Classic Comfort Fare, Served Communal Style, Reigns at Hollywood Holiday Fetes

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Dylan Rives/Getty Images; Courtesy of Eataly

Caterers say that partygoers are looking for experiences, sustainability, feel-good food — and the punch bowl is back!

In a holiday season that boasts a record number of Christmas movies, round-the-clock TV cookie-baking competitions and even a record uptick in Christmas tree sales, is it any surprise that party-bound Hollywood movers and shakers would want a big helping of that warm fuzzy feeling for themselves? For entertainment clients, it’s all about the pull of tradition this year, say Hollywood event planners and caterers.

"People want anything that’s communal," declares Luigi Tadini, co-founder of the Brooklyn-based bicoastal event producers The Gathery, whose clients range from HBO to the Council of Fashion Designers of America. "In the digital age that we live in today, people are really striving for connectivity, for that moment to break bread and be with their friends and spend some time together ‘IRL.'"

That sense of sharing even extends to menu items, Tadini says, with family style dinner service, shared dishes and even the traditional punch bowl, that office party mainstay, making a comeback. 

"The punch bowl is great because it’s very visual, as well, and so we also see a lot of garnishes," Tadini says. As for what’s inside? "There’s a lot of ‘brown’ liquor during the holidays because it something that’s cozy."

Los Angeles restaurateur Jon Shook, who along with partner Vinny Dotolo helms Carmelized Productions — a catering outgrowth of popular industry eateries Animal, Son of a Gun and Jon & Vinny's — agrees that when it comes to their Hollywood clients, both for business and private entertaining, comfort reigns supreme. "With Carmelized, we’re trying to do more approachable, comfort-style cooking [rather] than trying to challenge somebody with ingredients they’re not familiar with or that they don’t eat on a regular basis," he says. "That’s my philosophy this season. We get asked for all kinds of stuff but, right now, I’m pushing comfort in more classic holiday fare like lamb, I’m really into lamb right now," He serves it simply, marinated with rosemary and garlic, grilled and finished with olive oil. "I think the trend right now is for food that’s more recognizable."

Of course, not everyone eats meat, and Shook looks to local farmers markets as his seasonal guide. "Right now, I’m into squash — butternut squash, delicata and spaghetti squash — and things like apples and dates, whatever’s looking good," he adds. As far as appetizers go, Shook says he’s hearkening back to things he ate when he was growing up, such as pigs-in-a-blanket or artichoke-and-spinach dip. As for the accompanying cocktail, he too espouses bourbon or a whisky on the rocks as well as natural, organic wines from one of their business partners, Helen’s Wines. "I’m also a big fan of a martini, but I would say that we moved away from things like pomegranate martinis or other things that are derivative in favor of the traditional. I’m trying to keep it more classic this year."

Ennio Perrone, vp marketing and business strategy for Eataly, says that, more and more, the Hollywood clientele is looking for a total experience; the recent holiday party for Endeavor took over Eataly’s Century City marketplace for an evening last week. "People are looking for something that’s not just a typical party with people passing food and drink," he says. "We slice the prosciutto di Parma in front of you; the Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel’s there; there is fresh mozzarella being pulled and made. There were moments all over the store," he says. "It’s something more than having an admittedly delicious, fantastic meal."

As social customs change, caterers are looking at issues such as sustainability and dietary preferences, says Tadini. "Every event that we do has a gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian option," he says, "and we always try to make sure the flowers are donated [to a charity] after the event. And a lot of people are designing table-scapes without tablecloths or finding other ways to create an event design that is less wasteful."

Cannabis-friendly planning is also an element, says Tadini. "Clients like Playboy are starting to touch that universe; it’s definitely a trend," he says, citing recent bicoastal events for the season launch of HBO’s High Maintenance. "We created a menu that was maybe a little CBD-friendly for New York and a version that’s a little more pot-friendly for L.A. But you always want to start with a meal that is delicious."

Longtime caterer and author Lulu Powers (aka "The Entertainologist") says, "People love the simplest things," citing a holiday party she recently masterminded for one of the town’s boldface names. "The biggest hit at this party — and the flower person went, ‘Oh, no, don’t do that; they’ll never eat it!’ — were all these sliders I did. I put them in newspaper bags and served them with big cups of fries and, can I tell you, people freaked," she says. "Vegans, vegetarians — everyone eats French fries."