night Party. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc.

A comforting thought

Modernized comfort food is more than meatloaf and macaroni and cheese. Comfort food evokes nostalgia and feels like a warm embrace on a cold winter's night.

During the Art of Catering Food Lunch & Learn, A Trip South, chefs dialed into their family recipes with such dishes as Chef Boris Seymore’s Georgia Mae’s Blueberry Chicken (chicken thighs, blueberry sweet tea, star anise, blueberry simple syrup, bay leaves, thyme, orange, lemon, black peppercorns, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes). Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc.

Chef Boris Seymore’s Sweet Potato Flan Brûlée (egg yolks, brown sugar, vanilla extract, heavy cream, and sweet potato pie batter) served during AOCF. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc. 

Diners are seeking familiarity with dishes that “taste like home," but they also want new, tasty combinations. This can be done by adding or swapping ingredients in traditional dishes, or applying techniques like slow cooking, braising, and creating family-style meals that allow people to enjoy them around the table together. Comfort is all about creating those amazing first-bite moments that show guests the meal was made with love.

Just because you’re leaning into comforting flavors and nostalgic dishes doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity to elevate, however. Reinvent something like a chicken pot pie as a canape in a puff pastry or serve a deconstructed slider on a skewer, or perhaps butler-pass some shrimp and grits in martini glasses. 

“It’s about being creative,” said Chef Boris Seymore (BDS Catering and Productions) during his Art of Catering Food session, Elevate & Sophisticate the Simple Classics. “This is one of the most strategic and important measures that you need.”

 Contigo Catering served a Toasted Marshmallow Rocky Road Bar during the Opening Night Party. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc. 

She Crab Soup is a classic southern dish (white onion, celery stalks, butter, flour, Old Bay seasoning, blackening seasoning, bay leaf, thyme, whole milk, heavy cream, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, sherry, chives, crab meat, and crab roe), but everyone makes it a little differently, and everyone thinks that theirs is the best. Shown: Cru Catering’s sample served during Art of Catering Food. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc.

When harnessing the comfort food trend, also remember that the 1990s (and all its comfort food glory) is back in a big way, with throwbacks like individual charcuterie boards served Lunchables®-style (a true ‘90s classic), gourmet toaster strudels or Pop-Tarts®, and elevated pizza rolls. 

I want candy

Candy bars continue to trend at events. Who doesn’t love the opportunity to load up on some sugary treats? But caterers are getting even more creative with candy bars these days. 

Freeze-dried candies have become increasingly popular due to their unique texture, intense flavor, and longer shelf life. Chef Nettie Frank showcased how these little treats can beautifully dress up any candy buffet during her Art of Catering Food session. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc.

First up, freeze dried candies are popping up all over the place, adding a bit of uniqueness to any candy setup.  

Next, themed candy bars are proving to be popular among event goers. Think buffets made up of candies from a particular decade (i.e., Laffy Taffy®, Ring Pops®, and Pop Rocks® from the 1970s, Big League Chew™, Nerds®, and Warheads® from the 1980s, and Airheads®, Baby Bottle Pops®, and SweeTARTS® from the 1990s). 

Crave Catering had an impressive candy display during the Closing Night Celebration which featured such treats as meringues, homemade marshmallows, tuiles, chocolate pipettes, and candied fruits. 

While commercial and nostalgic candies are obviously crowd-pleasers, don’t ignore the upsell opportunity when making your own candy buffets. Think chocolate dipped pretzels, homemade fudge, and colorful lollipops. You can even get your guests in on the fun my setting up an interactive chocolate building “Bean to Bar” station, where guests can select flavors of chocolate and add-ins such as nuts, fruits, and candies to go into a personalized chocolate bar which they get to take home. Up the ante even more by creating custom candy wrappers featuring your attendees’ photos. 

Putting the plants back in plant-based

Veggie-centric dining continues to be a dominant force in the food industry. According to a 2023 survey from Elohi Strategic Advisors, 69% of consumers of plant-based meat expect to eat more plant-based alternatives this year, with an additional 29% of these consumers expecting to eat the same amount.

“It’s time to embrace it if you haven’t,” Stavros said. “You can now produce an entirely plant-based meal, even if it’s not an entirely plant-based guest list."

Vegan tartare (garlic, capers, Dijon, vegan mayo, shallots, and smoked beets) served atop vegan bone marrow (hearts of palm, zucchini, garlic, thyme, spinach, tomatoes, vegan cheese, and yellow onion) was served during Jeffrey Schlissel's (The Bacon Cartel) session, Where There is Smoke, There is Yumminess. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc. 

