CATERING | Serving Spring and Summer

Local caterers look to incorporate seasonal foods in party dishes

Cleveland Museum of Art

By Noell Wolfgram Evans

As the sun breaks through the winter haze and the weather starts to turn, certain rituals begin. The shorts emerge from the back of the drawer, gardening gear makes an appearance, and our spring and summer taste buds start to tingle. 

There’s something about a sunny day that has us anxious to load our dinner plates with seasonal delights. No one knows that better than caterers. 

With spring and summer events filling calendars across the region, chefs at catering companies are putting the final touches on party menu items they hope will be remembered well after the warm weather is just a distant memory. It’s work they started months ago.

“We plan months ahead, talking to purveyors about what’s coming in, what costs are and so on,” explains Kathryn Neidus, executive chef at The Rustic Grill at StoneWater Golf Club in Highland Heights. “Our goal is to find seasonal ingredients that fit with what we do and that will be economical for customers.”

Neidus says for incorporating seasonal foods into meals, “It’s a huge factor for any chef to understand the food system.” That means knowing how ingredients get to the chef’s kitchen. It also encompasses knowing what’s available and at the right cost, what will be available, having an idea of what customers will like and everything in between. So while you may be thinking about your event’s spring or summer menu now, your chef has been planning it longer. 

This process becomes even trickier to navigate because, as Neidus says, “Seasonal eating in Ohio can be tough because our seasons are shifting.”

In terms of customers’ specific preferences, when people plan spring and summer events, they tend to look at the menu either traditionally, nostalgically or creatively. Traditionalists often want to incorporate seasonal staples like salads, fruits or even barbecue items. 

For those parties, “We tend to offer lighter fares during the summer season,” says Carl Santagata, co-owner of LaVera Party Center in Willoughby Hills. “These are things like seasonal salads with blueberries and a lighter vinaigrette.”

LaVera Party Center

Those planning an event with a nostalgic frame of mind will often want to incorporate tastes that were important to them in seasons past. For example, if they enjoyed strawberry sandwiches as a kid, they may want to include those in their child’s b’nai mitzvah celebration. 

And then there are those looking to capture seasonal eating in a whole new way. 

“A lot of times people will want to change things up,” Santagata says. “They’ll want to make it lighter or even just change up the way something looks. Sometimes they’ll even bring in a photo of a dish they found on Instagram. 

“As a chef, you love doing something different,” he adds.

One simple way to incorporate seasonality is through spring and summer fruits, Neidus says. 

“Many people like to add fruit platters and skewers, which are kind of summertime classics,” she says. “My responsibility then becomes trying to find ways to jazz those up.”

At the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood, menus are kept fresh each year and as such, they incorporate seasonal trends and foods that “local produce sources are looking forward to for the season,” says Rachel Rosen, director of catering sales for Bon Appetit at CMA.

“We especially love beautifully colored vegetables, like beautiful radishes that are delicious and add a pop of color to a green salad,” Rosen says. 

For 2024, bold colors and strong flavors are expected to appear at events all spring and summer. This year, party-goers might find more sour flavors on their plates, current trends indicate. They may decide to temper those tastes with a chilly frojito (a frozen mojito) and top off the meal with a melon parfait or side of blackberry biscuit ice cream cake.

“We are seeing more requests for more global flavors,” Rosen says. “People are veering away from traditional plates and want a worldly, flavorful dish. This is wonderful for our chefs during the spring/summer season when things like snap peas and morels are in season for spring, and into summer with chiles and zucchini blossoms.”

StoneWater Golf Club

And it’s not just those in the kitchen who enjoy seasonal changes through ingredients. 

“It’s enjoyable for diners to have something new,” Neidus says, adding that the desire of a chef to get creative with seasonal fare has to be matched with the practicality of diners. “People are conscious about what they spend on food. This gives our chefs a challenge to figure out how to manage the space between the two.”

And for many caterers, seasonal eating doesn’t just mean what’s on the plate, both Santagata and Neidus suggest. Presentation plays a key role as well with trends moving toward interactive food stations and more portable options, which allow people an opportunity to move around versus sitting at a table and being served.

If you’re planning an event, Neidus says there are many tips and tricks to add seasonality to your event, but not add to your budget. For example, she suggests presentation can give a dish a seasonal, upscale look. She describes the chef’s assignment as “deconstructing a dinner from how it is traditionally served to something eye-catching.”

Leave a Reply