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Small But Mighty: Uncovering the Magic Behind CATIE Award Finalists’ Tiniest Entries

It’s no secret that a dish doesn’t need to be large to pack big flavor when created with intention and mastery. These International Caterers Association CATIE Award finalists are the prime example of this. In this year’s Best Appetizer, Best Hors d’oeuvre, and Best Small Plate categories, the thought of each bite had us salivating. Today, we’re sharing the creative process, challenges, and execution of each finalist’s small but mighty bites!

Best Appetizer 

WINNER: Southern Graces at Hewitt Oaks, "Fried Green Tomato BLT Salad"

When it comes to wedding catering, trying to please two sides of the family can be tricky. But Southern Graces at Hewitt Oaks did this masterfully with their Fried Green Tomato BLT Salad. The goal was to marry the hearty flavors of tomato, bacon, and ranch while appealing to the groom’s well-traveled foodie family. This dish was so successful, it’s now a staple on the menu. 

"Fried Green Tomato BLT Salad". Photo courtesy Southern Graces at Hewitt Oaks/International Caterers Association

The creation

The fried green tomatoes are naturally the most important piece. By dipping the tomatoes in buttermilk (followed by cornmeal and spices) with a three- to four-minute fry, you have perfection. Then, the tomatoes were layered with caramelized bacon and a fresh salad with buttermilk dressing drizzled atop. A classic made elegant. 

Taste Catering, "John Muir Annual Gala Magic Castle Salad"

When an appetizer appears to be a magical garden sprouting up from the table, you know it’s going to be good. And that’s exactly what Taste Catering created for the John Muir Annual Gala with their Magic Castle Salad. 

"John Muir Annual Gala Magic Castle Salad". Photo courtesy Taste Catering/International Caterers Association

The creation 

Precision was key to ensuring the delicata squash was the perfect base for the culinary castle. In fact, the team used calipers to measure the ideal height and diameter of each piece. It was then carefully filled with romaine hearts, red endive, tomato, frisee, blue cheese, Gigante beans, and micro greens and drizzled with a champagne shallot vinaigrette. 

Blue Plate, "Harmony in Harvest"

When Blue Plate Catering was approached by a client to re-create a savory tomato tart they had served during peak summer months in December, they knew they had to get creative. What they decided to do was replace the local heirloom tomato with seasonal spaghetti squash with Fabbri Amarena cherries and harissa. Every ingredient was local within 40 miles of their facility except for the cherries, which came from Italy. 

"Harmony in Harvest". Photo courtesy Blue Plate Catering/International Caterers Association

The creation 

Timing and temperature were key to the success of this appetizer, as you want the tart to maintain the crispy texture even with the warm spaghetti squash inside. With the proper storage on-site and timing for prep, they plated without a hitch. They started by creating a beautiful base of North African harissa puree on the plate, then added the spaghetti squash and candied Fresno pepper-filled tarts atop. The plate was finished with a parmesan crisp and a frisee and arugula salad dressed in apple cider vinaigrette.

Best Hors d'oeuvre

WINNER: Daniel et Daniel Catering & Events, "Carrot Nigiri"

This hors d’oeuvre is a prime example of how teamwork and multiple minds come up with the best creations. One chef had attended a conference and was trialing a salt-roasted carrot wrapped in nori and cured in a brine. Another was experimenting with a pearling technique after seeing a demonstration. Another team member had just returned from Shanghai and, inspired by nigiri, had an idea to incorporate a green rice patty as a vegan offering. They got to talking, combined these elements and ideas, and the vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free carrot nigiri was born! 

"Carrot Nigiri". Photo courtesy Daniel et Daniel Catering & Events/International Caterers Association

The creation 

Innovation doesn’t come without challenges. The team realized quickly that the cured carrots didn’t work well in large batches, so they needed to make them in small batches and vacuum seal them for large orders. Plus, they found that when pre-assembled, the rice cakes lost some of the crispiness. So, they had to pack all components separately and assemble them on-site, which is always a tricky task. But it was worthwhile for ultimate flavor! They started with the green rice cake as the base, placed the cured carrot slices atop the rice cake, followed with a dollop of wasabi aioli, and garnished with the verdant cilantro mirin pearls. A perfect, nutrient-dense bite! 

Daniel et Daniel Catering & Events, "Key Wat"

Is your company tapping into the culture and creativity of its chefs? Daniel et Daniel Catering & Events exemplifies how celebrating the multiculturalism of its team can introduce new flavors to clients and the community. One of the team’s top chefs, who hails from East Africa, proposed creating an authentic spread of her favorite recipes. This initiative led to the creation of the Key Wat hors d’oeuvre, showcasing the team’s culinary diversity and expertise. 

"Key Wat". Photo courtesy Daniel et Daniel Catering & Events/International Caterers Association

The creation 

Traditional East African injera bread is soft, and the key wat stew is quite saucy. To make it finger-food-friendly, they toasted up the bread and formed it into a taco shell shape. It was the perfect vessel for the key wat, and topped with a bit of house-made ayib cheese, it was perfection. They’ve been able to use the chef’s story to educate clients about why this is such a unique and important dish to add to their menu. 

