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Small Bites with Big Flavor: Meet the CATIE Awards Best Appetizer & Small Plate Finalists and Winners

It’s our favorite time of the year, friends. We’ve just wrapped up Catersource + The Special Event 2023, and to say a good time was had by all would be an understatement. But, as always, one of the highlights for us is celebrating all our CATIE Awards finalists, winners, and their creative teams. 

Since we know not everyone could be there with us, we’re going to give you a little bite of inspiration for appetizers and small plates from our finalists for this year!  

Best Appetizer  

This year’s appetizer finalists both hailed from colorful Colorado, and their dishes sure featured some delectable hues that delighted guests’ palates. Here’s what they created: 

“Rice + Eggs” by Catering by Design - Denver, CO | Winner 

Photo courtesy the International Caterers Associaton

There’s no question that TikTok is a huge source of inspiration for amateur and professional chefs everywhere these days. At a sales and marketing event where event professionals were the target demographic, the team knew they had to wow, while also meeting dietary restrictions and doing something these industry pros hadn’t seen before. So, they took a viral pesto egg recipe and turned it into an upscale, two-bite appetizer filled with Asian fusion flavors. 

The dish featured a Forbidden Rice umami “rice cake” that was then topped with a fried quail egg, chili crunch, scallions and pickled radish. The dark hue of the black rice allowed the red of the chili crisp, the yellow of the yolk, the green of the scallions, and the white of the onion to pop off the plate. And the complexity of the dish was just as bold in terms of flavor as it was the colors showcased.  

They made the rice cake in a way that it could be eaten fork-free, so they were able to pass and serve 200 people in less than 10 minutes during a meeting break. Colorful, delicious and efficient—the ultimate appetizer trifecta! 

“Torched Avocado Toast” by Footers Catering - Arvada, CO | Finalist 

Photo courtesy the International Caterers Associaton

Peanut butter and jelly. Coffee and donuts. Rice and beans. There are just some things that go better together, and that was the premise of this springtime brunch event catered by Footers Catering. As one of the first events back in person since the pandemic, the group wanted tasty treats that featured a theme: “Better Together.” And let’s be honest, avocado and toast were made for each other!  

Using that as the inspiration for the appetizer course, the team put together a perfectly paired avocado toast that featured toasted local Izzio sourdough and avocado as the base. But, what they put on top was perhaps what made it so magical.  

The toast was peppered with dollops of sweet blue crab salad, lemon ricotta, pickled fresno, frisee, black sesame, and edible flowers for a beautiful finish. It literally looked like a garden on a tasty piece of avocado toast! 

One struggle we all have when serving up avocado toast is how you keep the bread perfectly fluffy with a bit of crunch rather than a soggy mess once you add the delectable toppings. And the Footers Catering team figured it out. 

The bread was toasted, but then before adding the avocado, ricotta and crab, they torched the top of each piece of bread, which added an additional crisp that served as the perfect base so the bread didn’t get soggy or dried out from too much toasting. Voila!  

Best Small Plate  

More and more couples and companies are going for small plates for their celebrations and events. They allow the event to flow, guests get to enjoy diverse flavors, and they’re just simply super fun to eat and make! Here are a couple of our favorites from the CATIE Awards this year: 

"Taste of Tampa – Lechon Asado" by CBK Catering & Events - Tampa, FL | Finalist 

Photo courtesy the International Caterers Associaton

Ybor City, a beloved neighborhood of Tampa, was where the JC Newman Cigar Co. 125th Anniversary Celebration took place. This area has Cuban roots and culture that are palpable on every corner. So, when CBK Catering & Events was asked to cater a small plate for their event, they went with a little bit of Cuban flavor in the form of lechon asado, aka roasted pork.  

They used this concept to create an elevated take on this classic Cuban favorite. The plate featured their 24-hour smoked, roasted pulled pork, a hearty slice of fresh Cuban bread from La Segunda Bakery, a colorful schmear of mustard, BBQ sauce, red onions, and pickles to top it off. Que rico! 

“Garden Party Elopement” by Colette's Catering and Events - Fullerton, CA | Winner 

Photo courtesy the International Caterers Associaton

Is there anything more filled with romance and whimsy than a garden party? We think not. And Collette’s Catering and Events surely brought the romance and whimsy to life with their intricate menu of delicate, delicious small plates for a recent elopement. 

Each plate on the menu for this fabulous fête looked like it could have been featured in a magical garden—fresh blooms, bold hues, and garden fresh ingredients that cultivated rich flavor combinations guests loved. 

The main small plates enjoyed were bulgogi tacos, truffle honey ricotta jars, mojo carnitas arepas, and Baja fish tacos. They were peppered around on multi-level displays filled with lush florals. Placing them atop the unique shelving displays allowed each plate to shine! 

Want More Catering Inspiration? Join the ICA This Year 

Want more catering inspiration, education and support? The International Caterers Association offers memberships for both caterers and vendors looking to learn, network and grow together! Learn more about membership and join today. 


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