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The restaurant sector's smoking addiction has been habit-forming for the events industry too.
This year, a lot of kitchen pantries have less space in them. That’s because they’re filled with bags of wood chippings, used to smoke food. Not for preservation – our freezers work fine – but to enhance the flavour in that unmistakable way. 2013 was the year everything got smoked. The adjective was a mainstay on menus across town. In 2014, the hunger for this tasty fog shows no sign of abating and it’s wafting its way to our corner of the kitchen – events.
The cuisine best known for smoking belongs to the Americans and their appetite for slow cooking and barbecues. Bodean’s, Pitt Cue and Barbecoa have turned us into slathering carnivores who’ve forgotten what cutlery is. But it’s not just cows, pigs or other barbecue-friendly beasts getting the treatment. As the trend has matured, so have our palates: mayonnaise, ice cream and cocktails are all being fumigated. Would you have expected tea-smoked trout or gun-administered smoked tapas on a menu two years ago?
While the trend, in restaurants, is in full flow, it’s still an infant idea in events. Catering’s forward thinkers have begun stoking the embers and we’re starting to notice it at dos where being down with the gastronomes is essential. The latest Secret Cinema event, for example – a fantastic Who Framed Roger Rabbit theme at Troxy – served some memorable slow-smoked pulled pork a few weeks ago.
Asking your caterer to smoke the table water may be a touch radical for your corporate guests, but we defy you to find a meat eater who doesn’t like tucking into farm fodder with a bit of soot on it. With the more clement months round the corner, barbecue is a great option and, if you dig a little, you’ll find caterers with portable smokers in shapes and sizes beyond cast-iron cubes. We particularly like artisanal caterer The Tinderbox’s teardrop-shaped smoking caravan. All that attendant stoking, coking and poking should provide enough theatre to keep your crowd talking.
If your guests are of a more genteel disposition, the drama can be left to the palate with smoked seafood canapés and a range of cocktails that suit your super-umami menu. If smoking your drinks on site is going to put the H&S officer’s hi-vis in a twist, ask the bar manager to use liquid smoke – no one will taste the difference, promise.
This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, spring 2014.