photos by LeAnne Notabartolo

 

L - R - Chef de Cuisine Maria Fabbrini and Executive Chef Julien Asseo from Guy Savoy

Catersource, the premier conference for catering professionals, returned to Las Vegas February 18-21. Thousands of caterers attended for education, fun and camaraderie. Speakers and vendors from every category lent their expertise to make this a “must attend” event for anyone in the industry. Attendees learned about, or focused on, trends in flavors, décor, color schemes, packaging and serving. The Conference and training portions, along with the Spark Awards for Excellence in Catering, were held at Caesars Palace in their convention center and ballrooms. A speakeasy-themed after party to fete the Spark Award winners was held on Monday the 19th. Themed cocktails were served in souvenir stainless steel martini glasses from American Metalcraft alongside passed hors d’oeuvres with live entertainment for the crowd to enjoy.

 

the S'mores bar display from Sterno

Again this year, it was renewable resources as a focal point in disposable serving pieces. Mass produced compostable and/or biodegradable plates, flatware and other service items created from renewable resources were on display. Where bamboo and palm leaf leave off, sugar cane picks up, giving more texture options and looks that are less rustic and more like actual plates. Interactive desserts, like a make your own s’mores bar were highlighted throughout the tradeshow.

Of particular note in the education sessions was speaker Chef Gerry Ludwig of Gordon Food Service. He delivered a tremendous workshop covering Flavor Trends from Coast to Coast. He and a team of culinarians eat at dozens of restaurants throughout the year, in major cities across the country to determine what is “hot.” Trends that show up in more than one city or in multiple locales in one city make the cut. While Las Vegas isn’t on their itinerary, it was fantastic to see that our local Las Vegas chefs are, and have been, on trend for years. “Vegetable Centric” dishes led off his address—dishes that showcase vegetables with additions of umami rich protein to amp up the flavor. These are NOT vegetarian dishes, as they include prosciutto, anchovies, bacon, nduja, caviar, or dashi to highlight the vegetables, all of which have been done in Las Vegas for years. Vegetables are no longer being seen solely as a side dish, but more of a partner with protein. Sparrow & Wolf has been doing fabulous things with vegetables since their opening.

Renewable resource disposable serveware featuring bamboo and palm leaf

Another trend that Las Vegas has been getting right for years is all-day dining. Interesting breakfast sandwich menu items with huge delivery on flavor were touted as the next big thing. Breakfast available all day and unique combinations of flavors and food items expand a restaurant’s ability to fill seats all day long if they choose a full-day operation. Craft Kitchen has been doing an amazing job on this front.

My favorite trend that Chef Ludwig focused on was Asian Mash-ups, specifically Indian and Okonomiyaki. Indian spices, breads and techniques lend a twist to menus that open flavor doors. In much the same way that Korean Kalbi tacos and burritos pushed boundaries a few years ago, Indian paratha bread makes a great delivery device for curried taco and burrito presentations. Indian spices dusting chicken wings, infusing flavor into burgers and other sandwiches is on the rise. This trend was also seen on the tradeshow floor by Roland Foods featuring African flavors with harissa, zaatar or a Moroccan spice blend used in chicken wings, steaks and vegetable dishes. Okonomiyaki is an Izakaya staple with inexpensive ingredients, which keeps food cost per plate in check while delivering big on the flavor. Basically a savory cabbage pancake, okonomiyaki is a base that is entirely customizable and infinitely “mashable” to feature a specific ingredient or flavor profile.

At the Diced cooking competition, the local team from Guy Savoy took home the win! In a similar set up to Chopped, the chefs were given ingredients they were required to use, provided by featured vendors on the tradeshow floor, plus a pantry to choose from. Executive Chef Julien Asseo and Chef de Cuisine Maria Fabbrini teamed up to create the winning dish and received bragging rights, top honors and trophies.

Local company Vida Kitchens was present at the tradeshow. They offer a commercial kitchen for small businesses to prep, create and store menu items. A solution for caterers, food trucks and other small businesses that need the extra space. In addition, Vida Meat Company provides sous vide cooked meat, vacuum sealed and delivered to businesses for saucing, garnishing and finishing onsite.