By Paul Spano
The world of food is an ever-morphing playground as chefs are constantly expanding their horizons. With emerging new flavours and innovative cooking, curing and serving styles, access to new and exciting concepts and cuisines is readily available. Moving forward, we expect to see a great mix of the old and new, the traditional and the exotic. Try blending new flavours with timeless concepts and zeroing in on the necessary expectations for high quality and local product.
One of the main trends we’re discussing is to keep things simple while getting back to the basics when it comes to catering and foodservice. With the emergence of new and exciting serving techniques, deep flavours and innovative ingredients, classic starters and mains have taken a seat on the back burner for a few years now. We’re going to start seeing a throwback to tradition, incorporating dishes true to basic preparation, nutritious ingredients, and solid presentation. Let’s explore a few of these ideas.
Start from scratch
Chefs are taking a U-turn back to real food. As we become more socially and environmentally conscious, the demand for nutrition, local and house-made products, and sustainable and non-processed food is on a steady incline with no signs of turning back. Gone are the days of pre-made, frozen appetizers, basic breads, and commercially produced ingredients leaving space for fresh and healthy alternatives for starters and whole menus alike.
It’s easy to incorporate this trend into your appetizer menu while also taking it back to the basics. As an event staple, charcuterie is an all-time crowd pleaser with ample opportunity for your chef to really take charge with creating quality, in-house products and sourcing fresh and local ingredients. Guests will appreciate preservative-free, house-made condiments or antipasto and be awed by the artisanal bread, freshly baked that morning from the local, family run bakery in the area. Impress with in-house, organic cured meats and promote farm-to-table products when it comes to your cheese and produce.
Take the time to create options that cater to food restrictions or certain diets such as vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free. It’s increasingly common to have many of these guests in attendance and they don’t want to feel like the odd ones out. Create an inclusive event and take this as an opportunity to try new recipes and introduce new ideas to a group.
In our fast-paced world, we’re used to quick service and instant gratification. When translating this to bar service, we are left to drink poorly mixed cocktails with low quality ingredients and garnishes. Forget that basic screwdriver; this is the year to bring back that old-school style of cocktail that takes time and effort to make!
Why not hand your fresh produce and top-shelf products to a skilled bartender or pass along your flavour ideas to a mixologist at your next event? Creating a unique signature drink or providing those rare cocktails is a surefire way to get the party started while promoting an interactive element to the event. When was the last time you were able to order a well-executed Old Fashioned (subbing granulated sugar with locally produced maple syrup) or a high-end Side Car complete with top shelf brandy and freshly squeezed lemon juice? Whether it’s a take on the Mint Julep (don’t forget the live mint plant) or a sultry Manhattan with house-made maraschino cherries, these old style cocktails are guaranteed to be the talk of the event.
The early 20th century
If you’re looking for something traditional but fun, take it way back with starter dishes prominent in the early 20th century. Whether you’re inspired by the posh, British style flavours depicted in the popular series Downton Abbey or the glitz and glam of the early 20s, there are plenty of classic and traditional dishes and drinks to choose from.
Complete your chatty tea time inspiration with high tea, smoked salmon sandwiches, savoury tarts and fresh scones—and don’t dare forget fresh-made Yorkshire puddings! These appetizer trends are perfect on family style, set tables, or at food stations while the presence of passed hors d’oeuvres adds a playful and fun 20s-inspired theme by incorporating classic, fresh-made finger foods. Complement this theme with infused teas, quality bubbly, or bring back a classic cocktail of that era such as an ageless Gin Rickey.
Spice it up
Remember, guests want options and although the “back-to-basics” trend is hot, ethnic flavours are also in high demand this year, not only for appetizers but all courses, including desserts. Whether it’s a fusion menu or a full-bodied, intricately spiced dish, the diverse combinations of world flavours are endless. Keep an eye out for a modernization of Turkish or Middle-Eastern dishes, complex Indian curries, and African cuisine. Although paired well with meats, many of these recipes are specifically designed to be vegan or vegetarian, complementing the trend of farm fresh and healthy, organic foods.
Plain and simple, food stations are fun! They bring forward a form of excitement to an event and create an instant buzz amongst guests. Not only can they be interactive, they can be designed to fit into just about any décor or style of event. These stations keep attendees mingling while giving them choice and convenience based on their own tastes or appetite.
Depending on your type of event, you can keep it simple with presentation stations. A beautiful ice sculpture, doubling as a cocktail or seafood station is easy and practical while still adding an elegant bonus to your event. Taking it up a notch, having a skilled chef serving up sustainably made, Hawaiian poke (pronounced po-kay) or freshly grilled, house-made, “street meat” style sausage can turn a great event into a memorable one.
Speaking of “street meat,” street food-inspired menus are still a crowd pleaser with small tasty eats ranging from open flame, Middle Eastern kebabs, to Chinese dumplings, to cheesy Colombian arepas. A little bit of interesting comfort food is always a welcome treat and a great way to combine many of this year’s appetizer trends.
There’s nothing more sophisticated than serving a beautifully prepared appetizer alongside a perfectly complementing cocktail, smooth wine, or a sturdy craft brew. Not only can a well-executed drink pairing enhance the flavours of the food served, the combination is sure to impress even the most seasoned event guests. This trend is on track to continue, but to ensure success, the use of top shelf, high-quality products must be used to create impressive palates of flavour and finishes.
Try combining your fancy, old-style cocktails with ethnic-spiced starters or source a local red wine to pair perfectly with the in-house cured chorizo. Not only is there magic in providing these pairings but having a professional explain why their flavours are meant to marry is what will leave the memorable impression on your guests.
The best way to describe 2017 is a blend of the old and new, taking components from each and moulding them together to create a new and modern take on classic tradition. If there’s one common theme, it’s in the effort to create quality dishes. This year will see chefs taking their time to properly source high-quality, sustainable, and locally produced ingredients to create nutritionally whole menus from start to finish.
About the author:
With over 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Paul Spano is Senior Catering Consultant and Director of Venue Development at Seventh Heaven Event Catering. With Seventh Heaven, you get quality food, unbeatable service, and refreshing honesty. This is truly a one-stop shop event catering company. For more information visit www.seventhheaven.ca.