Catersource surveyed caterers and other industry experts from coast to coast (and across the pond) to find out what's haute and happening in 2014. Here are a few highlights from the Catersource magazine January Trends issue. See the digital edition for the full story, complete with colorful infographics. Hot Off the Grill: Caterers say grilled is their most used cooking method, followed closely by sautéed, baked and broiled. And many caterers predict a major boost in sous-vide this year.
Meat Eaters: According to research by Baum + Whiteman, chicken is going haute this year. Be it rotisserie, roast or fried, chefs are getting fancy with the otherwise humble bird. Beyond chicken, 75 percent of caterers say the most requested center-of-the-plate protein is beef, followed by fish and seafood. On the Side: Carbs are making a comeback, and increasingly, starchy sides are standing alone as a lighter yet satisfying meal. Technomic reports that rice bowls will be big in 2014, as well as flatbreads, waffles, wraps and artisan breads. Nevertheless, caterers report that the potato continues to be a bestseller. More than 60 percent ranked potatoes as their most popular side, followed by a close tie between pasta, rice, root vegetables, beans, heirloom grains and quinoa. Local Stories? For today's thoughtful consumers, keeping it local is no longer enough. They also want to keep it real. "Consumers want assurances that what they're eating is real, in every sense of the word," according to Technomic. "Today's menus describe items far more thoroughly, listing not only the ingredients but also where they came from and how they were prepared." Now more than ever, caterers pride themselves on using locally produced food and sharing that story with guests. Caterers like Rochelle Myers, whose bestselling mushroom and goat cheese strudel is something they can create year-round using local products. Myers says they use organic cremini mushrooms from their supplier, Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative (Hustontown, PA); butter from South Mountain Creamery (Middletown, MD), and goat cheese from Cherry Glen Farm (Boyds, MD).
Tea - That cup of chamomile isn't just for teatime anymore. More and more, caterers are grinding up tea and using it in cocktails, as a spice, a marinade, a tenderizer or an earthy decoration. Coffee bars are making way for more herbal tea options as customers cut down on caffeine. Xanthan gum - Often used by people who are allergic to gluten to add volume to baked goods, xanthan gum is on the rise as a trendy ingredient in kitchens across the globe. What's more, "it's a great tool to make the perfect sauce or dressing," says Adam Gooch of Purple Onion Catering. Alternative flours & grains - With such a wide variety of flours and grains out there, chefs and bakers are seeing the gluten-free movement as an opportunity to experiment with different textures and flavor profiles. "I've used mesquite flour, quinoa flour, hazelnut flour and many more," says Sweets Stylist Amy Atlas, a featured speaker at the 2014 Catersource Conference & Tradeshow. In addition, grains like amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa and wild rice are both delicious and gluten-free. Non-dairy milks - When it comes to catering to dairy-free diets, soymilk is just the beginning. Caterers are beginning to use a wider variety of alternatives -- coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk and more -- in everything from sauces to desserts.
Mediterranean flavors continue to be a leading cultural food favorite, according to nearly 60 percent of caterers. However, Baum + Whiteman predicts that Middle Eastern flavors from regions of Turkey, Israel, Morocco, Iraq and Iran, along with "New Israeli" cuisine, will grow in popularity this year. Latin American and Korean influences are still going strong, as are a new wave of Asian flavors such as Gochujang, a Korean amalgam of fermented hot chili paste and soy. In the same report by Baum + Whiteman, the zesty Japanese spice Shichimi togarashi is dubbed the "new salt and pepper."
Dessert action stations are one way caterers can and will show off their creativity in 2014, from marshmallow stations to interactive gelato bars. "We don't serve a lot of wedding cakes anymore," says Blaire Veronica Osborne of Plush Catering & Events, Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara, Mexico. "We still typically have a big wedding cake on display for the bride and groom to cut, but the bottom layers of the cake are almost always fake." Instead, Osborne says it's far more common nowadays to have a dessert table -- and not just any table. "We work with some fantastic designers who put together everything from the custom linens to table lighting and the platters and stands the desserts are placed on. And if we do a plated dessert we get special requests like cheese plates instead of sweets or mini desserts served family style."
As trendy as the dessert world can be, most caterers say chocolate remains a bestseller with clients. From "mini chocolate pot de crème" (24 carrots, Irvine, CA) to "chocolate brownie a la mode with chocolate covered bacon" (Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Parsippany, NJ), the decadent treat can be reinvented in any number of ways. Same goes for nostalgia. "Anything that pays homage to childhood desserts, such as s'mores, chocolate chip cookies and brownies, will find success because we all love unlocking our inner child," says Hillard.
The top three requested serving styles are buffet, plated and action/food stations, with the latter going more and more mainstream. "We are seeing a definite shift from the typical buffet or plated dinner. This year we have cocktail style receptions with small plates, action stations, tasting menus with wine pairing and family style service," says Osborne of Plush Catering & Events. Canapés and bite-size appetizers will continue to be on trend in 2014, resulting in new developments in large spoons and bowl foods. This trend is both pretty and practical: "Smaller starters mean that guests can enjoy a sampling of the bride and groom's favorite meals and keep plenty of room for the other courses," say experts at U.K.-based Rhubarb.
What's the latest beer and/or cocktail obsession with your customers? If craft beer comes to mind, you're in the majority. More than 60 percent of caterers say local craft beers are the biggest hit with their guests. Locally minded caterers are doing everything they can to embrace the craft beer movement, especially seasonal brews. "Here in Texas, there's a company called Shiner and I look forward to serving their Ruby Redbird every year," says Laura McAdams, A La Carte Events & Catering, Houston, TX. "I even stash a few bottles to get me through until they make it again."
Local craft distilled spirits are also gaining popularity, as are handcrafted cocktails and even craft sodas. Whether they appear in carbonated cocktails, bottled or on tap, these trendy soda pops are as artsy as their beer and cocktail counterparts.
From wood-aged beers to obscure vermouths, tastes are trending toward the sour and bitter. Many cocktails are now enjoyed as a before-dinner aperitif to encourage the appetite or an after-dinner digestif to help with digestion. The use of traditional bitters -- orange peel, anise, ginger, lavender and so forth -- is part of an increasing demand from customers for a 19th or 20th-century cocktail experience.
Be it classic or updated, the Moscow Mule appeared more than a few times on Catersource survey results. Maybe it's because good vodka never goes out of style or because lime juice and ginger beer -- also big flavor trends in 2014 -- are key ingredients. In addition, several caterers mentioned that gin cocktails are still big.
Christine Harkness of Flag Hill Catering & Events in New Hampshire says their most popular drinks are made with the company's own spirits and liqueurs, with all ingredients fermented, distilled and bottled onsite. The Manchester Cocktail, containing Flag Hill's own moonshine, is of particular interest to grooms and groomsmen. Read more 2014 trend predictions, including technology, weddings, what's next and more, in the Catersource magazine January 2014 digital edition.