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This fruit and cheese board brightened the day during a rainy All-Star game at Exploria Stadium.

Charcuterie, cheese and sweet boards that banish boredom for food service clients

On-trend components, on-theme serveware, savory, sweet and more: There are a lot of great new ways for onsite catering pros to think outside the board for the new year.

Cheese ’n cold cuts on a tray. Yawn and double yawn. Cheese in a toolbox, charcuterie on an upcycled engine and chocolate mousse in a magical forest? Yes, please! Not that there’s anything wrong with tried-and-true grazing board stalwarts for catered events, but it’s a new decade and time to karate-chop that boring board with selection, styling and sass.

Hundreds of different conventions come through the Atlantic City Convention Center each year, and the Spectra team is ready to create culinary experiences tailored to each one. “We tie in the theme of the event into the food displays,” says Nancy Masino, director of catering. “We upcycled a six-cylinder engine for charcuterie during the car show and we used toolboxes for a contractor’s show.”

The year of green inspiration

Trend experts are stopping to smell the flowers in predictions for 2020. Something about the life and promise of pretty petals and green leaves brings food displays to life like nothing else (and this means fresh flowers, not fake!).

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Events at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden give guests the experience of picking their own carrots and scallions (in the wild, they don’t come with a delicious dip, so even better).

At Exploria Stadium, home to the Orlando City Soccer team, Spectra Executive Chef Hector Torres also uses a single, perfect flower along with fresh fruit as a garnish to bring life to grazing boards for in-suite catering during the MLS All-Star game last year.

“This is a way to be more resourceful and create something beautiful for guests to enjoy with their eyes before tasting it,” Torres says. “Our in-suite catering was a big part of the experience because it rained during the All-Star game, but everyone was able to enjoy the game in spite of the rain while tasting our delicious menu.”

At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, events are catered by Patina Restaurant Group and there’s no shortage of leafy green inspiration for boards. Using the whole veggie (hello, carrot tops!) is a wonderful way to get attendees back to their roots.

Aw, that’s so sweet!

In the catering game, smart operators realize boards don’t have to stop with savory. From cool ice cream to hot cocoa, there are lots of opportunities to get creative on the sweet side. And playing it sweet definitely doesn’t mean playing it safe.

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Adorable jars, mini tarts and classic cream puffs make up the sweets bar at Niagara University.

At Niagara University in Lewiston, N.Y., the Metz dining team leaned into a cozy winter theme with hot cocoa bars and cake pops for miles in a back-to-back 12-day program with seasonal promotions each day. The hot cocoa bar included everything needed for a DIY winter warmup: flavored syrups, marshmallows and more, with cake pops and brownies to sweeten the deal even more.

A local Chicago-area gourmet gelato shop near SeatGeek Stadium is the inspiration for a super cool ice cream board for in-suite dining at the soccer-focused venue. “Our chefs hand select the customized frozen sweets to be part of the in-suite catering menu,” says Therese Maloney, Spectra GM at SeatGeek. “The board features gelato doughnut sandwiches and bacon-bourbon gelato bars.”


In-suite catering by Spectra at SeatGeek Stadium includes hand-selected gourmet gelato treats on a board.

Catering Q&A with Michelin-starred chef

Patti Jackson, an acclaimed chef, recently launched a catering company, Kitchen at Shale Hill Farm, serving the Hudson Valley and New York City. Here are her takes on catering trends:

Q: What are some unexpected items to include on boards?

A: Housemade jams and chutneys. Flavored and spicy honey. Seed crackers and seed brittles. Cheese spreads and cheese truffles.

Q: Your charcuterie board predictions for next year?

A: Single bespoke cured meats. Summer sausages and meat sticks. Rillettes and cheese spreads or truffles. Liverwursts and pates from poultry. Vegetarian/vegan boards.

Q: Other add-ons to make a board look great?

A: I love to add fresh herbs and edible greens. I like to use unusual pickles, chutneys and relishes for appearance and deliciousness. I love a variety of toasts, crackers, breadsticks and vegetable chips.  

Contact Tara at [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie.

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