• Lenora Kruk-Mullanaphy

Fun, Festive Food & Beverage

When it comes to trends, restaurant and catering professionals need to be on the forefront of what their guests crave and innovative ways to present food and beverage.

Executing an event where groups have an all-around fun and festive dining experience - and one that looks picture perfect, too - combines expert culinary skills with a creative flair.

Garces Events at the Kimmel Center and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia offers award-winning cuisine to make corporate receptions, conferences and every dinner a memorable celebration. Dedicated event managers guide throughout the process to ensure perfection, and planners who are in search of locations to host their events will find Garces offers numerous options.

Planners can choose one of the Garces restaurant’s private dining rooms for that next board dinner, the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia for a town hall event, or Chubb Conference Center in Lafayette Hill, PA for an off-site all-day conference.

“A trend that’s becoming more popular are small plates, which Garces Events has turned into our Farm Table Station,” said Renee Beverly, catering sales manager for the Kimmel Center and Academy of Music. “Instead of a sit-down meal, we’ve taken entrees, such as Braised Short Rib and Skuna Bay Salmon, paired them with delicious traditional sides and created a smaller portion so guests can grab-and-go without the need for a knife.”

“This station,” Beverly continued, “paired with an Asian Station - with a live sushi roller and a decadent dessert display - creates the perfect cocktail reception party while making sure all the guests have a substantial meal.”

For the holiday season, Beverly noted that many corporations and business events are moving toward fun and interactive cocktail and dinner stations rather than a formal, sit-down meal. Garces Events has created a variety of holiday packages that include passed hors d’ oeuvres and stations with options for either a beer and wine bar or a full open bar.

Spiked hot cocoa and coffee bars are a popular addition, as well, as are spiked apple cider and winter sangria served as signature cocktails.

Instead of a Classic Raw Bar, Garces Events can offer a twist with a Build Your Own Ceviche Station, where guests build their own platter.

Garces’ Handmade Mozzarella Station, a classic that’s the most popular with guests, showcases the chef pulling the mozzarella, making it a visual treat. “It’s a step up from your standard cheese and charcuterie display,” said Beverly.

Peter Loevy, president of Catering By Design in Philadelphia, mentioned two popular trends in food presentation. Small plates continue to be preferred to multi-course dinners and heavy hors d’ oeuvres receptions. This style offers an a la carte-designed plate as guests would enjoy in a restaurant, but it’s limited to a few bites of protein, starch and vegetables. Loevy said this trend is especially successful for corporate holiday parties by offering a progression of butlered and stationary small plates that create a dynamic party vibe.

For starters, there’s often a butlered salad course served in mason jars (the jars are still popular and, more importantly, easy to hold while standing). This is followed by a course of pasta or fish, such as Pan-Seared Striped Bass with Lemony Smashed Potatoes, Pancetta Roast Haricot Vert and Tarragon-Caperberry Beurre Blanc (Haricot Vert is a green bean with a very narrow, edible pod and small seeds). A red meat, such as Beef Tenderloin, Blue Cheese Au Gratin Potatoes, Roasted Fall Vegetables, Vermouth Macerated Cherries and Bourbon-Spiked Manhattan Sauce, is usually offered for the third plate.

“Over the last three years, we’ve found an increasing demand for more vegan and vegetarian menus,” said Loevy.

Stations are another popular choice that also uses small plates. This style is more freewheeling, mixing different cuisines in a mosaic of dishes - both room temperature and heated. Loevy said the key is variety. For example, an antipasti table may be quite abundant, but it’s still Italian. For the stations, the chef may mix elements of Italian with an Indian dish, Spanish Tapas or Hawaiian Poke. He said “anything goes,” and diversity of color and textures is the goal in creating this palette.

Loevy added that stationary food presentation has an added benefit of reducing staff, helping with the planner’s overall budget.

Mocktails have been a popular beverage this year, and guests especially enjoy the Lavender Sparkling Lemonade made with lemon juice, dried lavender, simple syrup and club soda and the Raspberry Mint Mocktail Mojito created with lime juice, mint, fresh raspberries and club soda that are served at Catering by Design events.

Loevy noted that, as a boutique caterer, Catering By Design’s clients know they’ll find food that’s full-flavored and something different. For a holiday menu that’s sure to whet the appetite, the chefs take attendees on a culinary tour of Latin America. Loevy suggests a fun cocktail menu that pairs well with creations like Sweet Plantain Arepas “Samiches,” Pepper Tamales with Cilantro Mojo Sauce and Venezuelan Style Mini Dogs.

In addition, the menu accents dishes from Japan and the Middle East. Persia will be a particular focus this year with an array of dishes, such as Citrus Spiced Salmon, Herb Yogurt, Moroccan Couscous, Harissa-Tomato Haricot Vert and Lemon Espuma. A vegan dish that’s sure to entice every palate is the Spice Roasted Acorn Squash, Spinach, Pomegranate Seed, Pistachio Pesto and Tart Tomato Sauce.

The mocktail trend carries through the holidays with creations like Apple+ Pomegranate Ginger Spritzers, Apple Cider Sangria, Grapefruit and Rosemary Mocktail, and Cranberry Harvest Punch. Alcoholic beverages for the holidays include delicious Negronis, which are Italian cocktails made of one-part gin, one-part vermouth rosso and one-part Campari and garnished with an orange peel. The non-traditional varieties that use mescal or bourbon with Campari and vermouth are great options, as well.

For the holiday season, Catering By Design boasts plenty of twists on classic dishes, such as the Grilled Beef Tenderloin that’s paired with garlic red miso butter sauce, which is a favorite. According to Loevy, braised meats are always in demand as the weather gets colder. A Persian take on a fall classic is Short Rib Tagine, Sour Cherry Relish, Sweet Potato Puree, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fermented Dressing and Toasted Almond.

