“Food stations are a great way of giving people variety and choice (and getting delegates mingling),” says John Hearn, executive chef at Tapenade. “For example, slider bars with neon signage, dressed with retro cream soda and Coke bottles.”
While Hearn acknowledges sliders (mini burgers), have been around a while now, he suggests that they have become increasingly sophisticated. “We’re now using more interesting fillings such as confit duck, spring onion and plum; seared scallop, samphire and smoked chipotle chilli jam; Portobello mushroom and goats cheese and Cajun red snapper with green onion relish,” he says.
Other popular themes for food stations this year according to Hearn will be paella in cooked in huge pans; cassoulet and seafood casseroles with rouille and rustic breads and cured meats and British cheeses. Hearn loves to champion British cheeses, “We have the best in the world in my opinion,” he says.
Unusual presentation is another key trend for this year, with Tapenade serving dishes such as ‘Apple Sourz Jam Jar Trifle’ with warm raspberry and cinnamon doughnuts or bags of sticky pork ribs in jam jars, empty tin cans and flower pots.
“I have been asked to do all manner of things, from putting sauces in toothpaste tubes and mini paint pots, to serving fish in a sardine tin,” says Hearn. “Recently, a client asked for smoked baked beans and sausages in a sealed bean tin. We had to put the beans and sausages in the individual tins and fill the cans with smoke before sealing them. The guests were surprised and delighted when they pulled the ring pull and the smoke escaped - it was fantastic theatre!”
Japanese influences are still going strong according to Hearn. “We have are offering dishes such as lobster with white radish and pickled baby mushrooms; sweet and sour fennel and ginger salt miso cured salmon, sushi sesame rice and pickled ginger; shiso and tempura nori and a pipette of light smoked lime soy and chicken mushi with broccoli cream and crisp chicken skin,” he says.
According to Hearn, ‘bitter’ is set to be the taste of the year and Tapenade is starting to incorporate it into many of its dishes. “Pomegranate molasses is my favourite ingredient,” he says. “I use it as a base for salad dressings in slow cooked dishes and even as a condiment to bring that bitter hit. Grapefruit, burdock and chicory will all appear more in our salads, but it’s all about the balance; when combined with other flavours they can really lift a dish and create something unusual.”
One ingredient that’s finally had its day says Hearn is Quinoa. “The ‘grain no one can pronounce’ title will be handed on to freekeh (pronounced fari-kah),” he says.
Freekeh is a Middle Eastern grain made from green wheat. It will be available more widely in supermarkets this year. “Used in more or less exactly the same way we use quinoa, as an ingredient in salads with Tahini for example, freekeh works brilliantly; as an alternative to rice or couscous it’s great at holding flavours and adds a variety to our wide grain libraries,” adds Hearn.
Pictured: Strawberries & Cream Trio - Strawberry & Green Tea Yoghurt Cheesecake, Strawberry Cream Tea Brulee and Clotted Cream Ice Cream