You’ll find this sumptuous fare at the best parties this year served from food stations, passed to us as we mingle and socialize or at elaborate sit-down dinners with the flair of continental service.
“Twenty years ago, good food was enough,” says Riccardo Mazzeo who recently purchased Three Tomatoes Catering, a Denver institution since 1977. “Today, we’re more aware of our food and we want a complete experience. Diners appreciate how we bring together beautiful presentation, thoughtful service and delicious food.” Three Tomatoes creates innovative food experiences such as a recent food station featuring an authentic salumeria offering housemade charcuterie curated by a chef whose presence on the floor made for a memorable guest experience.
“Clients request everything from made to order crepes for a French brunch to roaming oyster shuckers and classic dim sum stations,” says Epicurean Culinary Group’s Innovation Chef Jenna Johansen. “We’re also doing a lot of refined, classic Americana such as wedge salads and chicken pot pies along with savory and sweet pies.”
Caterers are seeing a client preference for sit-down dinners preceded by passed hors d’oeuvres, or a combination of food stations that encourage pre-dinner socializing and dessert mingling. Which is easier on the budget, a buffet or sit-down meal? It depends! “A caterer has less control over portion size with a buffet, so food costs can be higher,” says Mazzeo. However, the sit-down dinner is more labor intensive. “We don’t pre-plate our seated dinners,” Ingrid Nagy, CEO of Catering by Design explains. “Culinary staff cooks and plates a meal just as it’s taken to the guests by the service staff.” Johansen agrees that the higher level of service and accompanying labor can cause seated service to be more expensive. All offer guidance that the goal of the event should dictate its style. If the food and wine are the stars, go with leisurely seated service. If the evening is about the social experience, keep guests mobile.
Our tastes are becoming more sophisticated as our choices increase. “Our clients prefer more adventurous entrées, reports Nagy. “Rather than chicken and beef, our clients are exploring lamb and trout, pork belly and bison.” Even vegetarian choices feature exotic spices and international flavors. Of course, vegan and gluten free offerings are found at every dinner these days. But savvy caterers also are mindful of disparate cultural preferences as they’re called upon to incorporate the rich culinary traditions of Africa and India into sumptuous repasts.
The farm to table movement is going strong in Colorado. “Local purveyors are always improving their selection of Colorado-made products,” Nagy says. Fortunately, everything is only a short plane ride away in today’s global market, allowing Denver diners to enjoy the freshest, seasonal produce year around.
What are we just plain tired of? One caterer confidentially confided that they’d like to see bacon back on the breakfast table and out of everything else!
Kimberly Field is a frequent contributor to Colorado Expression, Confetti and Architecture & Design of the West.