At a party where everyone is mixing and mingling, food has to have a little something extra to really stand out. Caterers, the unsung heroes of any gathering, often fade into the background and rely on the dishes to do the dazzling.
For Marigold Catering (216-566-5400, marigoldcatering.com), the first task is pulling in guests by drawing their gaze and then with the element of surprise. Never is that easier than during spring and summer, when fresh fruits and vegetables add bold bursts of every hue.
"During an event, you have so many people walking through," says executive chef Ali Barker, who Clevelanders may remember from the groundbreaking Piperade. "So it's all about eye appeal and getting people to want to try something new."
This year, secret weapons include vegetables that are pickled with a blend of vinegars and spices and accompanied by fruit-infused beverages. Because current dining trends find caterers accommodating a spectrum of diets, especially vegan, owner Joan Rosenthal notes that it's important to find fresh ways to keep things exciting.
"You have to offer something a little different," she says. "After the wow factor, you want them to ask, "What was that?'"
Barker, who came on board as executive chef last April, has been using a spiral slicer to create bright ribbons from pickled veggies that contrast well with darker dishes.
For example, the acidity of carrot pairs well with the richness of short rib, says Barker. "It also adds a crunch. That texture melding gives it a whole layered effect."
As more events planners request small plates, they've also translated that popular dish into slider form. "When you bite into it, you're getting a nice vinegar hit," says Barker.
Marigold sometimes purees pickled vegetables to give mayonnaise a kick. A mayo made from pickled zucchini might be used to replace tartar sauce.
The chef also has crafted a miniature dish consisting of pickled red onions topped with polenta, a bit of spinach and chicken. With the rising popularity of street food, it seems everyone wants a taco bar, where you're likely to see pickled carrots, ramps and scallions among the fixings.
"People want what food trucks are doing, but as a plated dinner with an elegant touch," adds Rosenthal.
Pickled vegetables also are used as garnishes, especially on charcuterie boards, where they add brightness while filling the demand for edible centerpieces.
"Instead of ordering flowers, a table might sit around a center filled with breads, cheeses, dips, tapenades, homemade crackers and skewers," says Barker. "It's now a community meal."
When it comes to beverages, fruity, colorful craft limeades allow Marigold to capture attention.
"Limeade as opposed to lemonade has a more distinctive taste and it's a little more open to other flavors," says Barker. "The lime is more subtle and has a great scent to it."
A watermelon limeade features a garnish of watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew and mint. Marigold also offers a cucumber variety, which Barker says has low acidity that gives it an extra bit of refreshment. He cuts ribbons of watermelon rinds and red and yellow beets to create a garnish.
"It gives a pop of color that people are blown away by," he says. "And then they can't believe they're eating raw beets. That's what it's all about."
Marigold Catering3901 Lakeside Ave. E #100