Forget the humble hotdog and boring burger, events catering has come along way and today offers a sophisticated and sustainable menu, Emma Hudson reports.
Whether you’re in the mood for delicate canapés or bite-sized fish and chips, British catering companies are dishing out moreish menus that keep guests happy rather than just keeping hunger at bay.
For Access All Areas’ first spotlight on catering, we talked to some of the leading companies providing the most fabulous food that will light up any event.
As these companies are the first to say, catering is not just about the food – even more important is the experience for guests. On trend for 2014 are heightened theatrics within the event, street food menus in high-end venues and a return to simple, locally sourced, good-tasting food.
“One of the things we’ve worked on with clients is different ways of entertaining guests,” Stones Events managing director Tom Goodwin told Access. “Making food part of the theatre behind the event, not just a means to an end. Building the catering side of things into the whole event.”
Stones has taken this trend shift in stride, turning their parties into stages. They’ve incorporated bongo players, hypnotists and acrobats to entertain their clients’ guests. For the launch of the Ferrari 458 Speciale, Stones created cocktails based on the colours and names of Ferrari cars and racing drivers.
John Hearn, Tapenade’s executive chef, agrees that it’s no longer just about creating a delicious menu. “Organisers are opting for informal and fun ways to serve food, designed to create a relaxed ambience and encourage socialising,” he said.
According to Hearn, it’s all about getting guests up and out of their seats. “Making dessert informal and fun is a great way to break the ice and encourage interaction, especially if an event has included a lot of formality earlier in the day,” he said. “Dessert canapés add a fresh twist to the end of a meal and encourage guests to get up and mingle.”
“Clients are being brave and open to trying new concepts,” Colin Sayers, managing director at Seasoned Events, told Access. “This has made a huge impact to our business – we’ve developed a consultancy approach, which builds a strong relationship with the client.
Seasoned has set up a Creative Projects team specifically to get involved in menu creation, to ensure that the company is presenting food that integrates with their clients’ brands and themes.
“Drama and engagement are key to delivering the vision,” Sayers said.
Twist Up! is a company that doesn’t need to be told to bring drama and entertainment. “TwistUp! has grown up with circus and theatre,” said the firm’s Maeve Neale.
“Having worked alongside circus and theatre at most large events we have a pretty good idea of how they run and move with the times. We blend well with the growing demand.”
Seasoned, Tapenade, Stones and TwistUp! all reported a client focus on locally sourced, in-season products and ingredients.
“High profile sustainable food campaigns and the plethora of TV chefs advocating fresh, seasonal and local produce is clearly making an impact on event organisers,” said Hearn. Although local, organic produce comes at a higher cost, Tapenade “always endeavours, wherever possible, to meet clients’ requirements”.
For smaller company TwistUp!, using locally-sourced food is a way of keeping their company as green as possible. “We source all our food locally and from reputable sources,” Neale said. “This keeps our carbon footprint down.”
Goodwin advocates sourcing British ingredients. “Most clients now like the concept of what is best in food and in that month,” he said.
“[Stones] uses butchers that have a royal warrant and are the best in the UK. We work with our suppliers to ensure that their raw products are sustainably sourced.”
Seasonal ingredients are a huge inspiration to the aptly named Seasoned Events. The team experiments (“without fear,” said Sayers) with different products and flavours.
“The team gets right down to individual ingredients of herbs and spices, which are all very much in vogue at the moment, as it is all about taste,” said Sayers. “We are very focused on sourcing British produce across all our ingredients. Clients are now asking about the origins of the food. This is great, as we’ve always backed ‘Buy British’.”
Street food invasion
Food trucks and paper wrappings are no longer just for the unwashed masses. Street food, Sayers, Hearn and Goodwin all agree, has infiltrated high-end affairs.
“Street food is all around us,” said Sayers. “It’s how some of my team eat at the weekends. There is a lot of inspiration to be drawn from the dishes, the eclectic mix of flavours and original presentation.”
Seasoned Events is currently pitching a ‘street feast’ event to a client that could involve either a clambake or food stalls and vans.
Oftentimes battling outdoor venues and cold weather, Sayers and his team find the greatest challenge in replicating street food markets is distribution time.
“Events always have a guest arrival time and an allocated service time, so we have to work in advance and finish the stalls,” he said. “Where there is space, food service can happen.”
Tapenade is focusing on British favourites, like mini burgers, fish and chip cones and a variety of bite-sized pies (steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom and beef and onion being the obvious favourites).
“Opting for these tried-and-tested dishes that everyone loves is a clever way of reinforcing traditional values and giving guests that warm, familiar feeling people get from these kinds of foods,” Hearn said. “It’s a kind of nostalgia and it makes people feel good.”
Tapenade also extends the street experience to their desserts, offering whimsical options for guests. “Candy or cake bars, ice cream bikes and pancake and waffle stations reference fun ‘street food’ experiences,” Hearn said.
At Stones Events, Goodwin said that their clients choose street food options most often for an affordable but luxurious menu. “We’ve developed whole menus around street food,” he said. “Smoked ribs and pulled pork, breakfast concepts like a porridge station – it’s a simplified route that focuses on different types of food.”
The street food concept also ties into Stones’ emphasis on theatre and entertainment. “There’s a theatre behind food stations,” Goodwin said. “We had an event last week with a fresh pasta station.” Guests watched chefs ‘perform’ while cooking their meals. “Again, it’s taking that whole food station concept and adding theatre into it,” he said.
Theatrics and trends aside, though, it’s important for all four companies that they provide the same great service for every client.
“We’ve worked with Lamborghini, Selfridge’s and L’Oreal. We’re doing a wedding for a famous rugby player,” Goodwin said. “The key thing I’ve always done is making sure, whether you’re doing a small dinner party of eight for a private client or a corporate party for 600, every client is treated the same.”
This was first published in the March issue of AAA. Any comments? Email Emma Hudson