by Kerry Andersen
Our Facebook feeds are beginning to fill up with happy photos of friends and neighbors gathering to celebrate life’s moments again. After being separated for so long, social occasions are now especially cherished, and party planners and caterers are once again delivering memorable experiences for events big and small.
Many of these ideas are easy to replicate on a smaller scale for your own get-togethers. Whether you hire a local business to curate the perfect experience for an upcoming holiday, proposal, shower, or other life milestone, or do all the planning yourself, these party food ideas are sure to inspire and wow your guests!
The original French charcuterie shops featured elaborate trays of cured meats. But today, charcuterie encompasses a wider trend of displaying meats, cheeses, crackers, fruits and more in an eye appealing manner to serve as an appetizer or even a meal. The delicious meat trays have surged in popularity. In fact, online searches for the word ‘charcuterie’ were up 300% last year. Charcuterie boards please all palates and can feed a hungry crowd or a small gathering in a memorable way. Bayou Boards by Gabrielle (bayouboards.com) was recently called to create an epic charcuterie display for a Business After Hours event in Lake Charles. It was the talk of the night with 12-feet of edible bites displayed. The beauty of a charcuterie board is that it can be as simple or elaborate as the party dictates and features something for every palate.
Trying to create your own charcuterie at home? Remember the rule of threes . . . three cheeses, three meats, three starches and three sweets for a balanced board. Fill the board out with fresh fruit, nuts, crackers, herbs, and jams so that it is a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds!
Mom told you not to play with your food, but Grazing Tables encourage just the opposite. Instead of plating meals for guests, roll out butcher paper on your kitchen table or countertops and then get busy covering it up with delicious options for guests to graze on. A successful Grazing Table should be visually appealing, have some height (stack cake stands and boxes) and include plants, flowers, and fruit for decor. Popular ideas include a breakfast board filled with waffles, pancakes and all the toppings. Try a kid’s board for a party with cookies, candy, donuts, and pop tarts. For visual appeal, choose a variety of colors and textures. A brunch board is always a hit with waffles, pancakes, bagels and cream cheeses, bacon, and fruit displayed for hungry guests. A ballpark theme could include hot dogs, hamburgers and popcorn accented with décor from your favorite team. Bottom line – there are no rules! Play with your food and encourage your guests to do the same! Cleanup is a breeze, just roll up the paper and toss it!
Comfort Foods with a Twist
Catering your next event doesn’t have to be fussy. Consider putting an innovative spin on the comfort foods that everyone agrees are delicious. Donut walls are a big hit at weddings and baby showers right now. It’s as easy as it sounds – choose colorful donuts and hang them on a pegboard for a delicious and edible display! On the plus side, comfort foods are easy on the budget (if not the waistline) too. A macaroni and cheese or mashed potato bar will have guests running back for seconds. Serve the tasty treat in martini glasses for an elevated presentation and offer indulgent toppings like Crème Fraîche and caviar. Grilled cheese squares, sliders, bite-size BBQ pork biscuits and even an assortment of mini pot pies offers up a fun interpretation of classic menu items. A chicken and waffles station is simple to serve yet feels indulgent. Don’t forget the syrups!
One of the hottest party food trends is less about what than where the dining takes place. Enjoy the beautiful spring weather and tote your meal outside. Instagram is brimming with gorgeous images of pop-up luxury picnics. Magical Moments Picnics in Lake Charles makes it easy to dine al fresco by creating the whimsical experience for you. Pick a prime spot in your local park, or even your back yard, and owner Hannah Pettefer does the rest. She brings in custom low tables, comfy pillows for seating, plush blankets, and rugs and sets up an elegant and comfortable dining area under blue skies. Each picnic is highly customizable by theme and color and Hannah works to create a custom experience that includes gorgeous florals, refreshing beverages and delicious snack boards. Choose from savory meats and cheeses, your favorite snacks or even a S’mores board of ingredients to make the sweet treats. Sharing and passing the food is part of the fun. The picturesque picnics are popular with lovebirds popping the question, but are also ideal for a birthday party, girl’s day out or date night.
Afternoon tea is the new Happy Hour! This tradition borrowed from the British appeals to both the tastebuds and the eyes. A quick search of #afternoontea on Instagram reveals a staggering 6.2 million posts (and growing). The trend may stem from a yearning to slow down and enjoy a relaxing mid-day moment. Or it may be that millennials are inheriting their grandparents’ fine china and silver and want to put them to good use! For the perfect afternoon tea party, offer high-quality teas (Earl Grey, Jasmine, and Rosehip are traditional options) and finger foods such as mini-cucumber sandwiches, scones with jams, petit fours, and fruit, all adorned with floral centerpieces.
The healthy trend also carries over into food catering this year, both from a pandemic safety standpoint and a focus on dietary needs. Buffets are often replaced by individual entrees, passed foods and smaller tableside action stations. Single serving packaging gets creative with bento boxes, mini glass domes over food and Chinese take-out containers. Expect to see more gluten-free and vegetarian options at parties and events. However, gone are the days of boring crudites. Cauliflower and broccolini are instead elevated to main courses but with bold global flavors. As the price of meat climbs higher, many chefs will substitute interesting mushrooms as a plant-based option for entrees. In fact, food forecasters chose mushrooms as the ingredient of the year for 2022 as a moderate protein choice and a boost to immune health. Oyster Mushrooms in particular are getting the star treatment with a mild flavor that is greatly enhanced when stir-fried or sauteed. In short, plant based everything is trending in 2022 including oat milk and other eco-friendly options.
It wouldn’t be a party without cocktails! Longtime lead bartender at Ember Grille & Wine Bar in Lake Charles, Kelli Bistok has seen every trend come and go. She says the classic cocktail is back and here to stay for a while. Patrons stuck at home and forced to act as their own bartenders learned how to make classic drinks, and now that bars are bustling again, they want the taste they’ve grown accustomed to. At Ember, the top selling drink by far is the Old Fashioned (followed by the Manhattan). The classic made with whiskey and bitters is so popular, the bar can barely keep up production of the ice spheres that simultaneously decorate and chill the cocktail. Retro classics like the Moscow Mule and Espresso Martini are also trending so adding them to your event menus will make for happy imbibers.
On the flip side of cocktail indulgence is a new generation of patrons focused on health. They want to imbibe at social events or business functions but without the hangover. Likewise, intentionally sober and pregnant customers don’t want to feel left out of festivities. As a result, there’s a huge surge in popularity of low (.05-1.2%) or no ABV (alcoholic strength by volume) spirits and beers at a time when the quality of these offerings is higher than ever.