Meals Made Easy: New Trends in Catering
Author: Becca Edwards
Are you hungry for a tasty, home-cooked meal or thinking about entertaining the neighbors? Do you want to serve something simp-licious (simple + delicious)? Maybe something classic like Salmon Rockefeller. Or perhaps something trendy yet casual like a Mediterranean pizza with fresh spinach, sundried tomatoes, feta and garlic. Oh wait, I know. What about something Lowcountry-inspired like local shrimp, steamed Carolina gold rice and a salad? You can savor all these dishes and more—and you don’t need to be a home chef to do so. In fact, you don’t even need to make a trip to the grocery store. All you need is a trusted caterer.
“The catering business has really changed,” said Susan Lykins, owner of Two Tomatoes Catering. “It used to be uniformed staff, serving dishes on silver trays, but now it is much more casual. Especially the younger clients who just want you to drop off the food or have the chef on site to interact with. Also, everyone is doing food to go on a very short lead time.”
“It is not uncommon for someone to call me the day before and want something delicious to serve at anything from a family dinner to a party,” Two Tomatoes chef Dustin Ricker said. Ricker and Lykins went on to explain that one major influence on the catering business today is time—or the lack thereof. “I call it the meal replacement trend,” Ricker said. “People are busy. They want to eat something good at home—something they can heat up at their leisure that’s not as expensive as a restaurant meal.”
I conducted an informal poll on Facebook and asked people, “Do you ever feel too busy to cook a yummy, home-cooked meal?” The overwhelming response was, “Yes.” One person answered, “Bwhahahah, that made me laugh. I’ve cooked maybe one in the last year. It is takeout every single night!” Another busy friend wrote, “[My husband] and I are about to begin a trial of Green Chef, a service offering gluten free.” And my favorite comment was, “Only on days that end in ‘y.’”
My Green Chef friend got me thinking. Did you know there are several successful online food delivery businesses? You might have heard of Blue Apron, but there is a long list of other companies. True, not all deliver to South Carolina, but still the fact that this quasi-form of catering is so popular is interesting. Just as people today have virtual relationships with online communities or enjoy virtual realities like Pokémon Go, people are virtually grocery shopping, meal planning and cooking.
Signe Gardo, owner of Signe’s Heaven Bound Bakery & Café, is now offering a pick-up dinner service Monday through Friday. “A majority of my clients are 65-plus,” Gardo said. “They are what I call gray power,” she continued in her playful way, pointing to her own pretty gray hair. “Many of them are taking care of someone like a spouse, or just want to spend more time on the golf course. Younger people will go out, but this group wants to eat at home with less fuss.”
Every Sunday, Gardo pores over recipe books and creates a weekly menu with each meal containing at least eight ounces of a protein, 12 ounces of a starch, and vegetables or a salad. She calls her food “clean food,” minus any artificial ingredients and chockful of healthy options like 90/10 beef, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. People subscribe to her weekly e-blast to view each week’s meal plan and can order in advance or as late as 2:30 p.m. the day of. “This is not like Blue Apron or Jamie Oliver’s HelloFresh,” Gardo said. “You don’t have to cook my meals. I include easy heating instructions, and your food is ready in minutes.”
Bill Rice of TJ’s Take and Bake offers a similar convenience. Though a lot of his business is people driving onto the island for vacation, he also has a large number of loyal locals who share his love of gourmet pizza. “TJ’s customers are working longer and harder these days, and it’s tougher and tougher to make time to do the preparation for quality meals. That’s why they know they can call us on their way home from work; their pizza will be ready in 15 minutes on a not-busy day, 35 to 40 minutes on a busy day. They bake it for 15 minutes, eat it, and clean-up is three minutes. This allows them to have a nice dinner and more time to do other things. It’s fast food without being fast food.”
Hilton Head caterers are also responding to other current food and cultural trends like supporting local growers. “Our biggest request is local or regional and sustainable,” said Lykins, who along with Ricker explained that this has also led to people craving ingredients that are not only from the Lowcountry, but give a nod to our area’s rich culinary history. “That’s why we serve Carolina gold rice and Jimmy Red grits—not Uncle Ben’s,” Ricker joked. This trend has also cooked up more self-described food-ionados (food + aficionado). “Our clients are very knowledgeable. Thanks to the Food Network and popular cooking shows, people are coming to us with more food knowledge. They have All-Clad pans, new sets of knives and menu ideas,” Ricker said.
Ricker then pointed out another trend: food sensitivities. “You’ve got people who are gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and that egg one—oh, yeah ovotarian,” Ricker said. The Two Tomatoes team said they like the challenge of accommodating special dietary requests. TJ’s offers a gluten-free pizza crust. Gardo said instead of using flour as a thickening agent, she uses veggies like zucchini just in case someone has a gluten intolerance and to add nutrition to the dish. Each also shared how much they enjoy feeding people. Last holiday season, Ricker and Lykins made over 800 meatballs in four days. Gardo works 12-hour days, seven days a week. And Rice makes 300-400 pizzas a week. “When you feed someone, you’re giving part of yourself, and you’re making them smile. That’s why I do what I do,” Gardo said.
Bess’ Delicatessen & Catering
Celebrations Catering & Events
The Concierge Chef
Downtown Catering Company
Dunes Catering & Events
Geist & Company
Lori Craven Catering
Signe’s Heaven Bound Bakery & Cafe
TJ’s Take and Bake
Two Tomatoes Catering Company