Selecting your food and beverage menu is one of the most important aspects of designing your event’s guest experience. Today’s savvy and health conscious Guests are just saying no to the traditional rubber chicken dinners. They have seriously upped their food IQ thanks to the prevalence of foodie cooking shows, instagram and online resources where they can study food trends, international flavour profiles, recipes, etc. They are expecting, or rather demanding, thoughtful, delicious gourmet food and savvy imaginative beverages at the events they attend.
I had the opportunity to “grill” some of the top foodies across the country to find out what you should expect to see in 2017.
Starting with design, traditional event formats are being redefined by moving away from long, seated dinners or static buffet stations to offering interactive live food stations where chefs are emerging from the kitchen to prepare, cook, and serve live, in front of the guests. Although this is not new as a concept, the key to success will be the originality of the food being served, the ability for guests to get involved by selecting the ingredients they would like integrated into their dish (i.e. build your own), the innovative presentation styles and the fun interaction between the chef and the guests.
Canada is a cultural mosaic and Canadians are embracing and showing a strong appetite for ethnically diverse food. Prepare for international fusions where combining foods from two different cultures will result in unique dishes like Patiala Perogies where Poland meets India. Requests to focus on food from cultures that are not yet considered “mainstream” like Persian, Moroccan and Polish, for example, are becoming much more frequent.
There has also been a lifestyle shift to healthier foods and this has impacted how chefs are designing their menus, in particular for corporate meetings, conferences, etc. Some chefs see it as a challenge that encourages creativity. Healthy breakfast drop-offs and boxed lunches are requested more and more for meetings. Healthy ingredients continue to trend, but now they are more accessible and people want to take advantage of their benefits. The use of ancient grains and superfoods will continue to rise including ingredients like goji berries, flax seeds and chia seeds. Given some people’s dietary restrictions and preferences, you will see celiac friendly ingredients being used like dried beans, chick peas, lentils, fava beans, sweet potatoes, beets and kale. Healthy items like turmeric, apple cider vinegar, bitter melon, kefir and avocado oil will also be in the mix.
Creating interesting and imaginative food and beverage activations are also soaring in popularity. Spot appetizers, where the chef will roam the space with a full chef kit around his/her waist interacting with guests while preparing an interesting canapé right in front of them will be something new to experience at events. 10tation owner David D’Aprile shared an interesting activation described as a juice bar wall which capitalizes on the juicing trend that is still going strong. Salad bars with more flair featuring a wide variety ingredients displayed creatively with interesting dressings like Kombucha or toppings like turmeric bacon bits is one of Peter and Paul’s Event Catering most in-demand stations. More elaborate beverage activations are also being well received by guests like a Caesar bar with a full set of condiments including bacon strips, crab, shrimp, radishes, pickled veggies and fresh vegetables. Yum
Vegetarian and vegan options have been elevated to an entirely different level. Gone are the days where a bowl of pasta is an acceptable veggie option. How does Culinary Capers Catering‘s Chickpea Panisse (see above) with organic carrots, green beans and roasted cauliflower sound or Food Dudes’ Kentucky Fried Eggplant with grilled vegetables, smoked onion gravy, buffalo tofu sauce, pickled heirloom carrot herb slaw? These are dishes that would even make meat-eaters start to salivate.
In terms of wedding food and beverage trends, brides and grooms are looking for more simple menus and moving away from seated dinners to more cocktail style formats that include interactive stations with a “wow” factor. The addition of food trucks for sweet or savoury treats later on in the evening is also something you will see more of both for casual and more upscale weddings as it adds an element of fun. Don’t forget about signature cocktails, as you will see later in this article, drinks are also an important factor.
Farm to table is becoming a way of life and not just a trend; some would even say an evolution or movement. You end up with better quality ingredients where you can literally taste the difference. The public is also much more conscientious about where their food is coming from. Although this is fabulous in terms of supporting your local farms, it is sometimes more cost prohibitive for chefs. Smaller intimate events may be in a better position to take advantage of this trend.
Comfort food is still popular, but chefs are moving away from the traditional sliders and mac and cheese to incorporating favourites with a twist or some international flavours like Food Dudes’ Shawarma Taco (see above) with braised lamb neck, Greek yogurt, hot sauce, beet pickled jicama, feta, mint gremolata, tortilla strips served with flour or corn tortillas. How about Legs Diamond’s deconstructed Shepherd’s pie made using lamb neck, saffron whipped potatoes, thumbalina carrots and popped baby corn? Edgardo Spano of Seventh Heaven Catering says think grilled cheese using artisan cheeses and breads, cured meats or unique relishes, or tried and true mac & cheese dressed up with bacon, lobster, or truffle oil; flavours that explode in your mouth and make your taste buds sing.
Although food will always be the highlight, cocktails are every bit as artisan as cuisine. With a renewed interest in cocktail culture, you would be doing yourself a favour by taking careful consideration of what you serve at the bar. Shake and stir up something new and enticing for your guests – the Manhattans and cosmopolitan martinis of yesteryear all still have their place, but cocktail offerings at events are becoming more diverse. Adding mixologists to your event line-up is a great way to up your game.
According to Frankie Solarik of BarChef there doesn’t appear to be any slow down when it comes to guests trying new spirits and flavour combinations. He feels we are going to see more emphasis on spirits like tequila and American rye. Incorporating a combination of flavours, custom glassware, culinary techniques such as blowtorches, liquid nitrogen and plating with garnishes like moss and wood chips will ensure that guests receive a truly unique drinking experience.
Although nothing pairs with food quite like wine, beer pairings are becoming very popular as are cocktail pairings, although more challenging to do. For example, Frankie has suggested that some brightly flavoured Asian dishes benefit from a crisp dry lager or pilsner, while pale ales complement the sweetness and richness of southern BBQ. Porters can accompany steak and India Pale Ale tends to work nicely when cutting through rich fried dishes. Frankie recommends pairing cheeses with cocktails, especially creamier styles like Grey Owl and Delice de Bourgogne. Those cheeses act as a really nice backdrop allowing the vegetal notes of cocktails to penetrate the creaminess of the cheese and bring aroma and complexity right through.
An interesting new feature of Peter and Paul’s Event Catering, is incorporating “flights of beer” from local craft breweries paired with savoury popcorn and fun food stations like uniquely flavoured mac and cheese bars. In addition, they have interactive food stations that not only feature a chef but a brewmaster as well, who can speak to the nuances of the beers in the flight and why they pair nicely with the food being served.
Thank you to these superstar foodies for sharing their invaluable time and their incredible insight.
Adrian Niman, Founder & Executive Chef, Food Dudes, Toronto
David D’Aprile, Owner of 10tation Event Catering, Toronto
Edgardo Spano, Event Maestro / Director of Sales and Marketing, Seventh Heaven Event Catering, Toronto
Frankie Solarik, Co-Owner & Bar Chef at BarChef, Toronto
Gregory Pettit, Co-Owner & Chef Ricky Ray, Legs Diamond, Whistler
Romy Jolly, Executive Chef, Peter and Paul’s Event Catering, Toronto
Stewart Boyles, Executive Chef, Culinary Capers Catering, Vancouver