Daniel et Daniel Catering & Events, "Petite Tarte Tatin"

While studying in France, one of the pastry chefs ventured out exploring, tasting her way through the local culinary scene. Her favorite was the “tarte tatin,” which she shared was love at first bite. This hors d’oeuvre is her ode to this French favorite. Rather than the traditional plate, which braises apples in caramel and served in a puff pastry a la mode, this bite-sized gem converts the caramel essence into a jelly bite with apples inside. 

"Petite Tarte Tatin". Photo courtesy Daniel et Daniel Catering & Events/International Caterers Association

The creation 

Not all apples are created equal, and there was much trial and error before deciding that green apples were the best fit for this bite—the perfect amount of tartness to balance out the sweetness of the caramel. Plus, they oxidize at a slower rate to allow for scalable production and preparation. The best part is that these can be pre-prepped and don’t require a chef on-site. It’s as simple as setting the caramel-soaked apple atop a Sablé Breton, which offers a sturdier base than puff pastry, and topping with gold flakes. A perfect trip to Paris in every nibble.

Best Small Plate

WINNER: Bingemans, "Aaniin Tasting Plate"

Created for a summer solstice event that provided an immersive exploration of Indigenous cuisine, this tasting plate was the starter that kicked off the experience. The goal was not only to serve as a welcome but also a showcase of appreciation for traditional Indigenous culinary traditions, seasonal bounty, and intercultural connection. 

"Aaniin Tasting Plate". Photo courtesy Bingemans/International Caterers Association

The creation 

The team wanted clean and simple ingredients that spoke for themselves. That said, the plate featured a roasted butternut squash salad, northern bean and sumac dip, butternut squash and maple spread, cornbread, corn nuts, and fire-roasted Bannock, a type of Indigenous bread. The plates were laid out on mobile tables, and each team member was responsible for plating a certain element of the seasonal symphony. The chef on site did a final plating inspection to ensure consistency, marrying efficiency with excellence. 

24 Carrots Catering & Events, "Ring for Ramen"

Don’t we all wish we could ring a bell and have a bowl of ramen appear out of thin air? That’s what 24 Carrots Catering & Events made happen with their Ring for Ramen small plate display. Created for a night market-themed event in December, they wanted something savory and warm while on theme. Ramen was an obvious choice! 

"Ring for Ramen". Photo courtesy 24 Carrots Catering & Events/International Caterers Association

The creation 

They wanted local street market flavors to shine in this bowl, so they opted for a beef-based broth and a vegan broth to cater to all dietary requirements. In the beef ramen, they featured Kobe beef, fresh ramen noodles, bean sprouts, scallions, and sesame seeds. The vegan version featured spicy pumpkin broth, vegan ramen noodles, white miso tofu, scallions, bean sprouts, and sesame seeds. Since guests were ringing a bell for fresh ramen and the kitchen was outdoors in winter, the bowls were pre-assembled with all ingredients except the broth. When an order was up, they topped the bowl with warm broth for a delicious final product and great guest experience. 

Culinary Crafts, "Smoking Pork"

Sometimes in the culinary world, you need some smoke and mirrors. And that’s what Culinary Crafts served up with their Smoking Pork Bao Bun plate. After their client asked for a “smoky, upscale nightclub feel,” the entire event was themed around fire and smoke. While they couldn’t bring the fire and smoke on-site to showcase the cooking of the buns, they did plate atop swirling white wisps of smoke that evoked a definite wow factor. 

"Smoking Pork". Photo courtesy Culinary Crafts/International Caterers Association

The creation 

The team had three objectives:

  1. Create an experience that conveyed the intimate, exciting feel of an upscale nightclub.
  2. Design a small plate that was both delectable and visually stunning.
  3. Use smoke to frame the plate and draw attention to the food, not distract from it.

So, to do that and make it a spectacle, not a gimmick, they used dry ice to provide the feel without detracting from the experience of the pork plate. The day of the event, they steamed the buns fresh on-site, assembled the pickled herb slaw in front of guests, and placed the pork that was smoked in Trager grills for more than eight hours the day before happily inside the buns. After topping with the slaw, it was drizzled with hoisin and soy sauce, black Chinese vinegar, and Loa Gan Ma chili crisp. Then, using the dry ice, before the guests sat down, each place was set with a shallow ceramic bowl of water, and staff put the dry ice in just before serving the plank of bao buns. A smoky spectacle! 

For motivated caterers, the International Caterers Association is a resource that provides education, encourages peer-to-peer relationships, and inspires creativity while embracing all segments of the catering industry. For more information, visit

International Caterers Association

For motivated caterers, International Caterers Association is a resource that provides Education, encourages peer to peer Relationships and Inspires creativity while embracing all segments of the catering industry. For more information, visit