When it comes to food trends, one day you’re a tasty treat sitting with the cool kids at the table, the next day you’re not. It seemed like it was just yesterday (or was it, in fact, just yesterday?) that the mighty cupcake was the new black among snack and dessert trends. Kale anything was a must-have. And remember the cronut? No? Yeah, neither do we.
Our catering experts reveal the latest fads, tell us which foods have gone bad and offer tips for stocking your snack bars and dessert trays.
A combination of modern techniques and traditional comfort foods is now turning up at events, says Lisa Dupar, chief creative officer of Dupar & Company, a Redmond-based catering business that produces an average of 1,500 events per year. “People are asking for modern techniques that mystify their guests, along with retro-comfort foods, such as mac and cheese and popsicles,” she says.
Modern techniques include live-action displays, such as a molten-chocolate-cake station that allows guests to interact with a pastry chef. “There are endless possibilities to create active sweet treats,” notes Dupar.
The tidbit plate with small servings of several items is also here to stay, says Dupar. “It gives caterers the flexibility to create a variety of small composed meals with themes, along with flexibility for dietary requests.” Anything along a street food theme is also popular.
Don’t Let Them Eat Cake (Pops)
As with most trends, what goes up must come down. “No more cake pops! Please. Done and done,” says Dupar. Candy bars and “mini cans of anything” are also on their way out, says Kurt Beadell, creative director of the Portland-based VT Group, which owns, among other event-focused ventures, three catering divisions, including Vibrant Table.
Some popular snack items have even caught these veteran caterers by surprise. “I didn’t realize how popular popcorn is,” says Dupar. Her company caters for Microsoft and “top executives visiting the Microsoft campus have asked us for take-away bags of our chocolate-caramel-nut Crack Popcorn.”
Food for Thought
While following trends (or setting them) keeps event food current, caterers still need to consider certain factors when providing food for an event or meeting. The client’s needs and specific requests are, of course, a top consideration. Conferences, in particular, often require that participants are fed quickly so they can get back to business as soon as possible, with the snacks planned out as concessions rather than a sit-down meal.
Snacks for a conference or meeting need to be easy to eat, with a “grab and go” concept, says Beadell. “Nothing sticky or drippy; the smaller, the better.” Unfortunately, Beadell observes, these restrictions often have planners stocking up on items that may seem healthy but are not, such as cost-effective, individually wrapped options, like granola bars and bagged snacks.
Instead, Beadell suggests a selection of vegetables paired with dipping sauces (like cilantro-lime crème fraîche or basil blue cheese) or fresh fruits and panna cotta. Packaged mini plates with items such as hummus, pita bread, olives and baba ghanoush are also a goodchoice. If a dessert is requested, he says, make it interesting: Ice cream bars or mini s’mores are sure to be crowd-pleasers.
The time of day also makes a difference, says Dupar. For a morning business meeting, fruit, nuts and something with a little protein are appropriate, while afternoon snacks can consist of popcorn, cookies and root chips or bar snacks, such as parsnip chips and crackers. Dupar also finds out if the event is formal or casual. For example, she says business people at a high-level meeting aren’t usually comfortable with snacking.
Cultural preferences are another consideration. “Japanese, Chinese, Indian, German, Italian—all are very unique in social protocol and what is acceptable for eating in front of, and with, clients,” Dupar explains. “You need to know your audience.”
Requests for certain foods based on dietary restrictions are becoming more common, notes Kurt Beadell. “We are asked daily for vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free snacks,” he says. Finding food trends—and catering inspiration in general—requires research. Beadell and his team are constantly attending conferences and looking at magazines and cookbooks for inspiration. “Eating and cuisine are our lives,” explains Beadell. “Everyone in the company has inf luence.”
Fortunately for eventgoers everywhere, this commitment to quality food at events is a trend that doesn’t go out of style.