Baby, it’s cold outside!

The central heating is on and the thermals are out – it can only signal the advent of another typical British winter! For chefs and caterers, this change in season demands a whole new menu to accommodate diners’ revised eating habits during the colder months. Whilst some diners continue to order salads and other healthy eating options, carbs and comfort food come to the forefront of many of our eating out preferences…

Home comforts

There is nothing consumers love more than indulging in winter-inspired dishes once the colder weather arrives, so now is the time for operators to think about developing a hearty, seasonal menu. “Being able to offer customers home-cooked, tasty meals presents a significant profit opportunity,” says Jessica Lalor, brand development manager for Kerrymaid. “Customers want to visit venues and feel like they’re home from home; treating themselves to hearty dishes which keep them warm inside.”

When thinking of designing winter-inspired menus, operators should look at creating a ‘winter warmers’ section on their menu to highlight their comforting selection of dishes such as a cheesy macaroni, creamy fish pie, and stew with dumplings – all perfect for the chilly months ahead.

Winter twists on salads and sides

As consumer interest in putting fruit and vegetables centre stage continues to influence the more creative cooking of produce, it is the old fashioned, traditional winter produce with a modern twist that has become the key addition to the winter menu.

Says Helen Evans, director of business development for New Covent Garden Market: “Brussel sprouts, the Christmas staple, are now being enjoyed through innovative cooking techniques that add unique flavour. Chefs are striving to bring the green sprout back to the plate through creative recipes and it is now popular to roast until crispy, making a crunchy addition to many recipes, or to shave the sprouts raw to use in salads and slaws.”

Pomegranates are being used more often in winter menus. They provide a blast of colour in the winter months and have grown in popularity due to TV chefs, as well as the surge of interest in middle-eastern cooking. Pomegranates are an effective addition to any winter menu as they provide a sweet contrast with rich meat and the seeds provide a fruity garnish to soups and salads as well as improving the visual appeal.

Soup-er stars

Winter is the perfect season for conjuring up soups and warming broths. They’re cheap and easy to make, a perfect way of using up leftover ingredients, and an ideal component for winter meal deals – an offering of soup, a sandwich and a drink is sure to be popular. With the ongoing trend for Pan-Asian and old world flavours, why not add a bit of spice to your soups?

“With customers actively seeking out bolder flavours and increasingly more familiar with worldwide cuisine from Pan-Asian to Caribbean, we have seen a distinct move towards the consumer’s desire for more creative recipes concepts,” explains David Bryant, managing director at Major. “Over the past year our Piri Piri and Fajita Mari Bases were our top sellers, rising to prominence and pipping more traditional flavourings such as barbecue to the post.”

Winning Soup Flavour Combos

• Borlotti bean and pancetta
• Pea and ham
• Lentil and bacon
• Tomato, chorizo and chickpea
• Roast chicken and broad bean
• Butternut squash and roasted red pepper
• Apple and parsnip

Get spooky!

The winter months are also jampacked with party occasions such as Halloween and Bonfire Night and are perfect diary dates for venues to start preparing themed menus ready for these events. Halloween is a growing event in everyone’s calendars and there are many things venues can do to increase footfall over this period. To create excitement around this event look at designing Halloween-inspired menus around the run up to the event. Venues should upgrade their normal menus to include spooky-themed dishes, for example, taking a bread bowl filled with soup and naming it Witch’s Cauldron or even taking a classic ice cream sundae and covering with chocolate spiders and gooey fruit chew sweets; these ideas are entertaining for both children and adults alike and will ensure the excitement for families before and during the event.

Sweet cravings

Another substantial way for venues to drive sales is by creating a delicious dessert menu to entice customers. Desserts are a key addition to any menu, especially over the winter months, but to get customers talking about a venue, operators should offer something different to their competitors. Jessica Lalor advises developing a dessert platter, by creating smaller bite-sized versions of winter classics to give customers the choice to tuck into all their favourite sweet treats without feeling like they have over-indulged. “Create mini sticky toffee puddings as well as warm gooey chocolate fudge cakes and mini versions of hot apple crumble and add to the sharing platter. Add to the table jugs of double cream or custard and customers can really enjoy their favourite desserts in a variety of ways. “This clever menu addition is perfect for upcoming Christmas parties as it allows customers to pick and choose whatever dessert they want and share with friends. It also ties in with growing consumer trends towards sharing, personalisation and ‘making it your own’.”

The Handmade Cake Company offers an Apple Shortcake, which is a great addition for winter dessert menus – and ideal for time -pressed caterers as it’s pre-portioned and frozen for convenience. For a premium pudding, try Bake Off Crème de la Crème winner and Sosa brand ambassador Mark Tilling’s delicious Chocolate Fondants (below). He says: “The surprise burst of gooey chocolate means they are sure to impress.”

When it comes to sides, chefs are getting more creative too. Bob McDonald, Major’s consultant development chef for Ireland and Scotland, suggests:

• Give a warming casserole a twist with a kick of Mediterranean mari base
• Make your side orders a focal point, boost your Brussels with mushroom stock paste and pancetta or use clementine fruit base and honey to pep up your roast parsnips
• Bring some texture to your meat dish with a variation of different onions: pickled, charred, pureed. For that added touch of class to your winter dish top with luxuriant veal jus, the perfect accompaniment to winter meals

How to shake up your mac ‘n’ cheese
• For a Tex-Mex version, add minced beef and taco seasoning and top with jalapeno chillies
• Stir in butternut squash puree for a surprisingly delicious flavour
• Add coarsely chopped bacon bits and spinach leaves for extra oomph
• For intense flavour, try using smoked cheddar
• Include chunks of carrot and cauliflower to help children reach their 5 a day

Click here to read the rest of the October 2016 issue of Stir it up