By Chef Martin Lopez
Trends and styles are ever-changing in the food industry. As professionals, it is vital for us to not just keep up with the latest trends but also figure out a way to “serve them up” to our guests. From the latest “it” region, from which chefs draw new culinary inspiration, to the continued evolution of plant-based protein and to the desire for eco-friendly packaging/waste reduction, we must be able to adjust our offerings to share the latest trends with our guests and remain culturally and seasonally relevant.
With summer quickly approaching, now is the perfect time to turn our attention to these up-and-coming trends while refreshing our menus with seasonal produce, lightened-up fare, and outdoor dining delights. Summertime ingredients and environments can create added challenges for meeting planners and culinary professionals, but capturing the fresh flavors, bright colors, and the spirit of the season will create fantastic and memorable moments for our guests.
Here are my top 10 ideas for your summer menus and event themes:
- Veg out: Along with summer comes a bounty of fresh, flavorful produce, making it the ideal time of year to focus on incorporating vegetarian, vegan, and other restricted diet offerings into your menu. Brush a flatbread crust with olive oil, top with tomatoes, and add some fresh herbs for a quick and delicious tomato flatbread. Toss some grilled corn and bell peppers with some greens and a tasty vinaigrette for a flavorful summer salad. Or pair seasoned vegetables and seitan for grilled vegan-friendly skewers. The options are endless and infinitely inclusive for guests who have special dietary needs.
- Tapas and small plates: People tend to have lower appetites and eat less during the summer, especially when it gets really hot. Use that to your advantage to offer Mexican- and Mediterranean-inspired fare in the form of tapas and small plates. These cultures are known for incorporating fresh ingredients and tons of flavor in just a few bites!
- Farm (garden)-to-table: Summer brings an abundance of farmers’ markets back into play, where we can procure all the wonderful seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as farm-fresh meats, eggs, and cheeses. It might be a challenge to plan your menu ahead of time since you don’t always know what will be available in the quantities you need, but you can rest assured that the fare you find will be locally sourced and almost as fresh as it gets.
- High-class hydration: When it’s hot outside, it is important to stay hydrated. In addition to the usual sodas and lemonades, offer a seasonal fruit-infused water by adding melon balls or berries to your water pitchers. Or use frozen grape halves and pineapple chunks in place of ice cubes. Pour carbonated water over fruity popsicles for a unique spin on fruit punch. If you’re hosting a soiree with adult beverages, consider the same idea using sparkling wine; or serve up cold pitchers of sangria chock-full of the season’s freshest peaches, pears, oranges, and apples.
- Grilling and eating outdoors: Of course, we can’t get through summer without the favorite barbeque classics: Grilled burgers and brats. But you can kick your barbeque theme up a notch by upgrading your proteins to grilled pork loin or steak. Throw some of those summer-fresh veggies on the grill for a nice char and an added layer of flavor. If you’re concerned about the weather interfering with your event, bring the outdoors inside with festive décor – fresh flowers, picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, and string lantern lights. Don’t forget backyard lawn games for some added fun!
- Seafood: If you like the idea of a barbeque but want something swankier than burgers and brats, consider adding seafood to your lineup. Shrimp tossed with garlic, lemon, and herbs will take less than five minutes to cook on the grill. Tuna is a meaty fish that pairs well onions, peppers, and tomatoes for delicious grilled kebabs. Top some grilled tilapia with a refreshing pineapple or mango salsa. Seafood is a lighter, fresher, and all-around healthier option for your summer grilling adventures.
- Salads and raw summer spreads: You can always beat the summer heat by avoiding the oven and grill altogether. With fresh produce available by the bundle, all you need is some imagination to begin incorporating crudités, gazpacho, salsas, fruit salads, and other raw dishes into your summer menu. Imagine a cold soup bar with a variety of fruit- and vegetable-based soups in a rainbow of colors!
- Summer sandwich buffet: You can also keep it cool for your next lunch meeting or event with a build-your-own sandwich and wrap station. In addition to loads of fresh lettuces and tomatoes, provide an array of breads, cheeses, toppings, and sandwich spreads to keep it interesting.
- Street food: Draw some inspiration from the current food truck trend and ever-growing popularity of culturally-inspired cuisine to add some fun and whimsy to your summer menu. Street food such as tacos, Bao buns, sliders, satay, and loaded fries – not to mention sweet favorites like beignets and stroopwafels – are sure to please your guests! A bonus: street foods are meant to be eaten by hand without the added trouble and waste of plates and utensils.
- Fluffy (and festive) desserts: Every good menu needs a dessert or two to round it out. During the warm summer months, focus on sweets that are light and refreshing such as airy sponge cakes with fresh fruit, gelatin-based chiffon, and creamy citrus curd. Replace ice cream with frozen smoothie pops and fruit sorbets or sherbets. The availability of fresh, bright red and blue berries paired with bright white whipped cream or meringue also introduces a patriotic color combination that is perfect for summer’s biggest celebration – the 4th of July.
Regardless of how you spruce up your summer food and event offerings, the main ideas you will want to keep in mind are garden-fresh ingredients, bold colors, and bright flavors. Combining the bounty of ingredients with seasonal favorites and culinary trends will bring new life to your menu and please your guests’ summertime appetite.
To learn more about Chef Martin Lopez, visit his website at www.ChefMartin.net.