By Beth Erickson

Since the dawn of time, food has brought both nourishment and pleasure. In pursuit of culinary delights to satisfy our cravings, we have explored the world, savoring the succulent tastes of food from different countries and cultures. For those who haven’t traveled, the world comes to us through ever increasing, multi-cultural populations that inspire changes in our menus and recipes. In fact, food is so central to our lives that it’s served in all manner of celebrations. “The best things in life happen around the table,” says Jerry Edwards, CPCE™, with Chef’s Expressions Catering in Timonium, Md. Weddings are no different. “A wedding is like inviting guests into your home. The meal you serve them should reflect you and your desire to entertain them,” says Kevin Fabritz, chef de cuisine at Jay’s Catering in Garden Grove, Calif. That desire, coupled with the individual’s increased cuisine knowledge, thanks to blogs, magazines, and television, has led to the latest catering trends.

A melting pot of flavor
Couples are increasingly requesting menus that showcase their heritage or that are a fusion of the bride’s and groom’s ethnicity. “As chefs, we are now studying menus and spices from around the world. ‘Authentic’ is a big deal with ethnic menus. The blending or mixture of cultures is coming into play,” says Fabritz.

What that translates into is a spin on tradition. According to Alex Brevik, executive chef at The Waterfront Tavern and Restaurant in La Crosse, Wis., he has merged taste combinations in the wedding of an Italian groom and an Asian bride. The main course was torched Hamachi crudo with crispy pork belly and ravioli with truffles and mushroom. For another couple, he created sushimi-style food with tosazu sauce and, for a unique twist, wasabi cream sauce.

Creating a social network with small bites
Since menus are becoming more personal, they’re also becoming increasingly social. “We’re seeing a lot of short plate appetizers and interactive stations. People want fun events where they can intermingle, not sit at a designated table,” says Fabritz. “You’ll see less plated menus,” agrees Brevik, “and more heavy apps and small-bites. It’s a
more social gathering than a sit-down meal.”

Artfully arranged and served on spoons, small cups, lollipop sticks, skewers, or tiny plates, these small bites are simple appetizers in small portions, often with surprising, unique, or intense flavors. Consider the “coffee and doughnut” small bite from Chef’s Expressions Catering—served in a cup with saucer, the doughnut is a soft, flaky beignet sprinkled with sugar and salt and filled with the unexpected tang of barbeque brisket. The accompanying sauce is coffee-infused. “It’s a savory coffee and doughnut combination, but it looks like it should be sweet,” says Edwards.

Classic culinary comfort
Comfort foods are also making an appearance—whether it’s chicken pot pie served in demitasse cups or mini-corn dogs reminiscent of the State Fair. “This country and this world are in a state of flux, so I still feel that comfort foods are making people happy,” says Edwards. “The more creative people can make these foods look elegant.”

At The Waterfront, comfort food requests have included everything from mac and cheese bites to a Wisconsin favorite—fried cheese curds. Consider the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Chef’s Expressions serves bite-size triangles of white bread with peanut butter skewered with a pipette of grape jelly, allowing guests control over how much grape jelly they get. “We did it for a bar mitzvah and people went nuts for it. Then, we did it for a wedding because the bride loved it,” says Edwards.

Station to station
Food stations are a unique way to serve small-bite appetizers and other food, while incorporating a bit of interaction among chefs and guests. “We have slider stations and sushi-action stations where guests can customize their food and watch it being created right in front of them,” says Brevik.

While wine and food or dessert pairings remain popular, beer pairings are on the rise. “We do some micro-brew stations,” says Edwards, including beer-cheese and beer-popcorn stations. “We’ll pair something like lemon-chili popcorn with an amber beer. Wine and beer pairings continue to grow. Clients want their guests to have an experience.”

Family-style meals and local food
The desire to share a meal and maintain the social element has led to the increasing popularity of family-style meals. “Family-style meals, in which food is passed around a table, are great conversation starters. Guests like to feel like they are part of a family celebration,” says Fabritz. Whether the guests sit down to a traditional barbecue or leg of lamb, chances are the meal also includes a variety of regional products. “Right now, local food is big,” says Brevik. “We do get a lot of requests for sustainable foods. And family-style is a growing trend. It’s a more social gathering than a sit-down meal.”

Peering into the crystal ball
With the drive to create meals that are true sensory experiences, it’s hard to imagine what the future of catering holds. Yet chefs do this every day to stay on top of their game. “Everything is cyclical. If the economy continues as it is, cocktail parties may become very popular as they save on money. If the economy turns and gets better, then I think you’ll see a big boom in elaborate weddings,” says Edwards.

Brevik sees catering pushing into the next dimension—taking advantage of the combination of the physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking. “What we’re seeing now in restaurants is gearing toward molecular gastronomy—people using calcic, acetate, lecite and other items that basically alter the DNA or the original form of the cuisine,” says Brevik. For example, mixing a mango puree with acetate that forms a pasta shell so the item itself becomes both the filling and the shell.

“What’s interesting is to try to convince people not to play it safe with choices,” says Edwards. “If the caterer recommends it, go with it. Nothing is right or wrong, it just matters what your preferences are.”

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