It's been more than a year since the coronavirus altered life as we know it. Though some aspects of “normal” life are starting to emerge, others remain altered and will continue that way for the foreseeable future. Gatherings—particularly weddings and other celebrations—are perhaps one of the most transformed elements. Gone are the ceremonies with hundreds of friends and families in attendance. Buffets are eschewed as the less-than-hygienic nature of that beast is realized. And blowing out birthday candles? Not on your life.
However, the desire to gather together and celebrate has not diminished. Yes, many couples made the decision to postpone their weddings until 2021 in the hopes that life would look more normal; others canceled the party entirely and chose to elope or celebrate quietly. But many are now realizing that though a massive event with more than 25 people might not be in the cards, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate in style— especially when it comes to catering.
UPSCALE RESORT SETTINGS ARE STILL IN VOGUE
The Broadmoor, the legendary Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond resort in Colorado Springs, has created spectacular weddings and unforgettable celebrations for more than 98 years. And though the number of guests that are able to gather has been curtailed, the number of actual events planned has increased, allowing the special-events staff to truly flex their creative muscles.
The days of everyone reaching for passed hors d’oeuvres is not over, but it has been modified. At The Broadmoor, popular items like charcuterie displays and canapes are reimagined and elevated.
For one small wedding, Broadmoor catering manager Melissa Fike explained that instead of an expansive charcuterie board, guests were presented with a personalized selection of meats and cheese on custom, individual wood boards.
“They still got that really on-trend and very high-touch appetizer, but they had it individually pre-composed,” Fike explained. “There wasn’t any shared touching of the prosciutto or everyone grabbing for the Parmesan.”
Other twists on the classic charcuterie that Fike said have been considered are individual charcuterie cones or skewers with all of the tasty elements contained in personalized packages.
Individual servings are also an option for other classic elements of Broadmoor weddings. For example: A pre-pandemic cocktail hour might have included butler-passed canapes. Fike said those are still an option but in individual containers.
“We had one client that we put those (canapes) in a little cup and then they had a custom monogrammed paper topper to close the lid to create its own wholly contained entity,” Fike said. “The client would then remove the custom monogrammed topper and inside would be their canape.”
Elegant and safe, this option for passed canapes not only lets guests enjoy the fresh air and beautiful Broadmoor setting but also provides an additional personal touch for the couple while delivering the elevated cocktail hour experience that the resort is known for.
When it comes to the wedding dinner, though, some practices are good ideas regardless of the size of the group or the current health restrictions.
“At the Broadmoor, we do a lot of plated events to begin with and that is the safest style of catering, as opposed to something like family-style, where there’s a lot of cross-contamination potential; same with stations or buffets,” Fike said. “So we have definitely been pushing a plated-style function in our menus before COVID and it’s just been enhanced and more popularized.”
DELIVERING CREATIVE MENUS AND EXPERIENCES
It’s not just weddings that are being postponed. Fundraising galas were virtually eliminated in 2020 but some found a way to morph the events into something new and memorable. Companies such as Epicurean Group helped pave the way.
Nonprofits rely on annual fundraisers and these groups wanted to maintain the celebratory feel while adhering to the public health guidelines and regulations. In order to provide the culinary portion of the gala, Epicurean brought the meal to the attendees.
“Western Fantasy, typically it’s about a 1,600-person in-person event, seated dinner. Last year they couldn’t do it,” said Wesley Guzman, vice president of E5 Events, part of the Epicurean family of businesses. “So we curated a meal, a very Western Fantasy-type meal of tenderloin and all the sides, plus appetizers, and we delivered that to all of the people’s homes (who were) hosting smaller events.” Then the guests tuned in virtually to Western Fantasy and had the shared experience of enjoying the same meal as all of the other supporters.
Venues have been hard hit as well. Epicurean is the exclusive caterer for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA); needless to say, the Sea- well Ballroom has been quiet over the past year. However, the DCPA also pivoted and began offering virtual pro-grams with a small group of in-person guests. Epicurean created bento box-style meals, individually packaged with lunch, breakfast and even charcuterie for those in attendance.
The decline in special events has hit catering companies hard, but Guzman still has a positive outlook.
“We’re really taking this time to innovate and look at our menu items and look at even our operational processes and streamline ourselves. We’ve learned to do a lot of things with a lot less people, as I’m sure every company has,” Guzman said. “We’re putting our best foot forward and using this time wisely to make sure that we come out of the gates running when it’s time.”
A FRESH WAY TO FEED A GROUP
Though the modern-day food truck craze hit in 2008, the practice of “mobile cuisine” has been a part of our culinary history for more than 300 years. That’s when New Amsterdam (now known as New York City) began regulating street vendors selling food from pushcarts and chuck wagons fed cattlemen and wagon trains traversing the old West. Today, food trucks are a beacon in the culinary world for their versatility and requisite open-air design: social distancing is attainable and seating is non-existent at a food truck, thus ensuring their popularity with groups large and small.
Celebrations and wedding parties are also getting in on the food truck trend. Instead of an ice cream station or traditional dessert course, options like High Point Creamery’s food truck “Big Pinky” can be stationed at your event to serve as the dessert station, complete with a personalized chalkboard listing the couples’ favorite flavors.
“Having Big Pinky on this day was truly special and something people still talk about! Thank you for being part of our special day!” posted Katie Curler on High Point’s Instagram account.
Traditional brick and mortar restaurants—and wedding favorites—are getting in on the mobile action, too. Morrison destination The Fort debuted its food truck, “Tatanka,” in 2020. Available for private catering and events, Tatanka’s menu includes dishes that epitomize The Fort’s culinary character like buffalo prime rib hoagies, buffalo BBQ ribs, green chile macaroni and cheese, Mexican hot chocolate and more. Though the historic location has recently started welcoming wedding reservations (for parties of 44 or less), booking Tatanka is a new and open-air option for infusing a special event with The Fort’s distinctive Western flavor.
From food trucks to carefully pack-aged charcuterie and all sorts of elements in between, catering has changed. But, thanks to the ingenuity and passion of culinary creatives, our ceremonies and gatherings will continue to be gourmet affairs.
Katie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Eagle County covering travel, craft spirits and beer and outdoor adventures. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online outlets like The National, Business Insider, 5280 and Outside. She’s now designing her own personal charcuterie presentation.
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