THEY MAY BE small — no more than a bite or two, in most cases — but hors d'oeuvre are big news for special events. Catering pros continue to create fresh flavor combinations, served in stylish new ways.
Updated comfort food is big news for hors d'oeuvre at Toronto-based Catered Affare Cuisine & Event Design, notes president Colleen Walker. “Clients like comfort food, but they also want something that's fun and different,” she says. The company's “comfort collection” includes items such as baked vintage cheddar cheese and pasta served in Chinese spoons or square votive candle holders, and miniature crostini club sandwiches with chicken, bacon, tomato and smoked mozzarella.
Myra Adkins, senior event planner at Austin, Texas-based Word of Mouth Catering, says that Asian-inspired hors d'oeuvre top the request list. To meet the demand, “We'll take something that's more traditional like a crab cake and give it a bit of a twist — for example, we do sesame-crusted crab cakes with wasabi aioli or serve hoisin duck on gingered carrot cakes,” she explains.
David Turk, owner of New York-based Indiana Market & Catering, is seeing interest in both old favorites as well as exotic new options such as tequila-marinated gravlax with honey mustard on grilled naan bread, and barbecue pulled pork on cheddar polenta crisps with caramelized onion jam. As for the effect of the low-carb diet trend on hors d'oeuvre, “It hasn't been a big issue for our clients or, from what I understand, the New York client in general — we walk too much to care,” he laughs.
Clients' craving for presentation innovation continues to inspire caterers. “I think a lot of customers, especially those in the design world, which constitute a fair amount of our client base, want to make an elegant statement,” Turk explains. “Usually, this means the simpler the better — lots of white, lots of square glass, not a lot of fuss in garnishes. We love a monochromatic look, whether it's bathing a buffet in red light, using matching trays or giving all the food a simple, consistent look.”
At Word of Mouth Catering, matching ethnic foods to the tray type is the current norm, Adkins notes. For example, the company serves its ginger-dill marinated shrimp hors d'oeuvre between connected chopsticks — an update of the classic skewer — and presents them on leaf-lined bamboo trays with orchid garnishes. Meanwhile, Walker is using seashell halves to serve items such as “pearls” of bocconcini marinated in sun-dried tomato pesto. “We place the shells on long trays filled with bright orange or fuchsia lentils — it looks like the bottom of an aquarium,” she says.
Walker notes that while her company is mostly doing tray-passed hors d'oeuvre, it has seen success with stations that match hors d'oeuvre with beverages. “Instead of doing a wine bar with three types of wine, we're doing three stations and pairing an hors d'oeuvre with a white wine, pairing one with a red, and one with a rosé,” she explains. One recent menu included small servings of cedar-roasted salmon dusted with maple sugar and cedar jelly served on squares of wood, paired with white wine; jumbo pasta shells filled with spinach, crabmeat and ricotta cheese glazed with saffron-Chablis sauce, paired with rosé; and seared Angus beef with creamed horseradish and a panko-crusted polenta round, paired with red wine.
Turk also notes that stations are still popular, but warns that they can become “messy looking after a while, no matter how hard we try to keep them looking good.” Another service style that's currently chic in his area: “The ‘cigarette girl’ look — servers wearing cigarette girl outfits carrying trays filled with colorful hors d'oeuvre.”
Catered Affare Cuisine & Event Design, 416/288-0886; Indiana Market & Catering, 212/579-3531; Word of Mouth Catering, 512/472-9500