GO WITHOUT GLUTEN Once considered a culinary quirk for a limited few, gluten-free has become a driving force in menu creation.
“Offering gluten-free options is standard practice now,” says Jenna Johansen, innovation chef at Centennial, Colo.-based Epicurean Group. “We factor it into all our menu plans and often find that some of our most popular dishes are gluten-free.” On the hors d’oeuvre platter, Johansen favors smoked Rocky Mountain trout rillettes served atop thin slices of watermelon radish. “This offers bursts of flavor, crisp texture and local ingredients, while being entirely gluten-free.”
Additionally, she has created a glut of gluten-free vegan dishes. “We eliminate the need to offer multiple different meals at off-site events," she says. "We serve the guest's selected entree, as well as a vegan/gluten-free option. These are always composed dishes, so diners with allergies or sensitivities are never an afterthought.” As for the ubiquitous bread component, Johansen has been having great success with a Brazilian dish called pao de queijo, a cheese bread made with traditional Brazilian cheese and tapioca starch. “It tastes delicious and has a unique consistency, which creates a fantastic mouth feel.”
Patrick Cuccaro, managing director of Atlanta-based Affairs to Remember, agrees. “Approximately 20 percent of our clients ask how we accommodate dietary considerations, whether in advance or in the moment, and the gluten-free conversation is usually at the top of the list,” he says. “Our culinary staff is now trained to provide a delicious gluten-free meal on very quick notice in the field, and as all caterers know, that’s not easy when you’re off-site without a pantry.” Delicious examples include a dish of roast beef tenderloin with creamy charred butternut squash risotto, smoked turkey-braised collard greens, and sweet onion confit. Another popular dish—zucchini and yellow squash “pappardelle” with basil-infused rustic pomodoro—is free of the top eight allergens, and is both gluten-free and vegan.
At New York-based Neuman’s Kitchen, short ribs--the go-to item on just about every caterers list--remain a long-standing client favorite. Richly flavored and gluten-free, they are frequently served with either Parmesan polenta or cauliflower risotto in the colder months, or glazed with a balsamic reduction and finished with basil gremolata for spring and summer.
Monique Joyce, catering sales manager at Atlanta-based Bold American Events, adds Korean barbecue with purple sticky rice and pickled carrot-cucumber salad to her list of gluten-free hits. She believes that customizing existing dishes for special diets is a must: “We’ll take a sweet potato-duck dumpling dish and modify it to a sweet potato-duck hash with shaved Brussels sprouts and a cherry gastrique to accommodate a gluten-free diet," she says. "Remove the duck and it’s vegetarian, yet hearty and seasonal.”
VIBRANTLY VEGETARIAN “We’ve seen a rapid increase in people requesting healthy, locally and sustainably-grown food, and the number of vegetarians and vegans also continues to rise,” says Johansen, who is developing vegetarian meals featuring three parts vegetable and one part starch. “New ways of incorporating and using vegetables has become a major focus of our menus, such as layering beautiful red beets into a traditional potato gratin.”
Few dishes say vegetarian/vegan better than soup and salad, as demonstrated by Neuman’s Kitchen's roasted kabucha squash soup served tableside with purple mustard greens and Seville orange. “It’s a soup and salad duo that’s more substantial and heartier than a traditional starter,” says director of marketing Melissa Santell.
Salads, especially those featuring ancient grains, make for both savory starters and meatless mains. At Bold American Events, a red quinoa salad with black rice is tossed with roasted sweet potatoes, dried cherries and apricots, and topped with either crumbled feta or goat cheese. Served stuffed into baby red bell peppers as an appetizer or as a pick-up salad alongside other dishes, it’s a crowd-pleaser for vegetarians and meat eaters alike, as is the vegetable "ceviche" made with fresh corn, bell peppers, edamame, heirloom baby tomatoes, thinly sliced nectarines and avocado marinated in a lime vinaigrette.
EVERLASTINGLY ASIAN By virtue of its ingredients, Asian cuisine is typically light and clean, which accounts for its continud popularity among health-conscious diners. At Neuman’s Kitchen, chef Robb Garceau and his team are experimenting with Japanese pub food, or Izakaya, stations, featuring small plates and bites such as crispy sushi rice salad with Jonah crab, mizuna and Japanese chili, yellowfin tuna tacos with jicama, cucumber and spicy kewpie mayo, and smoked salmon maki cigars with wasabi-yuzo cream. “Serving food that feels aesthetically familiar, yet offers a platform for a varietal depth of flavors is approachable and exciting for guests,” he says.
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER
BOLD AMERICAN EVENTS