Consumers and producers alike are looking to rely more heavily on traditional plant proteins (such as mushrooms, walnuts, tempeh, and legumes) in place of complex meat alternatives.

Smoked carrot lox, crème fraîche, caviar, and dill from VEGG Catering were served during the Opening Night Party. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc. 

Vegan dill cream cheese and sundried tomato cucumber from Hank's Catering was served as part of the Opening Night Party. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc. 

Think mushroom birria tacos, black bean burgers, vegan charcuterie boards, beet tartare, carrot nigiri, and vegan bone marrow made from hearts of palm. These creative plant-based options are even satisfying those guests who may not necessarily be vegan or vegetarian. 

“I’m not plant-based, but I love to dabble in plant-based,” said Jeffrey Schlissel of The Bacon Cartel. “It's about craveability.”

Korean jackfruit tostada with purple cabbage, sriracha, and sesame from VEGG Catering served during the Opening Night Party. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc.

"We’re redefining delicious and inclusive catering,” adds Eric Centeno (Exquisite Delites Catering Company), who presented Avantgarden! Vegan & Vegetarian Cuisine during Catersource + The Special Event. “If you’re excited as a chef about what you’re creating, it’s contagious.”

Smoking hot service

Today’s attendees are looking for something a little extra at their events. 

“Everyone wants an experience because dining is experiential now,” said Stavros. “The key word is fun. The key word is engaging.”  

The Gastro Garage is an immersive, experiential dining and catering concept specializing in savory brioche donuts filled with nitrous foam, torched toppings, and finishing oils that are cooked by blow torches. 

“The biggest struggle is that what we’re trying to do now is build these stations that will have guests immersed,” said Chef Phuoc Vo (CBK Catering & Events) during his session on liquid nitrogen. 

Chef Phuoc Vo (CBK Catering & Events) brought the heat (or in this case, the chill) during his session on liquid nitrogen as part of Catersource + The Special Event. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc.

This is where such practices as smoked dishes under glass, the cocktail Flavour Blaster gun, live fire cooking, liquid nitrogen, torched desserts, smoked bourbon stations, and interactive stations come into play. 

“It’s one thing to present a dish, it’s another to present an experience," said Keith Sarasin (Aatma and the Farmer’s Dinner) during his live fire cooking session at Catersouce + The Special Event.  

Think torching crème brûlée live at the table, flame grilling a hanging tomahawk steak, and treats (popcorn, ice cream, and cereals) made with liquid nitrogen.

At J Prime Steakhouse in Austin, TX, a flambé strawberry shortcake dessert is offered. Photo courtesy Amber Kispert

These sensory experiences, which tap into everything from sight to smell to sound, instantly wow guests and immerse them in the event. 

“You can create spectacle with food and beverage," said David Merrell (AOO Events) during his annual trend session. “It creates an experience and you want to taste it." 

Sustainability success

Sustainability is no longer a buzzword; it’s a crucial aspect of businesses today.

As environmental consciousness grows, sustainability has become a focal point for the catering industry (click here for a deeper dive on sustainability in the catering space). Consumers are increasingly demanding eco-friendly options, pushing caterers to adopt sustainable sourcing practices, reduce food waste, and embrace eco-conscious packaging while ensuring a smaller carbon footprint.

“We need to create an ecosystem where we’re working with sustainability every day," said Art of Catering Food keynote (and James Beard nominated) Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph. "By being able to be proactive, we can create systems in which you can utilize the whole of something. Sustainability is limitless."

One of the major topics of conversation surrounding sustainability (when related to catering) is reducing food waste. With nearly one-third of all food produced being wasted, the food and beverage industry is looking for every opportunity to cut back on leftovers. 

Chef Jenny Bast (Culinary Creations) demonstrated how fermentation can help reduce food waste in the kitchen by helping to preserve fruits and vegetables past their shelf life. Shown: scallops served over a fermented tomato vinaigrette. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc.

One way to reduce food waste in the kitchen is to repurpose ingredients using fermentation (see the summer issue of Catersource for more on this) for such things as dressings and vinegars. The ingredients that normally would find their way into the waste bin can now get a second lease on life. 

Another food-saving option is salt curing meat for use in charcuterie, which helps to extend its shelf-life. Freeze drying and dehydrating are also gaining traction as a fun and innovative way to preserve fruits and vegetables for longer. 

