Catersource may be over (at least until March of 2023 in Orlando), but inspiring trends seen during Catersource + The Special Event will live on. Let’s look at some of this year’s hottest trends and how you can incorporate them into your business.
Chef Paul Buchanan (Primal Alchemy Catering) and Chef Sean Dent (left) showcased how to compose an elaborate charcuterie board during How to Create Grazing Boards that will Dazzle Your Clients & Their Guests! Primal Alchemy Catering makes a majority of their charcuterie in-house.
“We’re here to talk about this thing that other people call trends,” said Michael Stavros (M Culinary Concepts) during his session Caterers, Assemble!”–Tantalizing Trends, Clever Concepts, Inspired Interactivity, “but I don’t like to call them trends. These are ideas that you can take back with you and adapt, modify, improve upon, and make your own.”
Get on board
All things grazing have hit an alltime high over the past several years. Whereas in 2020 and 2021 guests were looking for at-home party ideas (as discussed by Ryan Corvaia during From Grazing Boards to Grab & Go–How to Launch a Winning Drop Off Catering Product), this year it’s all about community and gathering once again.
The grazing board during Connect Live featured cheese, charcuterie, fruits, and vegetables.
Charcuterie and cheese boards (as seen during Catersource + The Special Event’s Connect Live and Closing Night Celebration evening events) have become the popular kids on the block, but other iterations have also begun to gain momentum. French fry boards anyone? How about dessert and brunch boards? Vegetarians are also getting in on the fun with fruit and vegetable boards.
The How to Create Grazing Boards that will Dazzle Your Clients & Their Guests! session on the Culinary & Main Stage truly showcased the versatility of grazing boards with the preparation of a cheese table (Julia Kendrick Conway; Assaggiare Mendocino), a charcuterie table (Paul Buchanan; Primal Alchemy Catering), a fruit and vegetable table (Jennie Cook; Jennie Cooks Catering and Plant Based Parties), and finally a polenta table (Lee Anderson; Sugar Beach Events).
Julia Kendrick Conway with Assaggiare Mendocino designed a show-stopping cheese table during How to Create Grazing Boards that will Dazzle Your Clients & Their Guests!
Lee Anderson (Sugar Beach Events) went non-traditional with her grazing board during How to Create Grazing Boards that will Dazzle Your Clients & Their Guests! with a polenta board. After spreading the polenta (boiled corn meal) on the table, Anderson then added such accompaniments as Bolognese, balsamic vinegar, artichokes, shrimp, almonds, shredded cheese, sundried tomatoes, and greens.
“From plant-based to not a plant in sight,” said Stavros (who served as the moderator during the session). “We’re all about diversity on this stage.”
Beyond getting creative with what to put on your boards, there’s also plenty of opportunity to get creative with how to serve. Rather than a traditional board, consider unique platters such as surfboards, skateboards, car panels, or wood pallets. Package them individually with cones, jars, or miniature boards. Display them on a charcuterie wall for more impact.
“You can make them rich, full, and lush,” Stavros said. “You don’t want to have your pile of meat over here, and your pile of cheese over there; you want to have some artistry to it.”
Plant-based options continue to grow in popularity as more consumers gravitate to healthier and more sustainable options.
One idea shared during Stavros’ session was to have a vegan carving station, such as cauliflower steak (as seen during the Closing Night Celebration), to offer vegans a similar experience.
Vegetarians had an alternative to the Korean barbecue station during the Closing Night Celebration in the form of grilled cauliflower steak, served with roasted vegetable cous cous, broccolini, rainbow carrots, roasted tomato, and charred tomatillo.
Cook demonstrated how vegan options can easily translate to grazing tables during How to Create Grazing Boards that will Dazzle Your Clients & Their Guests!
“I’ve been feeding vegans for a while now, and they’re very grateful when they get food that is just for them, when they can eat everything,” she said. “They love fried foods, they love big portions, they love bread—and I love all those things. You have to make it fun for vegans.
“It’s just a matter of bringing omnivores to the vegan table and normalizing it by not talking about it.”
Jennie Cook (Jennie Cooks Catering and Plant Based Parties) showcased a fruit and vegetable grazing board during How to Create Grazing Boards that will Dazzle Your Clients & Their Guests!
Breakfast is even embracing the plant-based movement through the addition of vegan sausage, vegan hash, vegan chorizo, and even vegan eggs, as discussed by Chef Joe Pina during his session Breakfast! It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore.
Attendees to Catersource + The Special Event’s Venue & Culinary Tour experienced first-hand the plant-based movement when they enjoyed a Memphis-style mushroom sandwich, a vegan take on a fried chicken sandwich comprised of a vegan brioche bun, veganaise mayonnaise, bread and butter pickles, and fried mushrooms dredged in Memphis spices. Crispy cauliflower tempura, served with a samosa aioli, were also on the menu during the Event Experience.
