As we wave farewell to the summer, September is the ideal opportunity to start planning for the festive season in earnest. With just 91 days from September 1 to December 1, it’s time for busy chefs to finalise their Christmas and New Year menus and set themselves apart from the competition.

Cocktail hour  – The innovative development chefs at Premier Foods have created an array of Christmas crackers with some of their best-loved products. They’ve created recipes for a range of cocktails and mocktails to get the party started, including jellied gin gimlets (made with McDougalls Lime Jelly Crystals), rhubarb and custard cocktails (using Birds Custard) and Amaretto sours (McDougalls Meringue Mix Powder). Says Sarah Robb, foodservice channel marketing manager for Premier Foods: “At Christmas it’s all about making sure your menu stands out from the crowd. These mini cocktails are a great way to start the evening. They create the wow factor and will be all over Instagram!”

Brilliant buffets –  Buying in pre-prepared frozen finger food saves a hug amount of time during the busy Yuletide period. Charlotte Ganier, at French pâtissier Tipiak, explains: “Canapés and petits fours are tricky and time-consuming to prepare from scratch and not every kitchen has trained pastry chefs to create these elements, so buying in preproduced products will save a lot of time and expense and ensure consistent, professional looking products are served every time.” Ideal for winter buffets, Bannisters Farm recently launched new filled baked potato skins in two sizes – mini and regular – in a variety of recipes including Mediterranean (sundried tomato, roasted pepper and olives); Hickory BBQ Jackfruit; and Jalapeño.

New catch of the day – Gone are the days when salmon was the only festive fish option. “Chefs today are turning their attention to lesser-known, but equally showstopping – fish centerpiece options like turbot, plaice and sea bass. Whole fish are grilled, roasted or steamed to perfection and displayed in their full natural glory.” “Consumers are most likely to buy fish products at Christmas over any other seasonal occasion,” says James Owen-Taylor, of Whitby Seafoods. For time-pressed chefs, Whitby Seafoods offer a range of innovative products which are ideal for festive buffets, sharing platters and starters, including Bengali Prawns and Bubble Bobble Red Shrimp.

Vegan Christmas – 2019 is the year veganism went mainstream! 3.5 million people in the UK now follow a vegan diet and a further 7 million are vegetarian. “Along with a rise in the number of consumers battling food allergies, Christmas is the time for caterers to go all out with their offerings and dial their dishes up to delicious,” advises Annette Coggins, head of foodservice, Tilda UK. “Starting with allergen-free base ingredients – such as rice – means caterers can create flavoursome free-from dishes all customers will enjoy during the festive season. Naturally gluten free, rice is least likely to cause allergies making it an ideal ingredient for the whole menu from starters and mains to desserts.

Festive flair –  Christmas is one of the best opportunities in the year to add some festive flair to your onthe-go sweet treats and with an expectation to be wowed by over-thetop festive bakes this means that absolutely anything goes! “The Christmas pudding is synonymous with the festive season and an easy way for caterers to use this iconic shape is on chocolate chip cookies,” says Emma Haworth, senior brand manager, Dr Oetker Professional. “Add a wavy semi-circle of fondant for a snow-topped look and complete with decorative holly and berries. Caterers can also use the popularity of the chocolate brownie to create Christmas tree pops in mini plant pots topped with golden stars as another grab and go treat.”

All scream for ice cream – Ice cream is still seen as the ultimate treat but with the demand for healthier eating showing no sign of slowing down any time soon, caterers need to be able to satisfy all appetites this Christmas. Suncream Ice Cream’s collection includes Italian-style Gelato Gold Winter Spiced Fruit ice cream with juicy raisins, sultanas and currants, glace cherries and candied mixed fruit peel, plus a hint of mixed spices and cinnamon. To help meet the growing demand for ‘free from’ options, Suncream offers ‘Love Vegan’ in natural vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.

Be saucy –  Nothing says festive feasting quite like a grazing table laden with meats, breads, pastries and cheeses. Add pots of distinctively coloured chutneys and dressings, along with fruits and salad. Sarah Moor, brand manager for Lion sauces at AAK Foodservice, says: “Lion has introduced a new range of chef-made chutneys, sauces, dressings and fruit compotes which will provide perfect inspiration for festive menus.” The range includes Beetroot and Horseradish Chutney – perfect with hot smoked salmon or mini Yorkshire puddings filled with roast beef, or try Chunky Chilli Jam with ’nduja-filled arancini, cured meats and grilled halloumi. Create fantastic vegan options, such as filo parcels stuffed with smashed butterbeans and spinach, served with Date and Fig Chutney; or baked balls of crushed green lentils, sweet potato and broad beans with a chilli, lime and lemongrass dip.

Christmas to go – The demand for festive flavour profiles extends to the food to go market with lots of tantilising ideas to inspire your menus. Offer turkey tacos and turkey burgers with lashing of cranberry sauce. Last year Bubbledogs created ‘Santa’s Sausage’ – a hot dog comprising a turkey sausage, Paxo stuffing, crispy Brussel sprout, cranberry sauce, parsnip crumbs and gravy. Tom Kerridge collaborated with Meatliquor to create The Burgducken – turkey, chicken, duck, pigeon, pheasant and minced prok belly, deep-fried and served in a bun with cranberry and brandy mayo, Brussel sprout slaw and Christmas pudding ketchup. Young Vegans’ nod to the season was Santa’s Gobbler Pie – vegan turkey in a white wine sauce, buttered leeks, sausage and chestnut stuffing topped with cranberries. • If you’re planning a more sustainable Christmas, eco-packaging manufacturer Vegware has updated their Christmas cups for 2019 with a “cute polar bear design”