WHETHER they're designed to whet guests' appetites or make up the entire menu, eye-catching, mouth-watering hors d'oeuvre pack a culinary punch. From miniature plated portions to stylish shooters, caterers dish up the latest hors d'oeuvre trends.
Small plates are big news for hors d'oeuvre at special events.
“We are serving more small plates at events,” says Debra Lykkemark, president of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Culinary Capers Catering, noting that small plates are “great for portion control, presentation control and flavor control.” A sample menu of the company's small-plate hors d'oeuvre includes twice-baked porcini mushroom soufflés topped with truffle foam, garnished with savory biscotti and served in espresso cups; roast duck with currant jam on a yam-and-potato pavé; and lamb chop lollipops with porcini mushroom risotto and grilled asparagus. “It's a great concept for clients who are into a gourmet experience, or clients looking for menus for stand-up receptions that will replace dinner,” Lykkemark says.
At Oakland, Calif.-based Barbara Llewellyn Catering & Event Planning, “We are moving in the direction of ‘smaller small plates’ or ‘tiny tapas,’” notes president Barbara Llewellyn. Her company serves small salad portions of classic Greek salad or radicchio salad with Gorgonzola cheese, spiced walnuts, Asian pear and lemon vinaigrette using chic-but-disposable small cups and plates imported from France. The caterer also offers a small-plate trio of tuna tartare, tuna niçoise and Moroccan tuna. “These can be served on smaller plates as a walk-around hors d'oeuvre,” Llewellyn says. “The salads, coupled with our tuna selections and traditional beef tenderloin, are great alternatives for carb-conscious guests.”
While tray-passing remains a common hors d'oeuvre service style, caterers are cooking up new techniques to showcase their small bites.
“White porcelain is a very hot trend in the industry,” notes Jack Milan, president of Different Tastes in Boston. The company uses sleek white trays to make what Milan calls “horizontal tapas” on buffet tables. “We create a ladder of food on these tray — it's like a staircase balanced upon glass bricks,” he explains. The brightly colored tapas display might include piquillo peppers filled with feta cheese and pesto and tied with a scallion, red and yellow beet salad with goat cheese, and grape leaves with dill-yogurt creme fraîche.
Shooters also remain popular, Milan says, but have branched out from the standard seafood versions to include recipes such as the prickly pear shooters topped with whipped cream and toasted hazelnuts that his company served in shot glasses embedded in sea salt-filled beach pails at a summer event.
Tara Guérard, owner of Charleston, S.C.-based Soirée Inc., uses everyday objects to dress up hors d'oeuvre buffet tables. “We found some great wooden hat boxes at a local department store, painted them and flipped them over — using both the tops and bottoms made a wonderful station with varying heights and colors,” Guérard says. “We have also built a specialty shot bar — a wooden tabletop with sides and a hole drilled in the bottom for drainage. [At events] we set it on top of a 6-foot-long table, fill it with crushed ice and insert glasses filled with ouzo shots or gazpacho.”
“I'm not sure if it's because of the colder weather or clients wanting to really put the fun back into cocktail parties, but this season we have noticed a desire for hors d'oeuvre that are more whimsical and comforting, rather than froufrou and fussy,” says Marcey Brownstein, president of New York-based Marcey Brownstein Catering & Events. “From fish and chips to one-bite burgers paired with pommes frites in decorative paper cones to mini lobster rolls and tiny chicken pot pies with a savory herb crust, we have been taking these comforting classics and downsizing them this season. And I know you may laugh, but a lot of our clients have been requesting good, old-fashioned pigs in a blanket! We fancy them up with a homemade crust and a dipping sauce of freshly grated horseradish mustard, and they are always the hit of the passed hors d'oeuvres!”
Milan agrees that even classic party appetizers become special with updated presentations. For example, “Everyone serves nachos with dips, but it's usually as a bulk, stationary hors d'oeuvre,” he notes. To prevent double-dipping and create individual bites, Different Tastes serves small nacho portions in miniature dishes. “It's a nice way to present an old favorite.”
Barbara Llewellyn Catering & Event Planning, 510/832-1967; Culinary Capers Catering, 604/875-0123; Different Tastes, 866/382-7837; Marcey Brownstein Catering & Events, 212/807-0568; Soirée Inc., 843/577-5006