Few things in life come cheap — catered events included. But with a substitution here and a tweak there, a high-end menu can be adjusted to suit the needs of a cost-aware client. Three caterers show us how.
THE COST OF SCIENCE
With the right edible chemicals, chef Brian Aaron — president of Aaron's Catering International & Gourmet in Miami — can “turn a vinaigrette into powder, make caviar out of mango, turn a sauce into a gel cap, just to name a few,” he says. And while the scientific culinary movement has its cheerleaders and detractors, one thing is certain: “Chemicals do not come cheap!” Aaron says. But they do create a dramatic effect. In one case, Aaron dips white cheddar popcorn into liquid nitrogen, “and once eaten, you have smoke coming out of your mouth and nose like a dragon,” he notes.
As costly as the chemical pyrotechnics are, Aaron has ways to offset their extra expense. He gets a weekly list of specials and promotions from vendors and buys accordingly. And while he typically uses one waiter per 20 guests, he can use one waiter per 25 guests when needed. “I just have to get my best waiters, and I can pull it off without a problem,” he says.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Picnics are often low-budget affairs, but pack a basket with gourmet food, and the price can skyrocket. Still, Sonoma, Calif.-based the Girl and the Fig Caters has tricks to help clients hold the line on spending.
For example, while organic food is all the rage, it often costs extra. But there are ways to offer organic fare without the premium price tag. “We have found that many of the smaller farmers and producers work in an organically sound way but cannot afford the time and money that it takes to become ‘certified’ organic,” director of catering Andrea Koweek says. “Knowing your purveyor and the care they take in their farming or production techniques will often satisfy the organic/sustainable side of the clients' requests,” with less added cost.
HOW GREEN IS YOUR VALLEY
Chicago-based Jewell Events Catering has its own tips for organic menus, which, the company admits, aren't the cheapest route to go. Still, Jewell is committed to the cause, and the company has started the Jewell Green Initiative, which has resulted in “locating specialized suppliers, rewriting menus, retraining staff and redoing kitchen infrastructure to accommodate shorter food shelf life,” sales director John Kvedaras explains. For their part, clients must be “willing to pay the price, literally, for this kind of menu,” he adds.
When food costs run high, a caterer must turn to other parts of the party to lower the price tag. Jewell sometimes omits bread and butter plates or sets out only one wineglass. And for back-to-back events, the company tries to keep the linen set and uses a topper for the second event, Kvedaras says.
BRIAN AARON'S TASTE OF THE FUTURE
This futuristic sit-down meal, which represents the year 2020, is on the higher end of the scale at $150 a head, but adjustments can be made to be keep costs closer to $70 a head, Aaron says. For example, Aaron might nix the addition of ginger cotton candy to the crab rangoon while the arugula salad might come with simply goat cheese instead of goat cheese in nitro form. But there's still room for science on a less pricey plate — in the form of pipettes of sauce beside the halibut and an hors d'oeuvre of vegetable spring rolls with Asian sauce made “Dippin' Dots”-style.
Nitro White Cheddar Popcorn with Powdered Butter
Crab Rangoon topped with Ginger Cotton Candy
Duck Taquitos with Sweet Orange Caviar Melange
Arugula Salad with a Lemon-Vinaigrette Gelatin Dome, Nitro Goat Cheese Sorbet, Roasted Pistachios and Dried Berries
Alaskan Halibut 2020 with Balsamic Syrup Caviar, Carrot Puree, Lobster Foam, White Truffle Cream Pipettes and Seasonal Vegetables
Aaron's Signature Churrasco 2020 with Rosemary Chimichurri in a test tube, Garlic-infused Polenta Cake and Mediterranean Grilled Vegetables with Flaming Rosemary
THE GIRL AND THE FIG AND THE PICNIC
A picnic in a picturesque vineyard doesn't have to hit the wallet hard. The Girl and the Fig Caters offers two different picnic options for clients on different budgets. The first is served as a three-course menu that runs $60 a head. The second is served family-style and costs only $21.95 a head.
Salad of Baby Field Greens with Orange and Tarragon Vinaigrette
Pancetta-wrapped Beef Filet with Grilled Asparagus, Potato and Green Garlic Puree
Pearl Couscous Salad with Olives, Carrots, Celery and Champagne Vinaigrette
Thinly Sliced Tri-tip Platter on a bed of Seasonal Grilled Vegetables
Dried Plum Clafouti
A JEWELL OF A MEAL
Two organic menus by Jewell Catering feature the same first course and dessert and a different entree for clients with different budgets. The tenderloin and halibut menu runs $75 a head, food only, while the bistro beef and capon menu runs $47 a head. “The interesting thing is that these organic menus cost about 30 percent more than they would if we had used conventional food sources,” Kvedaras says.
Mushroom Charlotte with a Fan of Mixed Greens
Selection of Breads
Duet of Grilled Tenderloin of Beef and Roasted Wild Pacific Halibut with Sauteed Swiss Chard, Carrot Puree, Confit of Fingerling Potatoes and Asparagus Spears, Sauteed Wild Mushrooms and Fried Basil
Duet of Bistro Beef on Caramelized Onions and Two Slices of Capon Breast stuffed with Spinach, Red Pepper and Fontina Cheese served with Green Beans and a Timbale of Tomato and Leek Quinoa
Individual Baked Alaska
Aaron's Catering International & Gourmet
Jewell Events Catering
312/829-3663, ext. 16
The Girl and the Fig Caters