GRILLED AND SMOKED Grilling is synonymous with summer. So it goes without saying that appetizers and hors d’oeuvre would befit a bit—or rather, bite—of barbeque. At Los Angeles-based Wolfgang Puck Catering, executive chef Matt Bencivenga and his team are complementing their extensive grilling menu with such barbecue-inspired, tray-passed treats as bacon candy with brown sugar and chile powder, corn flan with black quinoa and squash blossoms, and duck fat tater tots, to name a few.
As far as smoked meats go, bacon’s cousin cut—pork belly—is getting some major play on the appetizer tray. “Pork belly is a huge trend in the culinary world, and this flavorful, sumptuously fatty cut is a huge hit among our clients this season,” say Meryl Snow, president of Philadelphia-based Feastivities. “Whether prepared in a French style with white wine and thyme, or with a sticky, anise-flavored Chinese marinade, pork belly’s crispy skin is ambrosia for meat eaters.” In photo, Feastivites' pork belly BLT.
Indeed. Los Angeles-based Kensington Caterers does a riff on pancakes and bacon with its corn and chive mini-pancakes topped with crispy pork belly and caramelized shallot jam.
Pickled and Plucked
PICKLED AND PLUCKED And what’s a barbeque without pickles? Wolfgang Puck Catering adds the requisite pucker to an assortment of tray-passed appetizers, including a pickled strawberry compote with mascarpone and basil on black pepper biscotti, Texas toast with bone marrow butter and pickled onion, and duck rillettes with peach hoisin, pickled peach and watermelon radish. For the salad course, pickled beets combine with sorrel, toasted red quinoa is paired with a strawberry vinaigrette, and fresh beets are tossed with pickled watermelon rind, plums, hazelnuts, ricotta salata with a berry vinaigrette.
Kensington Caterers pays homage to the pickle with its lemon basil burrata topped with pickled vegetables and granola crumbs, while Athens, Ga.-based Epting Events tops a Tunisian harissa-laced beet salad with German-style pickled squash, a bite often served alongside pulled short ribs over a butternut puree in a canapé shell. “There is a strong desire among our clientele to experience a small bite of various cultures at one event,” says director of sales Russel Stalvey. “It’s not quite fusion, but not quite discordant either.”
At Stamford, Conn.-based Marcia Selden Catering and Event Planning, the salad course is literally and figuratively elevated to great heights. “We like to turn the traditional food station on its head and do some creative storytelling through food,” says executive chef Robin Selden. Case in point: At a recent event, the caterer hung a tree with small crystal orbs filled with two types of salad—a fruit and kale ceviche with shaved coconut, and a wheat berry salad with forest mushrooms, caramelized shallots and roasted fennel. “We had to ‘cut’ the salads down for each guest—like plucking fruit from a tree," Selden says. "The guests’ reaction was incredible.” In photo, salad orbs from Marcia Selden.
Sipped and Dipped
SIPPED AND DIPPED Soup sips, paired with breadsticks, dips andwith fresh crudités, can be an inexpensive yet elegant appetizer option, especially when artfully prepared and presented. “We do a next-level version of a breadstick bar we call a ‘Soup, Sip + Sticks Station,’” Selden says. “It’s a less expensive option, but guests would never know because of the abundance of food on the table and flavorful options for dipping and sipping.” Assorted sips—carrot and ginger soup, curried cauliflower and ginger bisque, and a truffled wild mushroom soup—are served in shooters, while hand-rolled bread sticks are served with various flavored dips such as spiced butternut squash, curried cream, and ricotta and fava bean.
At Wolfgang Puck Catering, vibrant crudité creations serve as edible decor in the form of centerpieces comprising fresh vegetables arranged in beet hummus with pumpernickel ‘soil’ planted in galvanized steel buckets. At the bar, freshly potted herbs are part of the "mise en place," which guests can add to drinks such as watermelon-rosemary lemonade and tarragon-spiked Lady Grey iced tea.
Indianapolis-based Thomas Caterers of Distinction adds an explosive edge to DIY dipping with its orange balsamic glazed chicken lollipops dipped in orange-flavored Pop Rocks candy. “The guests dip the chicken themselves so it is fun and interactive, as well as delicious,” says executive chef Rach Keovorabouth. In photo, Thomas Caterers' Pop Rocks chicken; photo by Erin Hession.