Summer's blast of sunshine heralds the start of the party season. And with that comes the expectation to host a knees-up or two. Carla Grossetti talks to chefs and caterers in the know about how to perfect the art of the party platter.
Sliders, mini chicken and salad roll-ups, prawn pate with garlic toasts, piles of peeled prawns and squares of frittata.
These are a few of the finger food items that chef Brigid Kennedy advises party hosts to present on platters because they are easy to eat and allow for a munch while mingling.
The Cordon Bleu-trained New Zealand-born chef's Simmer on the Bay catering team provides food and drink for some 200 events each year from the waterside venue in Sydney's Walsh Bay.
Whether she's presenting a party for a corporate crowd or an intimate feast at her Berrima guesthouse, The Loch, Kennedy's No. 1 tip for a stress-free summer get-together is simple: "Present uncomplicated food that can be prepared in advance."
"When I prepare platters of food, I imagine the sort of parties I like to attend and the food I like to eat. I don't try and second-guess my guests – I just serve simple food that I love and that passion translates on the plate," says Kennedy.
"As far as serving requirements go, I also keep in mind those on the guest list who are gluten-intolerant and vegetarian, have cultural constraints and dietary restrictions," she says.
Kennedy says a party-perfect platter is one that includes small bites of food that guests can help themselves to and that are not too awkward to eat while trying to have a conversation. She adds that arranging items on a food platter is all about getting the balance – of flavour, texture and colour – bang-on.
"The perfect party platter is balanced. It should include something fresh, something warm, something that has crunch and texture.
"Serve easy-to-eat seasonal ingredients such as asparagus rolled up in pastry. Heirloom tomatoes are also amazing served with buffalo mozzarella and good olive oil. If you're going to serve cheese, get one quality wheel and serve with homemade lavash," she says.
Redfern Continental chef Bobby Fry agrees summer party platters should be designed around seasonal ingredients suited to sultry days.
"If I'm preparing party platters they will always include antipasti, cheese and cured meats. I also work within the seasons and include lots of fresh produce," Fry says.
"If it's a particularly hot day, my ingredients might not change, but the method of preparing them will. Instead of roasting vegetables, I will pickle them to make everything lighter and fresher," he says.
Chef Mike McEnearney, who is set to open No. 1 Bent Street – by Mike early 2016 in Sydney's CBD, also loves the challenge of producing platters that are designed around produce plucked fresh from the garden.
"If I have guests over I prepare platters of food that take as little time to prepare as possible so that I can spend more with my friends," McEnearney says.
"If I'm having 10 or 12 guests over, I like to set out lots of different little plates with food that is easy to eat when you have a drink in one hand. A beautiful plate of peaches really sings on the plate served with charcuterie and buffalo mozzarella. Vegetable terrines are also great to serve cut up into squares," McEnearney says.
Andrew Blake, founder of Melbourne-based boutique catering firm Blakes Feast, says one option when catering for large events, is to present platters as a banquet on a table.
Blake, whose team of 15-18 chefs will be feeding 3000 people at the Spring Racing Carnival in Flemington, says the type of food arranged on party platters changes depending on the size of the event.
"If you're hosting a big event, you need to have a lot of variety. You need not just one platter but a parade of platters including meat, poultry, seafood and splashes of colour from fresh produce to keep it vibrant," he says.
Blake recommends grouping together small plates of wagyu bresaola, quality jamon, duck-liver parfait, marinated octopus, buckets of peeled prawns and a selection of mini buns.
"Party platters don't need to be complicated. Whether you're having snacks or food that is meant to add up to a full meal, you can mix and match everything from simple plates of antipasti to a range of platters laid out with everything from fresh sandwiches to goat's cheese and potato beignets, scotch quail eggs and cheesy stuffed jalapeno peppers," he says.