"What's cool about Latin food is that so many of the same ingredients go into almost everything,” says John S. Rifkin, CEC, senior corporate executive chef with Morrison Community Living, commenting on the ease and versatility of fiesta food. “Do it all in bulk. Prep massive amounts of onion, garlic and tomatoes. Make a big thing of pulled chicken tinga or pork carnitas and use it in different places—for tostadas, for nachos, for tacos…”
At Georgia State University, a catered fiesta includes a family-style round table in the middle of the room with a combination of action and buffet stations on the periphery, something Sous Chef Cameron Thompson says will control traffic and allows for a fiesta that’s more fun. “Having a combination of stations brings something new to your audience,” she says, adding that the staff should know the menu and suggest pairings. Here are Thompson’s go-to stations for a fiesta:
• Chip ‘n dip bar with housemade tortilla chips, guacamole, salsa variety (pico de gallo and salsa verde), refried beans, black beans and corn salad;
• Salad station with green and purple lettuce as the focal point with colorful and fun veggies. Thompson doesn’t recommend serving rice at any station, as it can be too heavy when you consider all the other ingredients; and
• Buffet-style churro bar with ice creams and sauces to choose from, with housemade berry compote and whipped cream as churro fillings.
Going Beyond Guac
Every tortilla chip that’s lifted and dipped into creamy guacamole is a proclamation of “let the fiesta begin.” When hosting a celebration with Mexican food, guacamole is a given. The guac served at fiestas at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., is a classic avocado-lime-tomato-onion-garlic recipe.
As the party continues, the Liberty dining team pumps up the volume a little more with these fun items: cool gazpacho shooters (served in hollowed out cucumber cups and garnished with lime and cilantro); fish tacos with mahi-mahi (marinated in fajita spices), Mexican slaw, fresh avocado and sour cream drizzle; and chorizo-and-salsa tostadas.
And they don’t forget about desserts at Liberty. Spiced orange flan is made with orange peel, cinnamon sticks and a dash of ground chilies soaked into the custard overnight then strained out. Mexican chocolate cupcakes get a kick from chipotle purée or powder and cinnamon added to chocolate cupcake batter and topped with a spiced chocolate drizzle.
Every year for Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), the dining team at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff offers dishes from several different regions and sets up a horchata bar. If you haven’t tried horchata, what are you waiting for? It’s a sweet, slightly spicy blend of ground almonds, rice, sesame seeds, melon seeds, vanilla and cinnamon...kind of like a liquid cinnamon roll with attitude.