Chef Thomas Ramirez prepared Memphis-style fried mushroom sandwiches during the Venue & Culinary Tour. Photo courtesy Catersource staff
“You have to get creative with your vegan options,” Stavros said. “However you’re going to do it, you must make sure it’s beautiful. You cannot neglect, you cannot overlook.”
Street food (often defined as the international snacks from Asia, Mexico, and Africa) was once considered by some as “gross, dirty, or unhealthy,” (a racist mindset according to closing keynote speaker Roy Choi). However, since that time the perception of food trucks and the street food movement has become one of inclusion (not exclusion).
“First they were pulling their kids away from the food trucks, and now they’re hiring them for that same kid’s birthday party,” said Choi (Kogi Korean BBQ) during his Closing General Session. Food trucks have also served as an easy introduction for some people when it comes to embracing different culinary cultures. “The authenticity of the food doesn’t mean you have to come from that country, but you do have to have respect for the cuisine,” he said.
Attendees to Catersource + The Special Event had the option of enjoying street food on the first day of the conference during the Food Truck Roundup.
The popularity of food trucks has also given rise to an increased awareness of international and fusion dishes. For example, the Closing Night Celebration featured a Korean barbecue station for guests to enjoy. Guests to Catersource + The Special Event were treated to a diverse lineup of street food offerings during the Food Truck Roundup on the first day of the conference.
Street food does not necessarily have to be sold out of a truck either. Several “street food” staples such as bao buns have made the transition from street star to late night nosh.
Consumers always crave the familiar, which is why comfort food continues to remain a top trend year-after-year. Whether it is grilled cheese (served during Connect Live), barbecue (prepared during Rich Rosendale and Christian Hernandez’s session on Elevating Flavors Through Presentation) or a soup hors d’oeuvre served in a Campbell’s soup can serving vessel, you can never go wrong with the familiar, but you also must elevate it to the next level.
Connect Live (held at the Ranch) served up a comfort food staple in the form of miniature grilled cheese sandwiches (black truffle/white cheddar/brioche). Photo courtesy BYC Photograph
Can you get any more comforting than meat and potatoes? Colette’s Catering & Events served braised short ribs with Yukon mash, roasted shallots and micro chives during the Opening Night Party.
“It’s identifying how to elevate,” said Rosendale (Rosedale Events). “It can be something as simple as taking flavor profiles that are craveable, and doing a smaller portion— that instantly refines it and elevates it. You now have something that is extraordinary.
“You can start with what you know, since everybody knows what’s delicious.”
The sweet life
There is a reason dessert is served at the end of the meal: they are often what guests look forward to the most. Who doesn’t love a little sweet treat?
Sweets can take myriad forms, ranging from frozen treats (such as the popsicles served during the Closing Night Celebration) or bite-sized desserts (such as the crème brûlée or tarts served during Connect Live).
Miniature crème brûlée desserts were served during Connect Live. Photo courtesy BYC Photography
This year’s conference even addressed this sweet trend head-on during No Pastry Chef? No Problem (presented by Robert Mitchell and Deanna Johnson with Bold Catering & Events), and by challenging competitors to develop a sweet bite during the DICED competition.
Brenda Backal (Bback4more LLC / BB’s Kitchen) prepared her take on a strawberry parfait (with rosemary and caramel) for the “sweet bite” portion of the DICED competition.
Jeanelle Powery’s (Choctaw Casino & Resort) dessert bite for the DICED competition featured fresh berries and Nutella.
A splash of color
Color can pack a mighty punch during events by instantly adding drama and impact.
“Color literally makes your experience stand out,” said Stella Rankin during her Memorable Experiences Through Re-Imagined Catering session. “Nothing signals ‘look at me, I’m over here,’ like the juxtaposition of colors.”
Food can bring a pop of color to events, such as this colorful macaron tower seen during the Event Experience.
Cook brought impact to her fruit and vegetable grazing board using color blocking by grouping like-colored foods together.
“I went to the Salvation Army one day and they had color coded all of the books,” she said, “and that just ignited something in me. It’s a great way to make a splash.”
Color can also be incorporated into events through colored ice cubes, signature cocktails, balloons, and other décor elements, and even dessert tables (such as the French macaron towers seen during the Event Experience).
Blast from the past
After the experiences of the past several years, guests are looking forward to a return to normalcy and a return to the familiar, which is why nostalgia has become such a staple of events.
“A sentimental longing for the past is a common, universally and highly social emotional experience,” Rankin said. “We often crave things that are a return to the familiar. Nostalgia is a very powerful emotion because we all have a desire for the past.”
