ACE Inspiration: Tastebuds Custom Catering, part 2

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April 21, 2017

Mid-March, winners of the ACE awards took the stage at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. To enter, each contender was asked to identify the two events the company completed that it felt best represented the company, as well as challenges and favorite aspects.

Throughout the year, will profile the winners and nominees of the 2017 ACE awards. In the fourth installation of our series, we will place a keen eye on Tastebuds Custom Catering, Naples, FL, who took the ACE award for Operations under $2 million in the East region.

Catering • East region • Operations under $2 million • Tastebuds Custom Catering, Naples, FL

Partridge-Crall Welcome Party

The welcome party was one of those type of events that don’t come around often; or for some companies, never. Tastebud’s client, the Cralls, were an amazing couple who wanted to create a special welcome event for their son's destination wedding in Naples, Florida. It was not only Tastebuds Custom Catering’s highest grossing event for 2016, it was one of the most, if not the most, spectacular.

To note, says Director of Operations Heather Shapiro, “our company is smaller in scale, doing annual sales of under a million dollars. This event came in May, which is typically the beginning of the slow season for us. This Welcome Event for 119 guests totaled in at $47,484 in gross. It was a great way for our season to end and carried our business through the slow summer. It allowed us to grow as a company and learn that we have earned a spot at the table with the other great caterers.”

The venue was a blank canvas park property set on a residential street in the heart of Naples, with the sprawling green lawn overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The client requests were quite simple: amazing high-end food, a menu featuring local fare, a great bar, and a rock star team.

Guests arrived via private shuttle transport busses and were escorted into the Sperry tent for an amazing night ahead. Planner Kelly McWilliams collaborated with Tastebuds and other vendor partners to create a nautical themed event that was classy and beautiful.


“This event presented to us one of the largest challenges in terms of food we have faced in our business,” says Shapiro. The guests were treated to many menu items featuring local fare, and a must for the Cralls was a fish taco station—but not just any tacos, they wanted the interactive experience of Florida grouper carved tableside for guests. “We paired the tacos with our spin on the typical taco accouterments,” says Shapiro.

Two days before the welcome event was to take place, however, as the kitchen was buzzing with some of the beginning prep work for the menu, Tastebuds received a 4:30 p.m. call from Mrs. Crall. She was calling to “remind us” that her daughter was allergic to cilantro, a key ingredient in the taco station, the ceviche, and some of the house-made sauces being served. The allergy had been mentioned at the tasting but there was never a conversation that it should be left off the menu. “Our team worked together to do whatever we could to incorporate the traditional essence of cilantro without actually using it,” says Shapiro, “and at the end of the event, Mrs. Crall was very happy given that her daughter was not precluded from enjoying what the other guests were.”

Another great challenge to the event was the location and the parking. A private green lawn set by the water is a dream—unless one is catering there. All service staff had to be cabbed in; and Tastebuds was only allowed one vehicle on property, which meant multiple trips to drop decor, food, and supplies onsite. With having zero facilities, bathroom trailers were brought in and a field kitchen was created.

Compressed watermelon topped with blood orange balsamic and toasted pistachios

“It's hard to imagine a better event featuring the sea-to-fork trend than this one.”

Favorite touches

Shapiro described many of her favorite aspects from the event. “The raw bar incorporating local seafood was a highlight for everyone,” said Shapiro. “The chef-attended raw bar had an oyster shucker live for the guests and we used custom ordered ice trays with lights to display the seafood on several tiered levels. The oysters were paired with fresh and local grouper ceviche shooters, and jumbo (Key West Pink) shrimp cocktails with a true Bloody Mary cocktail sauce. It's hard to imagine a better event featuring the sea-to-fork trend than this one.”

Kumamoto oysters on the half shell, served with San marzano cocktail sauce, horseradish, lemon wedges, champagne mignonette

Fresh grouper ceviche shooters

Mini lobster club with tarragon aioli, Campari tomato, silver dollar roll

Another favorite part of this event, Shapiro noted, was the location and the weather. “May weather in Florida can sometimes be very hot,” she said. “Somehow, a ‘cool’ front swept in and it was about as picture perfect as is possible: low 70s, sea breezes, and a stunning sunset. Guests danced the night away under a tent to a live band, and the father of the groom even got up to sing!”

Finally, the bar. “The client wanted a premium bar, and customized it with Veuve Clicquot pink champagne, premium high-end wines, and specialty liquors. We offered house-made craft mixers. Our operations team had a blast shopping for the bar and creating an amazing bar display featuring all the specialty bottles and glassware.” All that with the Gulf of Mexico in the background.

Lastly, mentioned Shapiro, the weekend of the event, two caterers from out of town reached out to visit us and shadow. We welcomed them into the kitchen, and it was a great joy for us to be able to mentor them—especially during a weekend with such a special event going out. It really allowed us to show off what we do best.

The Tastebuds Custom Catering team

Be sure to follow all of the ACE award winners and nominees throughout the year for inspiration and ideas! The 2018 awards consideration will open in late fall with an announcement in our Attendee and Get Fresh e-newsletters. Click here to sign up!

Next week on 24 Carrots’ New Venue Opening


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