Taste of summer

While a barbecue is always a good bet for a summer event, the risk of bad weather and soggy sausages and burgers has led to an increase in alternative outdoor catering options, such as food stalls and street food.

“Generally speaking a barbecue tends to be the most obvious catering choice for a summer event as it is almost impossible to arrange a barbecue at any other time of year,” says Cecilia Lavin, Sales and Marketing Manager at event catering and design company, Purple Grape. “This year, however, has seen a different trend, that of providing interactive and al fresco cooking food stalls.

“This trend seems to derive from the ever-increasing food markets and stalls providing fresh and tasty food that is being cooked in front of guests. Due to the nature of this type of food it can be provided together with a barbecue, with items such as chargrilled chicken and bar marked halloumi, which will provide something different for guests to enjoy,” she adds.

Food stall ideas from Purple Grape include an East End salt-beef stall with the beef carved at the station by the chef served with a choice of rostis and bagels with a selection of English mustard and gherkins; a Spanish stall offering Spanish-style meats such as Iberico ham, chorizo, Serrano ham, Manchego cheese and Mediterranean anti pasti and breads; and a Cornish seafood stall with a selection of oysters, muscles, salmon, crab and prawns served with a variety of breads, dips and sauces.

Food and party design company, Create, has launched a street food menu for this summer. Its themed food stations include BBQ’d Beer Can Chicken, Kebab Kids, Show us your Mussels and Crepe Escape, which all offer seasonal food with a fun twist. 

“Street food is a fun alternative to a barbecue; think gourmet American junk food, diner food but with a healthy edge,” says Menu Designer, Lulu Jones-Fenleigh.  “We wanted to create a fun atmosphere with each station having a ‘master of ceremonies’ and chef who can interact with the clients while they wait or hang around eating.

“Our Kebab Kids stall reinvents the classless kebab making it fresh, cool and tasty. We use a proper kebab rotisserie to create a fun and theatrical stand with the chefs carving fresh from the rotisserie,” Jones-Fenleigh adds.

John Hearn, Executive Head Chef of food design and event management company, Tapenade, says other quirky ideas for summer catering include canapés that are not served as traditional flat canapés, such as crispy Parmesan lollipops, miniature steak and chips, or mini ice cream cones; English picnics; afternoon tea or garden parties. “Tasty hampers with game pies or a selection of cheeses that are served to each table, or rugs laid out on the grass can work well, and traditional favourites such as strawberry meringues or scones can also be incorporated.”

Hearn adds that the most unusual catering request he has received so far was for dessert tents. “The client wanted pop-up tents with serving stations offering crepes, waffles, ice cream and patisseries; the smell was amazing,” he says.

One of the more unusual requests that Purple Grape has responded to during the summer months was for a Christmas themed menu. “Although this sounds unusual and a tiny bit crazy this is often the time when retail companies arrange press events to showcase their autumn and winter ranges. For enquires like these, it is important to find as many ingredients as possible that are in season that are still used in the winter months. These could be carrots, potato and spinach, for example,” says Lavin.

For two nights only in August The Deck at the National Theatre is embracing all things Spanish and transforming into a 50-seat pop-up restaurant, Teatro de Alimentos. Potential clients can gain exclusive access to the space while enjoying Spanish food and matching wines. The six-course menu includes Hispanic dishes such as savoury jamon Iberico croquettes, onion-crusted salt cod and suckling pig served with garlic, chorizo, paprika and a Pedro Ximenez.

An old favourite

While in some cases the barbecue has been replaced by the more on-trend food stall concept, barbecues are still an old favourite. 

“Barbecues are still popular in the summer as the days get longer and the sun starts to shine,” says Executive Chef at Turnberry Resort, Justin Galea. “The terrace we have here at Turnberry has a bespoke built-in barbecue and this space is somewhere we seriously push in the summer months.

“While barbecues can mean more last minute preparation for the catering team compared to a sit-down dinner it is, in essence, an action station where guests can get involved and watch the chefs cooking their food.

“We’ve recently been asked to provide a hog roast on the first tee of the championship golf course and are currently trying to work out if this is feasible or not,” he adds.

