According to Key Winstead, head of New York-based Winstead Group Caterers, news-making menuing at New York parties is a heady mix of Pan-Asian, Moroccan and Indian cuisine, offset by the soothing comfort of American basics.
“Although Pan-Asian has been around for a while now, it still has both a health and snob appeal,” Winstead says. “We often use peas with an Asian snack mix on our bars or around rooms in very nice vessels. Edamame [Japanese fresh soybeans], served steamed and salted in the pods, are also very popular — fun, trendy and healthy. Our tempura shrimp with a coconut-curry sauce had a huge success at Ivana Trump's ‘Celebration of Life’ party at Studio 54.”
For those who like it hot, “Brazilian/Cuban food trends have brought back the mojitos and caipirinhas,” he notes. “People often ask for menus to go along with these drinks at our events. We have been doing a lot of rodizio buffets [meats and vegetables topped with chimichurri sauce and served tableside]. Guests have a lot of fun seeing Brazilian-costumed waiters carving grilled meats from oversize skewers onto their plates.”
A culinary trend on its own, Winstead notes, is the recent resurgence in American cooking. “Since 9/11, the trend of comfort food has returned,” he says. “However, we as a special events planner/caterer like to serve comfort food, which is recognizable but served with a twist. We have served homemade mashed potatoes in miniature martini glasses topped with classic meatloaf. We even created a bite-size tuna noodle casserole hors d' oeuvre in a savory green bean cup for Patricia Field's Fashion Week party.”
CATERING TO THE CLIENT
The more than 350 events produced each year by Winstead Group Caterers include both social and corporate clients, and Winstead is careful to cater to each.
“Social clients are more finicky and put much more emphasis on making menu choices,” he explains. “Usually with social clients, you have to represent the image or lifestyle and likes of the client to their guests, as opposed to creating a large corporate event for a particular occasion.”
Although tourists still expect Cuban cuisine, Gary Lampner notes that his local clients in the South Florida area have moved past that trend and are now looking for menu items that mix it up.
“I'll do South and Central American fused with classic French technique,” says the chef/owner of Eggwhites Catering, Miami. “I'll try to keep it eclectic unless I sense that the client wants a thematic or classic menu. Otherwise, I try to encourage them to mix it up.”
His mixed-up masterpieces include hors d'oeuvre ranging from sevruga-topped boniata (Cuban sweet potato) croquettes with Key lime crème; Jamaican “cailloux” (pebbles) empanadas with goat pepper (an Indonesian chile) mayonnaise; and sweet sake gelée spoons with a wasabi tobiko caviar garnish.
Lampner, who handles as many as 500 special events a year, finds that his corporate clients tend to want the more adventurous menus.
“The planners do dozens of events a year, so they speak with more knowledge than the first-time bride in her 20s, who is not really sure what she should do,” he says. “Although there are many sophisticated social clients out there.”
SPIN ON SERVICE
With ethnic menus on the West Coast, it's not just what you do, but how you do it.
Asian cuisine remains a top seller, notes Pauline Parry, founder of Los Angeles-based Good Gracious! Events. But “people are sort of bored with the same presentation,” so, “if there's another way we can serve it, that's what we do.”
Good Gracious keeps guests intrigued at the 200 to 250 events it caters annually with a range of interesting presentations, from small bites served in shot glasses and demitasse cups to tidbits perched atop Parmesan crisps and cocktail forks. A favorite dish is bok choy with finely chopped beef and tangerine sauce served on won ton toasts. “We call it a bok choy beef mash,'” Parry notes.
Other L.A. trends, Parry says, include fusion cuisine (“Cuban with Asian — plantains with chimichurri sauce and won tons”) and Latin. “I think Latin is really quite hot,” Parry notes. “We did a party last week with a Tijuana look. Oil tablecloths, bright colors, and carnitas — street food.”
A longstanding favorite for L.A. clients remains the warm, inviting ambiance of Provençal cooking. “People still love that,” Parry says. “The long, rectangular tables, the family-style service.” At a recent upscale wedding produced by Good Gracious, the first course was served by waiters, but the entree was served family style. Ironically, family-style service “requires twice as many dishes with just as much service, because there are no chafers, and the food has to be served hot at the table!” Parry says with a laugh.
Eggwhites Catering, 305/892-2066; Good Gracious! Events, 323/954-2277; Winstead Group Caterers, 212/334-6100