Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Low Carb to Low Carbon-Catering to Your Health

Vegetarian, gluten-free, low-carb, high-protein and pleas to “keep it light.”

Do these sound like special diet requests from health-conscious restaurant patrons? Well, you got the patron part right. But these are increasingly common comments from clients who work with professional caterers to plan a party or meals for business meetings.

Lance Hagen, sous chef for A Legendary Event, one of Atlanta’s most popular and busiest catering companies, says, “We certainly don’t see a lot of call for classic French dining these days. Our customers want menus designed around healthier world cuisines such as Asian and Mediterranean.”

And forget the "rubber chicken circuit" of disappointing banquet meals. From corporate events to weddings, caterers are expected to deliver restaurant-quality meals, from a really good restaurant.

For instance, chicken entrees on A Legendary Event’s catering menus change with the season, such as spring's pan-seared organic herb marinated chicken breast with fava beans, roasted yellow peppers and a rainbow of mixed microgreens.

Hagen says, “We like to showcase produce from Southern regional farms. I like to say it’s our own private little California.”

Even desserts are getting a healthy makeover.

Next to the chocolate fountains and cheesecake bites; lighter versions of sweet treats are being added to please health-conscious palates. Legendary’s pastry chef, Brittany Wright, created a lower-calorie panna cotta by using more gelatin in the recipe, and serves it with fresh berries and a sliver of dark chocolate to match the glamour of richer desserts.

Serve something green
Today’s definition of what’s "healthy" increasingly includes what’s healthy for the planet, too.

When Laura Turner Seydel and the staff of the Captain Planet Foundation plan events to support their work educating people about ways to protect the environment, caterers have to make the “going green” cut, too.

At a recent party held at Seydel’s home in Atlanta, the dining room table was set with elegant bites of goat cheese lollipops, deviled eggs with smoked salmon, crab mini quiche and organic butternut squash empanadas.

Caterer Frank Bragg of Radial Cafe even made sure the display included sustainable principles: “We used a stack of cardboard egg cartons topped with glass to present the devilled eggs. It’s a touch of whimsy, but it’s also a way to reuse and repurpose the egg cartons.”

Bragg, whose company motto is “Small Carbon Footprint, Big Local Flavor,” has been on the forefront of “green catering” since he began his company in 1999.

He says happily organic and other sustainable ingredients are easier to find today, “but you still have to plan ahead. I have one Georgia honey producer who reminded me that her product was available only seasonally, so I have to buy when it’s available and stock up. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it when you find such a beautiful product.”

The challenge to please clients no matter what they want and no matter what the circumstance is nothing new in the catering business.

Tony Conway, owner and founder of A Legendary Event, says he’s always had to work with Mother Nature: “She’s one of our favorite guests. Snow, rain, wind, heat or cold, she’s always right there with us as we prep, pack, load and unload.”

Now with the increased visibility for organic, just picked, locally grown and farm-fresh foods on catering menus, Mother Nature is guaranteed an invitation to even more parties, but now she's welcome to join the table.

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