Pasta stations are always popular during the holidays, and Catering By Design intersperses non-Italian options, such as Japanese-style Broken Spaghetti with Wild Mushrooms, Furikake Soy Butter Sauce and Grated Parmesan.

“As unexpected is the norm at Catering By Design, throwing a pitch right down the middle has its own appeal, especially at the holidays,” said Loevy. “Our Norman Rockwell Sunday Supper is an edible canvas of the holidays.”

This sumptuous meal includes Roasted Beef, Madeira+Horseradish Sauces, Roasted Root Vegetables, Mashed Potatoes and Jerusalem Artichokes, Herbed Yorkshire Puddings and Winter Greens Salad with Walnuts and Cranberry Dressing.

Planners searching for creative and exceptional cuisine for their group events will find fantastic options from La Prima Catering, which serves Washington, DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia.

La Prima’s Executive Chef, Kyle Vermeulen, is known for innovative, farm-to-table menus and his knowledge of international cuisine. He works with a team of event specialists and local farmers to create customized menus, including “grown-to-order” events that feature eco-elegant cuisine.

The only four-star, green caterer on the East Coast, La Prima Catering partners with regional venues to provide planners with eclectic entertaining choices that range from museums and libraries to historic homes and locations with breathtaking views.

According to Dina Silnicky, director of events for La Prima, craft beers have become more popular than ever, especially India Pale Ales (IPAs). Imaginative brewers craft beers inspired by culinary traditions, such as milkshake-style IPAs, sour IPAs with teas and warming spices, and fruit-flavored beer like cranberry and apricot. During the fall and holidays, La Prima features hard ciders, pumpkin ales and festive cocktails.

“Bourbon has gained so much popularity in recent years and is an especially great choice for the winter,” said Silnicky. “We offer a Hot and Spicy Apple Cider with bourbon around the holidays. Rum also is trendy right now, and it’s perfect in eggnogs, as well as in our Cranberry Lime Ginger Cocktail spiked with dark rum and topped off with citrus peel and a cinnamon stick stirrer.”

For guests who prefer a celebratory beverage without the alcohol, La Prima Catering has that covered, too. Non-alcoholic drinks like herbal teas and cranberry cider spiked with cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg can be warm and comforting, particularly during the chilly fall and frosty winter months.

Guests will find that these mocktails are a tasty choice and also a treat for the eyes. Some include dry ice that has the effect of smoke rising from the glass - an illusion that’s sure to please.

La Prima’s bartenders add a variety of fruit garnishes and flavorings with the use of a dehydrator to create customized fruit slices and unique drink toppers. What’s more, cotton candy and gummy worms aren’t just for snacking, as they can serve as creative additions in beverages that add a fun touch.

Keeping with its dedication to the environment, La Prima Catering never uses plastic straws and, instead, offers a variety of paper straws that are available in festive colors and designs during the holiday season.

Silnicky said current food trends also include La Prima Catering’s standing Ramen Station, warm pretzel bars, and mini sweet potatoes or white potatoes with assorted toppings. For a new take on an old favorite, the chef serves specialty mini grilled cheese sandwiches featuring roasted tomatoes with brie and pesto, or smoked Gouda with sliced apple and fig jam.

“Vegetarian and vegan options are necessary nowadays, and we always include them,” said Silnicky. “We feature menu items like roasted cauliflower and a vegan mushroom pasta completed with vegetable or saffron broths.”

Silnicky said plant-based, alternative meat products, such as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, are also in favor now. With a very different taste and texture than soy vegetable burgers, these products are from a plant-based formula that’s flavorful and often creates a buzz of conversation about how they taste so similar to the real thing.

Guests will find that desserts are hard to pass up during the holidays with seasonal specialties, like handmade chocolate truffles in a host of flavors, such as white chocolate snowflake, praline, passion fruit and a vegan option created with coconut rum. Holiday cookies are always requested, and some of this year’s flavors will include chocolate candy cane, cherry almond, a combination chocolate gingersnap smash and more.

The holiday trifle tastes as good as it looks and can double as a beautiful centerpiece with its layers of white chocolate mousse, cranberry compote and gingerbread. An ideal option for dessert is the dark chocolate bark topped with dried berries, pretzel pieces and nuts, as well as the French macarons made with gluten-free almond flour, served in a variety of colors for a real holiday treat and available in a selection of flavors, including strawberry, pistachio, salted caramel, mocha and lemon.

Shot glasses of desserts are little bites that are ideal for guests who don’t want to commit to one full dessert, preferring to have a sampling. Some favorites include strawberry shortcake, banana foster, s’mores, tiramisu and mango mousse shots. The Opera Shot consists of coffee butter cream and a rich, chocolate ganache.

La Prima Catering also offers a holiday menu with sumptuous cuisine like the Holiday Farm to Table a La Carte Seasonal Selections that includes passed or stationary hors oeuvres; Pink Peppercorn Crusted Pork Loin and Farmhouse Chicken entrees; and a variety of sides, such as the Pumpkin Three Cheese Macaroni and a delicious Carrot Soufflé.

The chef has cooked up a variety of tantalizing display items, including the Holiday Mediterranean Display, Artisan Cheese Displays, Crudité Wreath, Brie Wheel and more. Buffet Stations tailored for the holidays include Holiday Americana, Festival of Lights, a Central European Holiday Feast, a Carving Buffet Station, and an Italian Holiday Station.

There are so many menu options available for creating events with fun and festive food and drink.

Expert partners like these have plenty of experience and knowledge and are always available to help set just the right tone for meal functions, whether around the holidays or any time of the year.

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