Hilton London Heathrow Airport has embraced the summer months this year and introduced a new Barbecue Terrace package for meetings and events. Delegates are able to escape the boardroom and enjoy a selection of barbecue menus among a real sand terrace, complete with tranquil lake, rockery and landscaped gardens.

Event organisers can choose between three barbecue menus, each featuring a selection of hot and cold summer-inspired foods. Dishes include salmon skewers with garlic, herbs and lemon; Mediterranean vegetable brochettes; Cajun spiced chicken drumsticks, wasabi coleslaw and tomato, mozzarella and rocket salad.

Stephen Frost, Executive Chef in Scotland for sports, leisure, workplace and events with Sodexo and his team of chefs, have created a summer menu with a barbecue theme for Hamilton Park Racecourse.
Highlights include barbecues, hog roasts with floured baps, homemade apple cider sauce and hand rolled sage and onion stuffing. Continuing the summer theme, the venue is also offering a selection of drinks, which include jugs of Pimm’s, tropical fruit punch cocktails and summer fruit smoothies.

“Our packages and menus have all been created with the outdoors in mind and a barbecue or hog roast can provide that little extra something to traditional conferences, training days, open days and fun days. It’s great to see people’s reactions when lunch is going to be a suckling pig rather than a traditional sandwich or sausage roll,” says GM with Sodexo Prestige at Hamilton Park, Kathryn Jones.

Sodexo Prestige has also teamed up with local ice cream maker, Equi’s Ice Cream, which provides race-themed ice creams on event days such as ‘jockey choc ices’ and a ‘mint trot chip’ flavour scoop. Equi’s has also developed its Golden Stirrup ice cream, a mix of chocolate ice cream and honeycomb pieces topped with a gold decoration.

Eat lighter

The key for summer catering is keeping it light, according to Jules Heckman Hughes, Creative Director at Harbour and Jones Events. “Heavy dishes combined with the hot weather are likely to make guests feel lethargic. British summer ingredients such as asparagus, soft salad leaves and Jersey potatoes can be used to create light dishes that will satisfy guests without leaving them stuffed.”

Marc Rodgers, Business Development Manager MICE UK for The Doyle Collection, adds: “We collect feedback from our clients in regards to catering and for the summer months there is a definite trend for lighter, healthier snacks and lunches. These requests have led us to introduce fruit smoothies, and muesli with yoghurt and a berry compote as an early morning snack, fresh fruits, salmon timbales and dishes using market fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables for lunches and dinners.”

Asparagus, fresh berries and sea trout are a selection of the options that Macdonald Hotels and Resorts’ chefs draw upon to create in-season summer dishes. The  hotel group’s chefs are encouraged to create two additional summer menus available from June to the end of August. John Paul at Macdonald Marine Hotel and Spa offers the Spiced Sticky Pork Bell and the Eton Mess style Strawberry Cocktail.

“Al fresco dining is increasingly popular and it is with this in mind that we offer our lighter summer menus,” says Regional Development Chef, Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, Giles Stonehouse.

Catering in the rain

With the unreliable nature of the UK summer, and with rain more likely to make an appearance than not, whether it be a food stall concept or a barbecue, a contingency plan is a must. “The Great British summer is unpredictable so it’s best to prepare for inclement weather,” says, Heckman Hughes. “If using an outside space ensure there is a marquee for coverage and the interior space of the venue can be used. Also creating an outside space within a venue is a great way of guaranteeing the weather while giving the event the summer feel of being outside.”

Richard Baggs, MD of event caterers Moving Venue, says catering outside for summer events is a risk assessment with, in his opinion, the temperature needing to be over 15 degrees in order to host the event outside. “During the summer, clients request that they host events at venues with outdoor spaces, which is only fair given the typical British summer weather; we need to make the most of the spells of sunshine as much as possible. Typically we won’t be able to make a decision on whether an event will be al fresco until the day itself. We have to make two plans: one for indoors and one for outside. This ensures that, given that we can only have 45 minutes to set up for an event, we can turn the space around as quickly as possible.”

If you are deciding on the catering for an upcoming summer event, remember to choose lighter options, have a back up if bad weather threatens your barbecue, or why not try the on-trend food stalls. Whatever you choose, make sure to use seasonal summer ingredients, so even if the sun isn’t shining guests can still enjoy a taste of summer.

This was first published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? E-mail conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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