Ethnic & Specialty Dining
For planners in search of something different for their upcoming meal functions, there are a wide range of ethnic and specialty food options to consider. Whether it’s authentic Italian, Indian, Latin, French, Kosher or organic, options abound for those seeking cuisine that will appeal to a specific audience, or, alternately, to a diverse group that’s interested in trying something altogether different. Serving Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, La Prima Food Group is a leader and innovator in providing fresh, sustainable corporate and social catering. Gabrielle Wallace, in corporate sales and events for La Prima Catering, discusses the appeal and growth of eco-friendly and organic foods as part of group outings and events. “With the care and concern that many people now have about the kind of food they are eating and how the food was processed, being able to share with a client that the produce and, at times, the meat in their menu came from a USDA certified organic farm is a huge plus. We often hear from clients how the food ‘tasted’ so delicious and ‘looked’ so beautiful. It’s more than just a standard compliment. The fresher the food and the cleaner it was grown has a profound effect on the flavors and colors of food,” Wallace explains. She further notes that La Prima has catered a number of special events where the clients specifically requested food that was grown “in-season.” To accommodate this, La Prima tailored their menus around the available ripening fruits and vegetables. “We recently created a menu for a bride that was literally grown-to-order,” notes Wallace. “She worked with our event manager and chef to create a menu around her wedding date. And she was flexible, so that when unexpected weather created the need for a menu change, it went smoothly.” The catering company also crafted a uniquely seasonal meal for the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board’s annual luncheon. La Prima’s Corporate Chef, Kyle Vermeulen, crafted the entrée for the luncheon, which served over 450 guests. It was based on seasonal items and included an “airline chicken breast” (a boneless chicken breast with the first wing joint and tenderloin attached - a moister and thicker piece) stuffed with roasted peppers, spinach, and mozzarella cheese and topped with a garlic jus that was served over carrot soufflé. “The wonderful thing is that really any dish could be made organic and eco-friendly if given the proper notice to prepare,” explains Wallace. “Since our five kitchens are run on a sustainable and green production model and business model, the resulting food presented at our special events is perfectly ‘eco’ and elegant.” When it comes to La Prima’s most requested dishes for events, seasonal options rule. In the fall, their Roasted Root Vegetable Lollipops are a huge hit and include colors of autumn, such as deep reds and oranges. While in both the fall and winter, their Carrot Soufflé serves as a delicious and unique side dish option. Also in the fall and winter, vegan Sweet Potato Chili works well for both big events as well as smaller luncheons. A year-round option is their Roasted Sweet Potato Mango Salad that boasts a sweet and savory flavor combination. In the summer, La Prima favorites are made with fresh tomatoes, basil and other produce from either their partner farms or from one of their own urban gardens. As an example, their Pappardelle Pasta Salad is made with house-roasted garden tomatoes and eggplant. In both spring and summer, the Whole Grain Bowl and Vegetable Blend is a favorite of La Prima’s as either a meal, a side, or even at times as a reception display. The offering of Quinoa Bites is among their newest unique and vegan options. Organic foods can provide a great “twist” for a corporate event and bring a refreshing element to the menu that many in the group will certainly appreciate. “We did a reception for the Organic Trade Association at The Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, DC,” recalls Wallace. “The evening’s theme was all organic, as you can well imagine. In this case, it was not only the type of food that was served, but the choice of venue that made it spectacular. The menu began with organic wines and ended with the organic chocolate used for dessert.” While the Organic Trade Association is well versed in eco-conscious food choices, not everyone is who will attend an event. Wallace notes that education about organic foods is important. “Pretty much everyone knows something about organic or composting, but few are really aware of the extent of our commitment or the possibilities that are open to them because of our commitment,” she notes. “We do our best to educate via social media, blog posts and webpages, but our best impact comes from educating staff and having them share personal experiences as they meet new clients or prospective clients.” Wallace further notes that the food La Prima provides is created with the best eco-conscious processes, “which is something that comes no matter the order or event, because it’s our belief system and our customer promise.” Those who wish to infuse their event with some unique flavor profiles may want to consider flavorful ethnic foods, such as Indian cuisine. According to Marianne S. Kelly, director of marketing and operations for Tiffin Indian Cuisine, which is part of the Narula Restaurant Group, “A special event requires something... special! Indian cuisine creates a unique setting and different flavors without being too ‘foreign.’ Add a little for a different treat with appetizers, breads or dessert, or make it an Indian feast that is at once novel, yet familiar. Indian cuisine also can meet guests’ dietary restrictions with many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.” Kelly adds that there is so much that is familiar about Indian food, as it often consists of chicken, lamb and fish, as well as eggplant, chickpeas and other vegetables. “People, especially Americans, who are ordering Indian for their events have been captivated by the flavors and they want to share it with everyone. They understand that Indian food is not ‘spicy’ in the ‘hot wings at the football party’ sense, but rather a depth of flavor that is created by the careful blending of spices. Indian food is now a favorite for office meetings, weddings, special occasions and even kid’s birthday parties.” Before choosing any type of cuisine for an event, it’s important to get a feel for the audience that will be eating it. Kelly advises, “If they are new to Indian food, make a majority of the dishes on the mild side with a few spicier dishes added in to try. Have a description card next to the dishes that spell out what the dish is called, as well as the main ingredients and dietary tags - such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, contains nuts, etc. This will help them to choose the dishes that appeal to them without being wary of trying something they might not like.” Kelly explains that for anyone who regularly plans corporate events, they are always looking for different ideas that will help them meet their goal of providing food that attendees will like but that also stays within their budget. “People can only eat so much pizza, salads and sandwiches. Imagine the rich color of curry sauces and the tantalizing smell of chicken or lamb kebabs all at the same price as what event planners normally order. Add in a few traditional decorations and it's a feast for the eyes and the palate.” When it comes to popular dishes, those seeking Indian food for events often want the same options that are frequently ordered as take-out on a Friday night. “People love Chicken Tikka Masala,” explains Kelly. “Tender chicken bites in a smooth, savory tomato sauce with a piece of freshly baked bread to scoop up the richness. On the vegetarian side, Saag Paneer is the perennial favorite. Smooth, velvety spinach dotted with tender paneer (Indian cottage cheese cubes). On the snacking side, the ever-popular samosa is where most people gravitate. A crispy pastry shell filled with lightly spiced potatoes and peas - and a dollop of chutney - is warm and satisfying without being heavy.” For cocktail parties or business events there are a number of Indian foods for snacks and entrees that are easy to eat while standing up. It’s important to keep in mind that not everything in Indian cuisine is sauce based. There are roasted meats, filled breads and rice dishes that are perfect for events because they remove the “messiness” factor, Kelly adds. Matching up the group and the right food is part of the challenge when putting together a meal function for an event. But there’s no need to shy away from foods that are different or perhaps new to attendees. Plentiful choices abound and provide planners with abundant options that are as diverse, vibrant and appealing as the clientele they serve.