My interest in Halloween-centric foods piqued early this year when I visited the annual late summer exhibition in my hometown of Toronto where one of the latest oddities was a bloomin’ candy apple. Inspired by the fairground staple that is the deep-fried bloomin’ onion, this super sweet cavity culprit brought me back to my early childhood when candied apples were still handed out by loving parents in the neighborhood while trick or treating. Yes, I’m that old.
When you think of Halloween cuisine, besides the aforementioned syrup-dipped fruit, you’ll likely conjure up images of cookies, chocolates and any other confectionaries, all decorated to fit this spooky theme. And getting the basics right of this theme isn’t hard either – crack out the orange food coloring, layer it over some black or brown treats, add in marshmallows, lather in one iteration of sugar or another, and then shape it all into something readily identifiable (a ghost, a spider, a vampire bat and so on).
But again, that’s only the basic level, and the sky’s the limit for what you and your chefs can do to, say, spruce up the F&B presentation at an All Hallows Eve party. Remember that we eat with our eyes as much as we do our palates and nostrils – a strikingly creative interpretative of cuisine helps to craft a unique dining experience.
Think cakes, cupcakes or cookies adorned with icing in the shape of spider webs or gnarled ghoul hands. Candies pressed in the form of one scary creature or another. Classic ice cream flavors specially colored and packed with toppings to imitate any manner of witches’ brew or zombie brain confit. Going the healthy route, you could try throwing in some pepitas (otherwise known as pumpkin seeds) to complement any main or salad. Or, as presentation is everything, you could hollow out the flesh of any member of the gourd or squash family and use the thick hush as a bowl for soups or stews.
“Those are great ideas, Larry. But Halloween is tomorrow. It’s a tad late to put these into action for the annual party we throw in the ballroom.”
True, as Halloween has come and passed, it’s a little late to start planning a party for this annual spooky bacchanalia. Last year around this time, I published an article entitled ‘Embrace the Weird’ which used the titular festival as a launch pad to discuss marketing opportunities for other B-list holidays peppering the calendar. Along these lines, it is now a good time to use Halloween cuisine as a base camp for what you can do to differentiate your F&B presentation for other upcoming festivities – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and Easter to name the five that are top of mind.
In most cases, the base ingredients or dishes are already set, and your main goal will be to find some exceptionally creative way to express those ingredients. Take Thanksgiving for example. Whereas Halloween is all about sugar, Thanksgiving is time for the savory and the sumptuous – turkey, gravy, stuffing, mash and pumpkin pie. If every hotel under the sun is offering a classic holiday dinner with these five elements, even if your turkeys are cooked to perfection and your ingredient quality is top notch, it will be difficult to stand apart from the pack. While there’s nothing wrong with a classic meal like this, it is still ‘just a turkey dinner’.
Instead of a turkey sandwich, why not offer a turkey crepe with chopped turkey bacon? I’ve even seen Belgian waffles with turkey stuffing on top. Instead of roasted parsnips, try candying them with a pinch of Indian spices. Regular mash can be replaced with sweet potato mash. Or, as Paleo dieting is all the rage these days, offer faux mash (puréed cauliflower) with grated Parmesan and truffle shavings for an umami punch.
The possibilities for each festivity are endless, and it always comes down to the ingenuity of your chefs in addition to the freedom they are afforded to be adventurous. As I continue to stress, be different and be exceptional in every aspect of your operations if you want to succeed. Food just happens to be one of the relatively inexpensive routes to this end and hence I encourage you to explore what’s possible.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published on Hotels Magazine on Friday, October 30, 2015)