Bewitching banquets

From gourmet school lunches to edible witches’ boots, kosher caterers can conjure up a feast on any theme, however extreme. By Victoria Prever


The sky’s the limit for many catering companies and event planners, who are game for whatever theme your heart desires —  from West End musicals to the South American rainforest and everything in between.

“We’re here to create and innovate. There’s no stopping the ideas we can come up with — it’s all about imagination. The only limit’s the budget,” says Paul Rose, director of events at Philip Small caterers. His company was let loose on an Amazon theme for a recent barmitzvah and transformed the ballroom at the London Landmark Hotel into a rainforest.

“Three of my staff members spent three months planning it; we went into huge detail. There were artists dressed as trees at the reception and all of our waiting staff were dressed as animals. A 10m-high blossom tree was created as the table plan — guests picked leaves with their name and table number on off the tree.”

The female guests received bird-of-paradise plants to take home; a real waterfall flowed behind the dance floor and a palm tree sat on each table. There were live monkeys and snakes and the room was crammed with enough foliage to give it a real forest feel.

In the past, Phillip Small’s company has mocked up Copacabana Beach in a marquee for a party at a client’s home. They used 50 tonnes of sand — guests were given flip-flops to walk on it — and displayed 3m ice-carvings of palm trees on the tables. “The food had an outdoor theme too,” says Rose, “with barbecued meats and drinks served in coconuts and pineapples. There were hula girls and every guest was presented with a lei — the Hawaiian flower necklace garland.”

You do not need to be a big-budget player to theme it up and most Philip Small parties are not quite such an endeavour. “We do about eight to 10 on this scale, of the 150 or so parties we create each year,” says Rose. Wedding clients may request a country garden or winter wonderland, while barmitzvah families may opt for themed food stations. 

“The biggest themed event I’ve catered was a batmitzvah,” says kosher caterer Ben Tenenblat. “The batmitzvah girl was mad about the musical Wicked and her parents threw a Wicked-themed weekend where each part of the celebrations — from Friday-night dinner, through Saturday kiddush, Saturday night, Sunday and Monday nights had a Wicked twist.” The kiddush was a themed buffet, set in a “forest” with bark and grass.

“The canapé trays were like broomsticks and we used plenty of dry ice and smoke,” says Tenenblat, who adds that the theming reached its peak on the Monday night, when the entire four-course dinner was themed.

“They started with the Wicked Witch’s boots, which were made from cannons of salmon mousse with smoked salmon wrapped around them to make the stripes and pumpernickel boots on the end. Then pea soup with a smoked rib garnish in mini crock pots like little cauldrons, on a liner with dry ice underneath, so they looked as if they were smoking. The main course was a rib of beef but, instead of a cloche, each plate was topped with a witch’s hat filled with smoke, which emerged as they were lifted up. Everyone got to wear the hats afterwards.”

Teneblat’s company then served each guest a chocolate witch’s hat filled with green mint mousse; ruby shoes made from raspberry gel and a witch’s broomstick made from a chocolate tuile biscuit and candy floss. Not only was the food entertaining but the guests were treated to the cast of the West End musical performing some of their songs.

Tenenblat says that, in his experience, bar and batmitzvah parties tend to be the more heavily themed simchahs. “Brides and grooms may take a colour or branding as their theme but it’s much lower-key. We make sure our food works in a particular venue, for instance, in a country-ish venue, we’ll use milk bottles, jam jars and flower pots — which would not work at the Grosvenor House Hotel.”

At the annual dinner for Morasha School, the theme was a school meal. The starter was a gourmet packed lunch: “Starters were in brown paper bags filled with a pulled beef baguette, chicken and mushroom pie, chicken and lemongrass scotch egg and a Bloody Mary gazpacho shot with crudités,” says Tenenblat. “For dessert we did a take on a steamed pudding — a whisky-soaked sponge pudding in old fashioned milk pots of custard with a deconstructed apple pie.”

Kati Pauk at KP Events has helped stage a range of themed events: “I have just done a fabulous Alice in Wonderland themed batmitzvah party. We had brightly coloured tablecloths and chair covers, lots of “eat me” and “drink me” stickers and big teacups with flowers in them as table-centre arrangements. The food was themed as the [Mad Hatter’s] tea party, so caterer Josepha White set up buffet tables with sandwiches, cupcakes and celebration cakes.“

Pauk also describes a fairground/seaside-themed batmitzvah: “We hired fairground stalls, including hook-a-duck, coconut shy, the mirrors that distort the way you look, bungee jumping, inflatable slides and bouncy castles, inflatable sumo wrestling and bucking bronco. We had bunting and balloons; shells as table-centre arrangements and the bread rolls on the tables were in little deckchairs. On the menu was street food, with a barbecue offering hamburgers and hot dogs. The caterer set up outdoor wooden and metal stalls.”


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