On caterers’ menus: Brussels sprouts, beets

When Cathy Conway (pictured) founded Avalon Catering in 1992, not too many clients were demanding locally sourced ingredients for their special events. But that’s all changed now.

“When we started it was a side thing; we can do  local or we can go through conventional channels,” says Ann Beaman, Avalon’s director of sales and marketing. “We had to sort of ease into it because we didn’t want to scare people off.”

Back then, planning menus around seasonal, local food was, well, a bit weird. It could be expensive, too, as farmers and buyers worked out ways to find one another. But now, those networks are clearly established—and clients have discovered the value in the quality of the ingredients, too.

“We’re getting lots and lots of brides who are into the local food scene,” Beaman says. Clients find their way to Avalon through Georgia Organics, with which the company is actively involved, and through other organizations that emphasize  sustainability. “They come to us through organizations that they are passionate about; they ask around and say, ‘I need a caterer who thinks the way I do,’” she says.  

It’s a national trend. Affairs to Remember’s Shelley Pederson, a past president of the National Association of Catering Executives, says she has seen local themes pop up at catering companies in Baltimore, Miami, Phoenix. The niche even has its own trade group: the Sustainable Catering Association, founded in 2008 in Portland, Oregon. Atlanta-area caterers including Parsley’s, Gloriosa at Serenbe and Avalon make a point of using local ingredients whenever possible. Other catering companies, including Affairs to Remember, Sun in My Belly and Organic Eatz, also try to incorporate local food in their menus.

Caterers face challenges to sourcing locally that restaurants do not. Special events menus are often chosen months ahead of time, so caterers are just guessing that, say, broccoli will be available in October. And because clients are selecting a meal for a large group of people, they may plan conservatively.

“The bride may love turnips, but her guests may not,” explains Marc Sommers, whose catering company, Parsley’s, has transitioned to locally sourced ingredients since first discovering the possibilities at a Serenbe wedding in 2004. He tries to keep his offerings simple, but increasingly, clients will leave the produce selection up to him.

A good sales staff will educate clients on the availability of ingredients, Pederson says. Ultimately, clients want the best for their guests—and “the best” is, more likely than not, what’s in season.

Caterers and farmers want the best, too. Sommers loves to get calls from farmers, letting him know what’s looking good: “It’s amazing that someone would think of you, and be so passionate about it to call you.”

Local food is a win for everyone, he says. “It lasts longer, it tastes better, and ultimately, it supports people in our community.”

Check out these seasonal recipes from area caterers:
Mother-In-Law Beet Salad, Marc Sommers, Parsley’s Custom Catering

Fennel, Apple, and Asher Blue Cheese Salad, Ahmad Nourzad, Affairs to Remember
Fall Brussels Sprouts With Frisee and Bacon, Derek Smith, Organic Eatz