The Opening Night Party traded in the typical plastic water bottles for sustainable aluminum cans. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc. 

Additionally, there has been a significant shift from single-use plastic and paper products and instead opting for reusable items like china and glassware. Another sustainable option is compostable products, like those from Verterra, which provided food sampling vessels during Art of Catering Food. 

A fusion of flavors

Fusion food is so 2000. With a new definition of authenticity that encompasses background, heritage, and experience, today's culinary landscape is reinventing regional and traditional cooking. These conscious cultural combinations pay homage and respect to both roots and backgrounds—celebrating flavor, experience, and cuisine. 

Bold Catering & Events brought the worlds of sweet, savory, and spicy together during Art of Catering Food with a trio of macarons: a caprese macaron, a raspberry macaron with foie gras mousse, peanut butter crumble, and raspberry habanero jam; and a Crab Rangoon macaron. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc. 

“Now we are blending global influences,” said Banta. “We’re talking unique combos that are blending different cultures and different flavors.”

During the Opening Night Party, Vestals Catering combined southern and Asian flavors with its buttermilk biscuit topped with gochujang-glazed thick cut bacon. Photo courtesy Dana Gibbons Photography/AGNYC Productions, Inc.

Think: Jamaican tacos, burger quesadillas, pizza pot pies, sloppy joe bao buns, and bulgogi empanadas.

Chefs Jay Varga (The JDK Group) and Jason Sutton (Footers Catering) showcased a trio of sauces: an Aji Amarillo Coulis, a Cranberry & Smoked Rosemary Agrodolce, and an Umeboshi Umami Sauce. Check out the recipes here.

2024 will also present a growing interest in foods that mix the world of spicy and sweet together, known in some circles as “swicy.” While Americans love spicy foods, this “swicy” combination expands the appeal and approachability of hotter flavors. Hot honey, mango habanero, and other combinations are helping to create more complex, nuanced, and broadly appealing flavors across a range of applications.

Tech savvy

Efficiency is the name of the game in catering, and technology is the linchpin; the modern kitchen is becoming a tech hub. 

From AI-powered menu customization to blockchain-enabled supply chain transparency, catering businesses are leveraging technology to streamline operations and stay ahead of the curve. Online ordering platforms, virtual tastings, and interactive menus are becoming standard practices, catering to the digital preferences of today’s consumers.

AI has emerged as an essential ingredient of food and beverage innovation. AI is being used to optimize everything from crop growth to formulating innovative products to recommending menu items to even suggesting menu names. Robin Selden with Marcia Selden Catering & Events demonstrated how to use ChatGPT during Art of Catering Food when she asked it to suggest creative menu names for shrimp meatballs. The result? Such ideas as Prawn Pops, Mariner Morsels, Neptune Nuggets, Tide-Tossed Tidbits, Seafarer Savories, and Nautical Nibbles. 

Utilize man’s best robot friend to help deliver to guests during events. Shown here, Michael Cerebelli (Cerbelli Creative) is gifted a bottle of water on stage. 

AI can also be used to develop color palettes which can serve as a launching point for dialogue and conversation with clients. 

There has also been a growing demand for smart appliances, such as smart ovens that can automatically adjust cooking times and temperatures based on the type of food being prepared or AI-powered refrigerators that can monitor expiration dates and suggest recipes based on the ingredients available. Even robots are becoming more common place.

Michael Cerbelli’s: The Hot List™ showcased a drone bartender, which can both shake and serve, during this year’s event. 

Drones are also finding a home in the events world by helping to deliver cocktails and food to attendees. 

“They will love the novelty,” said Merrell. 

“We’re reimaging the cocktail experience,” added Michael Cerbelli (Cerbelli Creative) during Michael Cerbelli’s: The Hot List™.

These are the trends that we think will stay popular throughout the rest of 2024; what trends caught your eye during Catersource + The Special Event?  

Want more from Catersource + The Special Event? 

Weren't able to make it to this year's conference? Don't worry, we have you covered! Check all that you missed below: 


Amber Kispert

Senior Content Producer

Amber is the Senior Content Producer for Catersource. Amber previously worked as a Communications Specialist for LeClair Group and a reporter for the Woodbury Bulletin, both located in Woodbury, Minn.  As a self-described "foodie," Amber loves to experience the world of food and beverages, and is excited to help share the stories of Catersource and the world's caterers.