BY DON DOULOFF
Consider the break. Typically offered mid-morning and mid-afternoon during meetings and conferences, breaks provide an opportunity to network, stretch the legs and recharge.
On the food front, break tables have evolved light years beyond meek muffins and weak coffee, and cater to a wide variety of food preferences, sensitivities and allergies.
For instance, gluten-free is popular. “We did introduce new items to our corporate delivery menu [in 2013] that focused on gluten-free, which is a huge shift we are seeing in our corporate delivery orders,” says Debra Lykkemark, CEO of Vancouver-based Culinary Capers Catering and Special Events. “Up to 75 per cent of our breakfast and afternoon break-table items include gluten-free menu items.” Breakfast offerings include gluten-free cranberry orange scones, blueberry lemon muffins and banana chocolate bread.
In fact, health-conscious foods are popular across the board. “Not only my clients who are non-profits based in the health sector, but also my clients in the religious market are asking for healthy breaks, preferably with a little protein available,” says Heidi Wilker, CMP, principal of Blessed Events. “So, what used to be a morning break of muffins, breakfast breads and Danish pastries is now granola and/or protein bars and whole fresh fruit. The afternoon break that used to be cookies and squares is now veggies and dip, hummus and babaganoush.”
At Toronto’s L’eat Catering, healthy break options include whole wheat mini-wraps stuffed with turkey breast, light tuna salad or grilled vegetables, and western wraps (egg, ham, roasted red peppers and caramelized onions) that “are really popular for morning meetings, quick and easy, with little mess,” notes Suzanne Dunbar, marketing manager with the L-eat Group.
Pear salads with romaine, arugula, walnuts, roasted pears and goat cheese “can work year-round,” says Dunbar. “If it’s a small senior meeting, platters of exotic fruit and skewers of little nibbles such as caprese salads laid out for people to snack on also work well.”
At the Grand Cypress Villa, in Orlando, Florida, attendees can snack on various nut butters (peanut, almond, etc.) served with organic apple slices, celery sticks and gluten-free or whole-grain crackers.
Elsewhere, other healthy options include parfaits made with yogurt (Greek-style, for instance), granola, nuts, goji berries and power fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, cherries and cranberries.
Build-your-own is popular at the International Centre, in Mississauga, Ontario. “People seem to like breaks that allow them to customize the offerings to their liking,” says executive chef Tawfik Shehata. The Health Nut break, for example, lets attendees choose from a variety of homemade fruit and berry crumbles, yogurt and sliced fruit, or make their own parfaits from a variety of toppings. “We also offer a mini-deli bar and bagel bar where people can make their own mini-deli sandwiches, or toast and top mini-bagels.”
Following a client’s request to create a unique break that would engage attendees, the International Centre team “curated a make-your-own sundae bar and the company executives wore chef jackets and hats and scooped the ice cream for their staff. Not exactly one of our healthier options, but fun and interactive,” says Shehata.
The Fairmont Pacific Rim, in Vancouver, offers a bar that lets attendees build their own virgin Caesar cocktails from house-made clamato mix, house-cured bacon and house-pickled carrots, green beans and onions. Also for breaks, the hotel offers a sushi bar stocked with Ocean Wise sustainable fish, along with vegetarian offerings like nigiri-style rice bundles topped with compressed watermelon or sweet potato.
Taking a resolutely locavore approach is the Fogo Island Inn, which opened in May 2013, in northern Newfoundland. Regional foods served at breaks include white “three-bun loaf” spread with butter and molasses, and lassie tart, a pie made with a gingerbread-spiced crust and filled with partridgeberries, a fruit similar to cranberries that’s native to Newfoundland.
Also on the inn’s break menu are Newfoundland fish cakes, made with salt cod, potatoes and onion, served with pickled zucchini and mustard; salt cod with hard tack, a type of bread; and a dip, similar to the French brandade, made from whipped salt cod. “If we can’t get it in Newfoundland or the other Maritime provinces, we won’t put it on the menu,” says executive chef Murray McDonald.
On a more extravagant note, the Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong, last August, launched five themed coffee breaks.
Break themes highlight Paris, Shanghai, Mumbai, Bangkok and Hong Kong. In addition to showcasing the cuisines of those destinations, the breaks incorporate elements of each city into the décor, ambience and buffet-table setup.
For example, event organizers can choose from themes that would take guests to an afternoon on the side streets of Bangkok to sample spring rolls with crabmeat or to a chic Parisian café for crepes Suzette. The menu includes such dishes as sticky rice with mango, tandoori chicken, dandan noodles and raspberry millefeuille, along with a chef’s station for each theme.
—Don Douloff is a food and travel writer based in Toronto.