It’s increasingly difficult to keep jaded attendees, who’ve seemingly seen and tasted everything under the sun, engaged and excited with meetings and events food. To help planners stay ahead of the curve, we reached out to some experts in Canada and the U.S., and asked them to dish on what’s trending in meetings and event catering.
“Definitely, we are seeing demand for more gourmet, artisanal and health-focused menus for meetings,” says Noelene Searle-Valleau, of Vancouver’s Culinary Capers Catering and Special Events. “Also there is quite a demand for customizable and build-your-own menu offerings, so that food allergies and sensitivities can be accommodated without special meals.” Culinary Capers, she says, is selling “lots of avocado toast platters, as well as build-your-own salad and sandwich bars.” On the beverage side, the company is offering fresh squeezed juices, artisanal teas and kombucha, healthy alternatives to sugary sodas.
There is a demand, she says, for plant-based hors d’oeuvres on every menu. “This trend is going to take centre stage this coming year. Ingredients like beetroot, celeriac and salsify are being featured in our hors d’oeuvre selection.”
Increasingly in demand are main courses that feature locally sourced ingredients. With that in mind, Culinary Capers is introducing clients “to less common (West Coast) foods that we have locally, such as squab, venison, bison, lamb, quail, pheasant, octopus, albacore tuna, steelhead trout and Northern Divine sturgeon and caviar. This squab was sourced from local Lostock Farms. Wild locally foraged ingredients will be an important addition to menus — items such as B.C. wild mushrooms, huckleberries, ramps, sea beans, fiddleheads, stinging nettle, licorice root and mustard flowers.”
Fun themed, interactive desserts with a touch of nostalgia are popular, too. “Our individual s’mores baskets are a huge hit, as well as our house-made ice cream pops.”
Presentation, she notes, has become “very organic.” Garnishes, for example, may include an ingredient that’s featured in the dish. “We also use raw ingredients featured in our food stations as décor” — for example, crab shells used to decorate a seafood boil station.
In Calgary, globally influenced dishes are resonating. “As clients travel more, they ask for some different ethnic dishes for their events or dinners,” says Connie Quinton, owner of Distinctive Catering.
Quinton, who’s noticed a trend of clients placing their catering orders last-minute — “feeding 150 people and planning this five to seven days out” — is offering groups on a limited budget the option of a complete meal, “but as a drop-off (that) we pick up the next working day.”
INTERACTIVE WOW FACTOR
“Current trends are anything interactive with a wow factor,” says Deirdre Anderson, director of catering, at L-Eat Catering, in Toronto. “From a catering point of view, think liquid nitrogen ice cream that takes liquid ice cream mix blended with liquid nitrogen in stainless steel mixers, which produces lots of smoke until it turns the liquid solid.”
Organizers, says Anderson, are focusing on “healthy brain foods. We recently hosted a live cooking demo as part of a corporate healthy eating challenge. More and more event attendees are eating a plant-based diet — and accommodating this growing demographic is a priority. Interesting vegan dishes are top of the 2019 requests.”
‘SURPRISE AND DELIGHT’
South of the border, sustainability, technology, and ‘surprise and delight’ are this year’s hot trends, according to Melissa Johnson, managing director and operating partner at Cameron Mitchell Premier Events, in Columbus, Ohio.
Eco-friendly plateware, cutlery, glassware and napkins will gain traction, she says, with environmentally friendly reusable china/glass/stainless steel being the optimal choice. And taking sustainability to a novel and fun level are edible plates and cutlery made of, for example, oat bran.
Johnson and her team are building garnish walls with herbs and edible plants and flowers so they can snip them fresh at the food station and use them to decorate plates.
On the tech front, ordering food from screens and having the small plates brought to attendees will be an increasingly popular event approach, she notes. Virtual reality and some artificial intelligence, along with more social media interaction, will be incorporated into events.
But it’s not all new for 2019. Johnson believes clients will continue to want to balance the trends with pleasing and approachable classic food and beverage favorites, too. While one station may be plant-based new food trends, another station is set with comfort foods. The drink menu may have a new barrel-aged rum cocktail, but below it is a classic Manhattan.
“The best events have great mass appeal and have a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy,” she says.