October 8, 2008 | Sarasota, FL
By MARSHA FOTTLER
The local social season is heating up, which means catering kitchens are, too. Area caterers used some of their summer downtime to test new recipes, research global food trends, experiment with exotic ingredients and do some culinary travel, which always yields new taste sensations for the folks back home.
A yen for a lifestyle change brought Chef Jeremy Hammond-Chambers and his wife, Jules (a professional singer), to Sarasota and last year when he decided to become the boss of his own kitchen and start Innovative Dining, a boutique catering business. Hammond-Chambers was born in Scotland and is a graduate of the Cordon Bleu culinary school in London. He worked in storied restaurants all over Europe before coming to New York in 1999, where he spent five years working with chefs Douglas Rodriguez at Patria, Mario Batali at Babbo and Daniel Boulud at Daniel, DB Bistro. Hammond-Chambers is inspired by Asian-fusion cuisine, and he is deft at making the exotic both friendly and palate-pleasing.
"Clients are looking for ways to save money," said the caterer. "So, when they want to host a larger event, I suggest a canap� party. Canap� parties almost always include only the cost of the food, plus a few staff members and bar, thus reducing the amount of extras that make a dinner event more expensive."
The chef frequently serves up to 12 types of hors d'oeuvres, both savory and sweet. Some of his new and original ones for this season include a one-bite crab, watermelon radish and ginger-mint salad. It is served in a shot glass with a tiny spoon or can be loaded onto a Chinese soupspoon.
Another one that chef expects to be a winner on passed trays is a spring roll made with curried shrimp, bits of green apple and cinnamon basil. Fashioned like sushi, it is cut into four rounds and garnished with scallion chili. And he knows he has a winner with a 2-inch-long spring roll filled with lobster, jicama, and Vietnamese coriander. It is served with ginger chili jam.
"I'm finding in conversations with clients planning home parties that they want to explore the unusual and have something they'd never make themselves because the ingredients would be too difficult to find," said Hammond-Chambers. "Most of these people have traveled, and they have sophisticated palates; they want to be surprised." Consequently, the young chef has been locating sources and devising appetizers made with such herbs and spices as cinnamon basil, salad burnett, fennelgreek, black cumin, cherry sage, lemon bergamat, ginger mint, flaming shiso, Vietnamese coriander and Peruvian huacatay.
"At the end of a canap� party people leave feeling like they have had a 12-course tasting menu," he said. "The difference being, instead of sitting down for dinner, they eat standing up, enjoying mouth-size bites with drinks. This type of party allows me to be creative, producing a more eclectic menu, and, as a result, covering a much wider variety of global cuisines, while still keeping costs down."
Jaymie Klauber started Fete Catering in 2003 as an adjunct to Pattigeorge's Restaurant that she and husband/chef, Tommy Klauber, own on Longboat Key. Now they have added the Polo Grill and Bar at Lakewood Ranch to their joint enterprise, and Fete Catering has grown from a boutique business to playing in the big leagues. The Klaubers can now do galas for up to 500 in their own ballroom or at the client's venue.
Jaymie said the biggest challenge this season is budget. "Clients are coming to us for quality events with 30 percent less money than last year," she said. "When we get together with other caterers at places like the Fancy Foods Show, we joke about how many ways we can cook chicken." As the days of filet mignon waft into memory, creative chefs like Tommy Klauber are coming up with dishes using flank, skirt and hanger steak, and tilapia instead of grouper.
But other trends fuel menus and presentations. "People still crave comfort foods, and to answer that we're doing hors d'oeuvres, such as shepherd's pie on a spoon, morsels of fried macaroni and cheese and White Castle-style mini-burgers," said Jaymie Klauber. The Fete sliders, intensely flavored meat or tuna bites on a tiny homemade bun, remain popular. And Fete wonton tacos made with fresh tuna have become a classic signature item for the catering company.
Another trend evident at Fete is the global cuisine influence. "That's why, at events in our ballroom, we do many food stations, each from a different part of the world," Jaymie Klauber explained. "These stations are high concept; we have a designer who puts the presentation together and they are wonderfully theatrical. A chef is at each one preparing and serving everything fresh -- no hot boxes." Something new on Fete canap� trays and at food stations this season is fried halloumi, a salty white goat and sheep's milk cheese from Cyprus and Greece. "We slice it, fry it in butter and sometimes we flame it, too," said Klauber. "We even put it on a stick and call it halloumi satay."
Outrageous presentation can propel a party from mundane to memorable, and it is another trend caterers are flirting with. An example is Fete's new signature chocolate dessert. "It's called the ultimate chocolate fix," said Klauber. "Disposable syringes are filled with four different blends of house-made melted chocolate and passed around on trays. A guest takes one, opens his or her mouth and squirts in the rich silken liquid. I ordered 600 syringes for this dessert and I can tell you right now, I'm going to have to order more."
Larry Barrett, who has owned Simply Gourmet for 14 years in Sarasota and for five years in Los Angeles before that, is constantly working on presentation, whether he is serving 15 (his home-party minimum) or 1,000 for a gala served supper. For the season he is doing a lot of high-low, old-new, and he is mining exotic lands for fusion meals with a classical twist.
"What's old is new again," he said, "and the lowly potato is coming up in the cuisine world. It's part of the comfort-food movement, which is still going strong. I'm paying a lot of attention to the potato this season. A meal I know will please is a three-inch-round potato pancake that I lay on a plate. On top I put a piece of steak and to the side a mound of creamed spinach. It's colorful while it combines crunchy, chewy and creamy, and it's definitely delicious, familiar food you want to eat."
The caterer said he expects to compose trays of mini-potato pancakes this season. Each little pancake will be topped with scallion cream cheese and a salmon rose. With fish he will serve lemon zest and thyme mashed potatoes, with meat a garlic-cheddar mashed. Potatoes au gratin is on the menu, and Barrett makes his the day before serving.
"You want the potato to absorb all the cream and cheese and seasonings," he explained. "It's richer tasting when it sits for 24 hours, and it cuts easier. I slice triangles, squares or circles, thus presenting this potato dish in attractive ways on the plate." Barrett's haute potato hors d'oeuvre is a red bliss potato stuffed with caviar and topped with cr�me fraiche. He does a less-expensive version with smoked salmon and a garnish of chives and black pepper.
Menus with a global perspective will be uppermost in importance at Simply Gourmet this season, with offerings such as a Cajun andouille sausage-stuffed spring roll or grilled smoked asparagus served with a kalamata olive, tomato and fresh herb relish. "I'll be doing meals and appetizers based on Indian cuisine, Thai, German, Vietnamese, Chinese and the diverse regions of Italy," said the chef, "because, frankly, that's what interests people today. There's a duo thing going on in America, a hunger for traditional comfort foods, but a lively curiosity about world cuisine. Caterers have to satisfy appetites for both."