By Jasmine Baker
As a culinary enthusiast and specialist, our business is to observe and uncover event catering trends. Tasting unique and flavourful foods by some the most talented chefs is part of the job. Yep, it’s a tough one, but we’re thrilled to do it!
At For the Love of Food, the following are just some of the trends we’re seeing in catering:
These preferences are being honoured by caterers with pleasure and rarely looked as an inconvenience. Planners and hosts alike have come to realize that knowledge is power, and accommodating the needs of your guests is a clear road map to a successful event. All chefs are seeking unique ways of integrating dietary options into their menus. Vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free options are now offered upfront, as opposed to the past when it was more secretive. Examples include everything from rice milk, banana and berry smoothies (non-dairy and vegan) as part of a continental breakfast to almond and soy milk offered at coffee stations. Kale-wrapped burgers and anything in a lettuce cup as a fresh, healthy and gluten-free alternative to buns.
Perhaps this is more of a movement then a trend, but we are happy to see many caterers having fun with their food while discovering delicious ways of catering to the health needs of their guests. Crudités are not just your average veggie platter anymore. “Eat your veggies” is no longer a punishment; it’s a pleasure! Many caterers are approaching the presentation of their crudité with the discipline of a florist or decorator. Veggies and dips are being treated like delicate flowers with every care being put into how beautifully they will be displayed. Once the nerdy wallflower is now the belle-of-the-ball. Carefully selected vases and mason jars are used to create veggie centrepieces with height, drama and a rainbow of colours.
Middle Eastern foods
If you dream it, will they come? I have found myself wondering if I, along with what seemed to be a small collective of shawarma geeks, willed this food trend into reality or if our small collective wasn’t all that small after all.
Hummus has been a fan favourite for a long time, but for too many of us this was but a small supporting cast member in a much more exciting and fulfilling production. Falafels, shawarmas and many Middle Eastern dishes have often accompanied hummus, but now these dishes on their own will have a chance to shine.
Expect to see more falafels being used as hors d’oeuvres and shawarmas being served as late night food options. Middle Eastern style tapas or antipasti stations will display a beautiful section of roasted, puréed, marinated, cold or room temperature dishes, dressed in exciting spices, seasonings, good olive oil, mint and sometimes sprinkled with pomegranates. This approach to side dishes will take main stage and delight at every turn.
Taco is still king
We don’t see this Mexican darling going anywhere. The taco is not done, and we are happy to see all the uber-creative and authentic ways it’s continuing to reinvent itself.
Look for jicama-wrapped versions and more vegetarian options than just rice and beans, just around the corner. Fried cauliflower and slow roasted eggplant tacos speak to a possible marriage of Latin and Middle Eastern flavours – yes, please!
Donuts are the new cupcake, but…
Their Latin cousin, the churro, is gaining fast and significant momentum. We are seeing all kinds of fun and fabulous things being done with doughnuts these days, but the authenticity of the churro can’t be denied. It’s also extremely catering friendly as it is simply just easier to eat! It’s a donut stick or finger served with options of chocolate and dulce de leche for dipping. Goodbye powdered sugar or sprinkles all over your face, and hello easy dipping, easy eating, sugar-and-spice-coated churros! Also, look for churros stations at events or popping up as food trucks.
Small batch, big impact
Artisans everywhere are being celebrated for their focused passions and small batch productions of breads, maple syrups, cheeses, mustards, vinegars, oils, beers and, of course, spirits.
Incredible things are happening with gins, bourbons and white ryes all across this continent. The discovery of these amazing products through the interaction with the producer is just as fulfilling as the product itself. Because these products are not yet mass market, the passion in the story behind the product definitely improves the taste and heightens the experience. Big brands will always hold a place in our hearts and a top-of-mind in every household, but there has always been something so simply enchanting about meeting the person who hand selected the ingredients, then hand crafted them to a state of enjoyable consumption.
Look for wider based tasting bars or stations of spirits like gin, bourbon or rye at events and your local watering hole. Next time you see “small batch” listed beside something you are about to taste, do ask: “Can you tell me more about this?” My guess is they will, and you will enjoy that drink that much more.
Local is not just a passing trend
Responsible enjoyment of food is something everyone is becoming more and more aware of. We could say that it’s because after decades of abuse we have finally realized how precious our Earth is and that we have to do more to take care of it, but I’m not sure that’s exactly it. My money is on the fact that people have finally realized how much better most things taste when they don’t have to travel across the world to get to you.
Celebrating and supporting the farmers and producers in your own backyard is not only a delicious experience is an exercise in community. Our grandparents would tell us “I remember when the milk man dropped off my milk daily, and I knew my butcher on a first name basis.” Well I say “know thy butcher” and if someone wants to drop off my milk every morning, just say the word! In all seriousness this “trend” is not a trend at all but in fact a better way of shopping, eating, dining and living that many have transitioned into easily and with pleasure.
We are thrilled to see more and more local products showing up in our favourite ethnic food spots. Look for local produce and proteins being used for Chinese, Mexican, Middle Eastern and Japanese foods. Just because a food’s origin is from a far off land it no longer means all the ingredients have to come from there too.
Our country, and Toronto in particular, is at the beginning of a culinary renaissance. We at For The Love of Food are thrilled to be spectators, celebrators and, of course, tasters in this exciting time.
About the author
Jasmine Baker is President and Principal Planner of For the Love of Food. The company carefully crafts food, beverage and service experiences for clients who are looking to engage or cater to their guests in a heightened, more memorable way. For more information visit www.fortheloveoffood.ca or contact Jasmine at [email protected]