Attendees to the Event Experience were treated to boozy cotton candy (pink champagne, sangria, and gin martini) from Spin-Spun.
Piggy backing off the grazing board trend, consider serving individual charcuterie and cheese boards in customized ‘Lunchable’ containers, thus bringing guests back to their elementary school days.
This year’s Closing Night Celebration was full of nostalgia (for every generation) using “decade rooms”: root beer floats in the 1960s; Blue Hawaiians, lava lamps, and disco balls in the 1970s; a candy bar and Pac Man-costumed characters in the 1980s; and soft pretzels, bean bag chairs, and an adult-version of Capri Sun in the 1990s.
“Evoking things from the past leaves a lasting impression on the guests,” Rankin said. “By tapping into our guests’ minds, souls, and experiences we can bring out the kid in everyone.”
The Event Experience also brought a bit of fun and nostalgia with its booze-flavored cotton candy (pink champagne, sangria, and gin martini).
The power of theme
Establishing a theme for an event can help create a cohesive vision and aesthetic for an event.
“You don’t stop at the food, you don’t stop at the vessel the food goes in, you don’t stop at the tray the vessel goes on, you don’t stop at the glassware,” Stavros said.
Boris Seymore designed a California-themed buffet table for his session on how to Upsell Your Event with Bespoke Buffets.
Boris Seymore’s California-themed buffet table featured surf boards, seashells, California street signs, and California inspired food options (tacos, egg rolls, tropical salads, and sliders). Photos courtesy catersource staff
When talking about theme, there are differing degrees to do it. For example, maybe you’re hosting a California or beach event; why not bring that aesthetic to your buffet table through the food that is served, as well as through the tiny details such as seashells and surfboards (as seen during Boris Seymore’s session on how to Upsell Your Event with Bespoke Buffets). Or maybe you want to go all out with the theme, such as Elias Events’ Halloween-themed A Spooktacular Night, complete with spooky décor and frightful food.
The Connect Live event themed many areas of the event venue to specific areas of California such as Beverly Hills and wine country. Photo courtesy BYC Photography
Cheers to that
Cocktail trends are constantly changing and evolving, and many of this year’s trends are paying close attention to ingredients, skill, and, in many cases, health.
Cannabis and CBD cocktails have been finding their way onto menus and into events recently, as discussed by Nettie Frank during Infuse Your Business with CBD and by Dan Braunstein during Cannabis Drinks.
Temperance and non-alcoholic options continue to be sought out by consumers, so make sure you understand the ins and outs of how to craft these cocktails (the Swizzle competition even challenged this year’s competitors to mix up a temperance drink).
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Ready-to-serve cocktails are also making a splash at events because of their simplicity.
“This means I don’t have to have a bartender,” Stavros said. “This means anyone with two hands and a church key can pop a can.”
Cocktails should make an impact during events. An example would be Champagne Creative’s Empress Gin station where guests could ring the bell for a cocktail, and then their drink would magically appear from one of the secret holes within the hedge.
The Cup Bearer gave a flair bartending performance during the Closing General Session. Spectacle and flair are great additions to your bar program in order to leave an impact.
Lastly, it is important to remember to have your cocktails make an impact, whether it is through flair bartending (like The Cup Bearer’s performance during the Closing General Session) or through experience (such as Champagne Creative’s surprise cocktails during the Opening Night Party).
“Make the bar interesting,” Stavros said. “Find something that will draw people in.”
The 'wow' factor
Guests are looking for the Instagram-able moments at events.
Hawker trays have always been a popular addition to events, but you can take these even further by dressing up the servers (such as those seen during Connect Live and the Event Experience).
Beautiful food displays (and their servers) can bring a touch of ‘wow, glam, and elegance to an event, such as these displays during the Event Experience.
Cooking with nitro (such as Super Cool Creamery during the Opening Night Party) adds a bit of drama to any event.
Interactive and experiential food stations are also great ways to bring the “wow” factor to your event. During his session, Rosendale discussed the popularity and impact of live fire cooking during events. Nitro cooking can have a similar impact (without the flames) since the smoke instantly adds drama (such as the nitro ice cream and popcorn offered during the Opening Night Party). You can also get creative with how you serve and display your food, whether it’s hanging food from the walls (like pretzels hanging from a wire fence during the Closing Night Celebration).
“How do you cut through the clutter and create something truly unforgettable? Through happy surprises and memorable moments,” Rankin said. “The future success of catering is 100 percent reliant upon understanding the needs of your guests at any given moment and then delivering on that in an unforgettable way.”
All photos courtesy WASIO Photography unless otherwise noted.