Category Focus: Small is Beautiful

The global health crisis has forced change in all of our lives at an unprecedented rate but amongst all of the sadness and despair, there is optimism and a collective resolve that we will all get through this together.

As thefoodpeople point out in their updated Trend Book 2020/21, “the food industry is full of creative minds who are inventive, innovative and resilient”, and this unique period could bring about significant positive change and innovation as a response to our ‘new normal’.

Small plates and sharing platters were a trend born out of the last global crisis – the financial one of 2008. Restaurants then had to diversify to survive and sharing plates were a way of allowing consumers to keep going out with a slide-able budget.

LOCAL AND PROUD

The lockdown has made us all appreciate what’s on our doorsteps and show support for our neighbours and local businesses. A survey carried out by CGA reveals 43% of the population already have or are planning to support local pubs, bars, restaurants or cafes as a result of Covid-19.

The uncertainty of travel restrictions will also undoubtedly see a dramatic rise in staycations this year, as people choose to holiday on British soil.

Caterers can embrace this patriotism by offering sharing platters and small plates championing local produce and delicacies.

GOURMET GRAZING

With quality and provenance being a key factor, artisan producers are coming to the fore to complement ‘grazing’ options.

‘Grazing tables’ – laden with artisan breads, dips, raw vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, olives, cheeses and cold meats – are a popular choice for wedding breakfasts and party food, but the quality of the produce is key.

“Don’t be tempted to compromise on quality. Quality bread is essential. Good artisan bread turns a simple supper into a feast,” says Steve Shingleton, sales director at Speciality Breads. “Over the last two years we have seen massive growth in the demand for breads to serve with sharing platters and small dishes such as pinchos, tapas and meze.”

CONTRASTING IDEAS

Contrasts are among the greatest pleasures of small plates and grazing boards. It’s all about the hot and cold, spicy and creamy, crispy and smooth, not to mention the colours and textures that now make up a great spread.

“Look to sauces, dressing and chutneys for bringing variety to the table,” advises Sarah Lesser-Moor, brand manager for Lion Sauces. “Pair strong cheeses with a sweet and spicy Lion Fig & Date Chutney, or salty and savoury halloumi with chunky chilli jam. Serve hot Piri Piri chicken wings with a cool and creamy buttermilk Ranch dressing, or spicy vegan goujons with a pot of Lion’s new Vegan Garlic Mayo.”

GO GLOBAL

The small plates trend is probably most closely associated with Spanish tapas style dining and Greek meze but, as with most things in the foodie world, the trend has evolved and been absorbed into other global cuisines.

Mexican – Try mini tacos, empanadas and quesadillas, pulled pork taquitos, huevos diablos (devil eggs) and fried japaleños.
Indian – Thalis offffer diners the opportunity to try a selection of small dishes of food, and generally include a selection of curries, flatbread, rice, salad and appetisers. Other popular dishes include roti wraps, pani puri and kofta rolls.
Japanese – sashimi, takoyaki (octopus balls), yakitori (mini meat kebabs) and gyozas (savoury dumplings) Themed food nights are a great way for care residents to enjoy different cuisines from their travels too.

THE MAIN EVENT

Pre-prepared frozen products can be an absolute game-changer when you’re hosting a big event.

“Catering for conferences, weddings and other events can often be a big occasion, with all the challenges that brings, so it’s the perfect time to use pre-prepared frozen products – at least for part of the menu,” explains Gordon Lauder, MD of frozen food distributor Central Foods. “It can be especially convenient to stock frozen items that are suitable for those with specific dietary requirements.

“These are not only perfect for large events, they’re also ideal to have in stock to serve on other occasions too. Think afternoon tea in a care home or happy hour in a university bar, for example.”

WHAT’S TRENDING?

Cauliflower is currently a foodie favourite (try KaterVeg! Moroccan-style Cauliflower Bites) and Middle Eastern and Persian flavours are also on trend.

Menuserve’s Indian savoury snack selection – onion bhajis, vegetable pakoras and vegetable samosas – are vegan friendly and gluten free and work well as savoury snacks at a buffet or conference, or as a starter for a sit-down dining occasion.

For a ‘light, healthier’ buffet option, Menuserve Mediterranean buffet skewers are available in two flavour combinations – green olive and mozzarella balls, and dried herbed tomato and mozzarella balls – all coated with a green pesto dressing.

With current interest growing in Japanese foods following last year’s Rugby World Cup and this year’s now postponed Toyko Olympics, Golden Valley Foods Mini Cooked Chicken Satay Selection in three flavour varieties – yakatori, satay and Oriental satay – are a great option.

MEAT-FREE MORSELS

Don’t forget to cater for meat-avoiders and reducers when planning your buffets and small plates.

Tipiak has just launched the Vegan Cocktail Selection – a unique finger food assortment that includes lemon and ginger mousseline mini tarts sun-dried cherry tomato and olive tapenade on curry polenta cubes, guacamole and almond on walnut crackers, and falafel bites topped with sesame seeds.

PLAY-TIME

Research from De Montfort University has found that children who play with their food are more likely to eat their fruit and veg.

Craig Smith, FIH, MRIPH, the Hospital Caterers Association’s national chair, comments: “We all eat with our eyes and children are no different. This is often why when it comes to eating vegetables, offering an attractive buffet style display of cut up cucumbers, carrots, peppers, etc. can help children eat their recommended daily amount.

“As touch and feel are just as important as taste when it comes to encouraging children to eat more healthily, it just goes to show that buffet snacking doesn’t have to mean unhealthy.”

CASUAL CAMPUSES

Small plates are fast becoming a mainstay on university campuses, as international cuisines continue to influence students’ menu choices. As university caterers look ahead to the new academic year following the enforced Covid-19 lockdown, now is a good time to review menus for the new intake of students.

“We are seeing casual dining increasingly becoming the norm across university campuses,” says Matthew White, chair of the University Caterers Organisation.”

“Greek meze, Spanish tapas and Cantonese dim sum have changed the way we eat together forever. Small plates are shared dishes that provide diners with a fantastic choice including a variety of flavours and are often visually
appealing – perfect for Instagram.

“Universities that can adapt to new trends quickly will reap the rewards as diners are always looking for new and exciting experiences. This is a great opportunity for inhouse caterers to get inventive and really push the boundaries to create their own dishes that are perfect for sharing.”

Care-ful Snacking

It’s important to offer a range of snacks and finger foods for care home residents throughout the day to help boost nutritional intake.

Elderly people tend to be less mobile and therefore have less of an appetite. Eating little and often, with foods which have been fortified, significantly helps reach their recommended calorie intake.

Robin Dudley, business development chef at Essential Cuisine, recommends:

“Finger foods are particularly important for people with dementia who may have difficulty with dexterity and prefer to pick at foods throughout the day.
“Aim for two snacks per day in-between meal times and make snack times more than just a cup of tea and a biscuit. By combining a high calorie snack with a milky drink you could add 400 calories!”

Nourishing snack ideas:

  • A slice of cake with buttercream
  • A buttered slice of malt loaf
  • A snack sized chocolate bar
  • 1 small sausage roll
  • A scoop of ice cream
  • A slice of bread with jam and butter
  • A thick and creamy yogurt
  • 1 small pork pie
  • 1 ring doughnut
  • A packet of crisps

Snack ideas for
a modifified diet:

  • Milk jelly
  • Pureed rice pudding
  • Modified creamy pasta
  • Panna cotta
  • Salmon or vegetable mousses
  • Pureed fruit with custard or cream
  • A baked egg custard without the pastry
  • Trifle without the fruit pieces