Chefs in foodservice operations of all stripes are bringing distinct culinary experiences to their catering customers, offering everything from farm-to-fork menus to boxed lunches to deluxe sit-downs.
Weddings are booming for Tender Greens, a nine-unit, Los Angeles-based fast-casual restaurant chain that brings its singular style of local, sustainable, chef-driven cuisine to full-service catering events.
“Last year we did a total of 28 weddings and I already have 27 confirmed this year so far,” says Heidi Wahl, director of catering and events. “I am booking into 2014 for weddings already.”
With chefs trained in upscale restaurants and luxury hotels, Tender Greens can pull off one-of-a-kind catering menus. Strong relationships with area farmers ensure a pipeline of top-flight fresh ingredients.
“We are truly farm-to-fork,” says Wahl. “Everything we serve is grown within 100 miles of your plate.”
At receptions, servers pass Small Bites like Eggplant Caponata on Chickpea Cake and Smoked Pork Belly with Sprouted Mung Bean and Sweet and Sour Sauce on elegant hand-carved bamboo boards.
A seasonal buffet may include main dishes like Seared Albacore Tuna with Salsa Verde and Slow Cooked California Boneless Beef Short Ribs. Everything is made on site with cooking equipment trucked in.
Guests are also drawn to Tender Greens catering by the distinctive settings of the events, which have included wineries, industrial warehouses, posh Malibu estates, celebrities’ homes in the Hollywood Hills and Leo Carrillo State Beach.
“The idea is to make it free-flowing, so you are not just stuck in a ballroom,” Wahl says.
This style of catering appeals to SoCal customers who are “urban, eco-conscious, kind of cool and outside of the box,” says Wahl. “They don’t want the traditional hotel wedding. They want a bit of a twist.”
Tender Greens Menu Sampler
- Marinated Baby Beets, Goat Cheese and Micro Arugula on Endive Spear
- Backyard Marinated Steak
- Grilled Salt and Pepper Free Range Chicken
In a world glutted with sub shops, entrepreneur Tim Jandovitz has staked out the relatively virgin territory of gourmet waffle sandwiches for his fast-casual concept.
Bel 50, his three-month-old Chicago restaurant, is pleasing patrons with off-site corporate catering as well as food served over the counter, Jandovitz reports. The restaurant is doing two to three catering jobs per week in just its first month of catering.
“One of our catering clients has ordered from us three times in the last three weeks, because what we offer is new and differentiated,” says Jandovitz. “I think the reason people choose Bel 50 is because they are looking for something new besides the generic sandwich shop, besides a Potbelly, a Jimmy John’s or a Jersey Mike’s.”
Bel 50’s signature waffles and fillings are prepared in the store and delivered in separate chafing dishes to the catering site. A Bel 50 associate warms the waffles in an electric-powered salamander, which Jandovitz likens to a large toaster, and sets out the food.
Catering customers “rave” about waffle fillings like Braised Short Rib/Horseradish Crème Fraiche and Buttermilk Fried Chicken/Honey Mustard Glaze/Slaw, Jandovitz says. Each is priced at $49.99 and serves ten people. A popular breakfast meeting choice is Cheesy Eggs with cheddar, priced at $34.99 and also serving ten.
Bel 50’s yeast-based waffle bread is not sweet like breakfast waffles, Jandovitz says. “It’s more like freshly baked country bread with more texture. I think consumers are pleasantly surprised by the taste of our waffle bread.”
Bel 50 Menu Sampler
- Panzella Salad: Romaine, tomato, basil, waffle bites with balsamic vinaigrette; $39.99 (serves 8-10)
- BBQ Pulled Pork/Avocado Salsa: All-natural, slow-cooked pork & tangy BBQ sauce; $49.99 (serves 10)
- Portabella Mushroom/Roasted Tomato/Goat CheeseRoasted red pepper aioli and fresh herbs; $49.99 (serves 10)