Catering a Fabulous Brunch – An Impossible Task?
For most of us, brunch – that blissful meal that combines breakfast and lunch – has been around forever; so long, that it’s impossible to imagine a world without this important meal. Everyone loves brunch… except, perhaps, chefs and caterers. While there is a plethora of brunch-appropriate dishes to choose from, the fact is that it’s not so simple to get this meal together on a Sunday morning, in time to lay out the spread of your client’s dreams by 11:00 (start later than that and it’s lunch), and have it continue for four or five hours – until mid-afternoon. For a caterer, the very thing that people love about brunch – its flexibility and lack of structure – is what makes it hard. The challenge is finding the right combination of breakfast foods and lunch foods (and miscellaneous intriguing additional dishes) and always keeping it interesting. A daunting task, perhaps, but by no means impossible.
How Did Brunches Start?
Tracing the origins of the sublime brunch isn’t as easy as one would think. We all assume it has its roots in New York, where bagels and lox have long been the classic brunch food. But Smithsonian Magazine maintains that brunch originated way earlier than most people assume – back in the late 19th century. In a 1895 edition of Hunter’s Weekly an article by author Guy Beringer, entitled, “Brunch: A Plea,” begs readers to embrace a lighter alternative to the regular post-church Sunday meal that tended to weigh people down, and to opt for more-digestible dishes served later in the morning (though before noon).
“Brunch,” Beringer wrote so aptly, “is cheerful, sociable and enticing. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.” The magazine goes on to say that brunch really caught on in the United States in Chicago, which was an important, mid-morning rail stop on cross-country trips. After World War II, restaurants around the country joined the brunch craze, offering well-known mouth-watering displays of brunch foods and cheery morning cocktails, such as Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas.
What’s So Great About Brunch?
First, there’s just something so special about it – better than mere breakfast, and fancier than plain old lunch. It’s a special occasion, even when the table isn’t spread with care. In addition, brunch offers so many possibilities, from eggs benedict to quiches; from grilled cheese to salads, and way beyond. Brunch is also an acceptable opportunity to drink in the morning – and, hey, who’s going to argue with that?
Center Brunch Ideas Around Your Client’s Budget
Getting back to catering the perfect brunch, the goal should be to produce something great – according to your client’s budget. If they have deep pockets, you’ll want to offer an omelet bar and, even better, a coffee bar, with a cappuccino machine that whips up lattes for the caffeine freaks in the crowd. For a nice, personal touch, order custom coffee cups, sleeves, or stirrers to commemorate whatever event your client is celebrating. Expand your coffee bar to include cafe au lait, espresso, and Thai iced coffee. Fruit smoothies and teas, such as black, green, mint, spiced, chamomile, and Earl Gray are also very popular.
With a little more money, your client might like the idea of action stations, and using a variety of these stations can be quite appealing. In addition to the familiar egg station, think about a French toast station or a crepe station, and offer a nice variety of syrups and toppings. If finances are a bit of a strain, however, skip the stations and opt for do-ahead hot and cold dishes and ramp up the display instead. As a caterer, you should always be on the lookout for attractive serving dishes – platters and bowls – and a brunch buffet is the perfect time to display your collection.
Start the Brunch Slowly and Gain Momentum
Although the brunch you’re catering may have been called for at 11:00, the late-risers in the crowd may show up bleary-eyed and not ready for heavier foods right away. Start with a lighter touch – juices, coffee, and cocktails, and display cut-up fruit, yogurt, and granola on nicely arranged platters. By noon, however, the “real” food should be brought out with the final segue later on to dessert and (more) coffee.
Brunch is best served buffet style, with hot foods kept warm in chafing dishes. In the winter months, one or two soups can be a welcome addition to a buffet brunch; try serving them in shot cups for an original touch. If budget constraints get in the way – and if hot foods seem overly heavy for a light brunch – go for finger foods and hors d’oeuvres (though people will need a lot to fill up).
Frittatas and Stratas for All
Frittatas are hot these days. With Italian origins, this upgraded omelet is light, yet substantial, and it can be filled with a wide assortment of vegetables, cheese, and smoked fish. Consider making an easy tomato-smoked salmon frittata to offer your guests a little piece of heaven.
Another popular brunch food enjoying its moment of fame is the strata. A cross between a quiche and frittata – or more like a hybrid of the two – the strata is made from a mixture that includes bread, eggs, and cheese, with the addition of vegetables. The strata is a great make-ahead dish that people will gobble up with gusto.
In addition to these egg-based dishes, just about any hot dish is appropriate for a brunch buffet. Pizza with assorted toppings is always a hit, especially if there are lots of kids in attendance. Salmon is a crowd pleaser as well (but, again, budget could interfere with that option). Place baskets of breads and rolls strategically around the tables, alongside colorful salads. Creamy potatoes, assorted ravioli, mushroom quiches, and antipasto wraps can be displayed on beautiful serving platters or oven-to-table bakeware, making the overall effect lush and lavish.
Don’t Skimp on Desserts
At some point in the event, while the host is making a toast or the cousins are showing off their PowerPoint presentation, you and your staff should clear the tables and set out the desserts. Guests are probably barely able to move at this point but don’t count on that as an excuse to under-stock the dessert buffet. Every experienced caterer knows that people suddenly find room in their stomachs when tantalizing cheesecakes, hot lava cakes, and apple pies are displayed enticingly. Here, too, nice serving ware is a big plus, as it enhances the food and adds to the overall atmosphere.
Cater Brunches with Style
Brunches are fun and that should be your main theme. Whether the budget you are working with is big or small, or whether the ambience is elegant or casual, style is the keyword. Decorate with style, use your imagination and creativity, put your cooking skills to good use, and always keep timing at the forefront of your mind. With even the smallest of budgets, you can create a fabulous brunch that will make your clients and their guests enjoy themselves and leave happy and sated… with your business card in their pocket.