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Catered_Too_Fetes_2019.jpg Photo courtesy Catered Too
Grab-and-go appetizers from Catered Too.

Caterers are All in for Appetizers

If we’re honest, most of us would not mind a dinner menu made up of nothing but appetizers. Here, top event caterers share their special starters.

APPS ALL NIGHT “Our clients are requesting more free-flowing events where the dinner is butlered in what we call ‘phases,’” says Alison Awerbuch, chef and partner at New York-based Abigail Kirsch. “Guests start with hors d’oeuvre, then transition into heartier passed fare. From there they move to butlered small plates, which often require a small utensil and vessel, but can still be passed and enjoyed standing. And of course, we finish with creative butlered sweets that typically include something warm, something frozen and something spiked.”

These types of events, especially social events, are often complemented with kiosks and carts in lieu of traditional stations. “It’s the perfect alternative to the traditional seated dinner, station or buffet party,” Awerbuch says.

Eric Barnachea, CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Catered Too, agrees. “It’s still going strong and is a predominate piece of our business,” he says. “We always suggest a mix of action stations, self-serve stations, and passed appetizers.”

“We had a recent wedding where we served 12 different tray-passed hors d’oeuvre in addition to station-set appetizers,” says Colin John, executive chef at Troy, Mich.-based Forte Belanger. “Our clients prefer a traditional item with a high-end touch, such as our curried egg salad with pumpernickel croutons served in a clear push-pop, or our ‘steak and eggs’--a sous vide quail egg with beef tenderloin drizzled with tarragon red pepper chimichurri.”

For Eric Michael, president/founder of Washington-based Occasions Caterers, traditional cocktail buffets have given way to chef-driven, small plate, tasting events. “We have developed a series of stations to provide guests with a chef-designed small plate with two or three components, “ he says. Examples are a soft polenta station with guest choice of braised pork ragout or slow roasted eggplant, a burrata station with a variety of toppings, and a made-to-order hummus station.

TRAY CHIC Indeed, we eat first with our eyes, so hors d’oeuvre must be as prettily presented as they are palatable.

“We focus on the little details from the type of plate or spoon that is used to the angle in which the food is placed,” says David Turk, owner/founder of New York-based Indiana Market and Catering. He cites Chinese porcelain spoons, edible spoons and crispy frico baskets as popular one-bite vessels. A recent event featured woven cucumber strips as the plating for a lobster appetizer, while crispy mini carnitas tacos sat on a bed of dried peppers.

At Los Angeles-based Wolfgang Puck Catering, ingredients also often double as serving vessels, such as puffed rice or tapioca baskets, or lime-compressed jicama for sashimi, tartare or salad bites. “This adds a great textural component to the dish,” says senior sales manager Pamela Pimiento.

A CALL TO ACTION In the iconic words of rock star Jimi Hendrix: “Are you experienced?” The answer should be “yes”--when it comes creating high-impact presentations and action stations.

“We have been developing a series of ‘experiential’ hors d’oeuvre stations,” Michael says. “We are creating experiences that are really out of the box and popular on social media.” Two of the company’s most successful concepts are its “Wall of Levitation,” which uses electromagnetic force so that hors d’oeuvre hover in space, and its “Wall of Offering,” a custom-built wall featuring golden ceramic hands holding plated hors d’oeuvre.

“More often than not, guests want something unique or out of this world, so the team will get together to collaborate and create a completely custom experience,” John adds. “We’ve spelled out phrases or words with light-up popcorn walls, served up fresh grapefruit and basil ‘boozy’ snow cones, and spun fresh honey-lavender cotton candy.”

He also favors small-plate action stations, where guests can view their appetizers being made. “One of our favorites is the ‘Watermelon Radish Ravioli Terrarium,’ in which we incorporate baby vegetables from local farms, fresh pressed olive oil, and Michigan goat cheese. It looks like a miniature garden and tastes like summertime.”

Salad is shaken, not stirred, at Catered Too’s Shake It Up” ramen salad station, which features servers sealing cups of layered ramen noodles, fresh veggies, savory sauce and a choice of protein or a vegetarian option. “Guests can watch the machine seal the cups, then give their meal a shake before they enjoy it. It is a huge hit,” Barnachea says.

CRAVING RICH ASIAN Asian flavors and dishes--specifically Korean, Hawaiian, Chinese and Indian--continue to inspire chefs and please palates. “Korean influences are definitely trending,” says Awerbuch, citing gochujang barbecue duck, smoked scallop satay, and Korean-spiced short rib bites as example.

At Chicago-based Entertaining Company, founder/creative director Wendy Pashman adds Korean chicken wings with scallions, fried shallots, garlic and chive flowers to the mix. “We are also loving Roy’s [Restaurant]-inspired Lakanilau rolls of wagyu beef, tempura asparagus, avocado, sesame miso and truffled greens, as well as the forever-popular coconut-lime shrimp skewers,” she says. “Huli-huli boneless chicken wings with soy, pineapple and ginger are a nod to ’50s tiki pool parties and are delighting a whole new generation” …

See the full article in the Fall 2019 issue of Special Events. Not a subscriber? We can fix that—just click here.


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