A culinary experience

Like any industry, food and catering is no different when it comes to the latest trends. Gone are the days of big silver dishes with ‘I’m not sure what that is’ type of stew. It’s now all about fresh, healthy, bright and beautiful dishes. So, what else is, to quote Twitter, #trending in the catering industry?

“How was the food?” “Who did the catering?” These are often the first questions people ask after a conference, event or function. Food brings people together, is a great conversation starter and of course keeps you focused during long plenary sessions.

“People love to eat food that looks good.” And tastes good too! But that goes without saying when talking about James Khoza, executive chef at the Sandton Convention Centre. “Over the years, conference caterers have taken a more holistic approach to food, health and individual, moving away from heavy foods toward lighter options and smaller portion sizes. The emphasis is now on the plate or vessel the food is served in and it’s about creating an enriching experience.”

When you think about conference food, it’s hard not to picture greasy deep fried spring rolls, mini sausage rolls and doughy pizzas, to name a few , and when you’re on a tight budget this seems like the only option. Not so, says Khoza: “Although gala buffets are generally pricier, clients can opt for less expensive options by choosing plated starters and a less protein heavy main course. Beef and lamb are expensive and can easily be replaced with white meat and vegetables prepared using a variety of cooking methods to increase the appeal of the dish.”

He adds: “A very popular alternative to fried foods is the rice or tortilla wrap option. It still has the cocktail experience without the greasy and unhealthy connotation that so often goes with the typical cocktail menu.” To create more than simply an eating experience, Khoza tells us about a trend that’s catching on very quickly in the conference catering industry. “Wraps paired with cured meats, pickled or smoked, along with petite salads, individual serving offerings and sandwiches using healthy breads can all be incorporated into a live station. This allows for interaction among the chefs and delegates and gives clients an opportunity to see how the food is prepared and styled.”

“Simple, tasty, fresh, a hint of local flavour and client value for money, is the perfect conference food package,” says Khoza.

Debs Ayub from Sense of Taste shares Khoza’s healthy food sentiments. “The latest ‘in’ foods include rustic and colourful vegetables, a more simplistic view on produce, a great variety of different tastes, and organic is undoubtedly the way forward.”

Gaining popularity in the conference industry are mobile bar services. Perfect for year-end functions, mobile bar services add something different as well as delicious cocktails. According to Lourence Bam from the mobile service Shaken and Stirred: “The mobile bar industry has grown tremendously over the last five years. In the beginning we had the major players in the industry, followed by many smaller companies. Each of them adds their little piece of magic by catering for different needs.”

So do drinks and cocktails have trends? They certainly do. “Molecular mixology is very ‘in’ at the moment. Experimenting with different ingredients give a cocktail the ‘x’ factor that clients love, and adds a greater intensity to, and a variety of, flavours,” Bam adds.

Healthy food combined with colourful, fruity cocktails? We couldn’t think of anything better. So whether you’re attending a formal conference, intimate birthday dinner or company bash, there’s no need to worry about the calories – just eat, drink and be merry.

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