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I Catered a Plant-Based, Gluten-Free Event. No One Was Vegan. Everyone Loved the Food.

As you’ll see on my Facebook page, I hosted an event of 70 people with a plant-based, gluten-free menu. The guests–almost all omnivores–barely noticed. They all loved the food and showered me with compliments about the menu. Dishing out an array of vegan gluten-free passed hors d’oeuvres and main courses didn’t happen overnight–it took some planning, research, and flexibility on the part of the caterer. With some guidance from a seasoned vegan like me, the caterer and I worked together to come up with the perfect Fall lunch menu for 50 adults and 20 children. I took the following steps to make it happen seamlessly. The full menu is listed below at the end of this post.

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Choosing a Caterer Who Specializes in Healthy Cooking

Photography by Clara Sharp

For my event, I sensed that I would need to find a smaller caterer who had experience handling smaller events and would be willing to take the time to work with me on the menu. After getting price quotes from a few of the larger more high-end caterers in my area, I resorted to searching for recommendations on my local foodie Facebook group. I came across Danny’s Catering, based in Southern Westchester, NY, which advertised knowledge of “California cuisine.” In fact, Danny himself is from San Francisco, and continues to host events on the West Coast. As a native of California, I had firsthand knowledge that California cuisine–while not a specific to California– really meant a healthy approach to cooking and food. I spoke with Danny by phone, explaining my Wishlist for the menu–free of animal and gluten products– then hoped I didn’t scare him off. I said that most of the guests did eat animal products, but I would like the food almost all vegan. Due to allergies to gluten and nuts, all the food has to be gluten and nut-free. He offered to send a sample menu, then work with me to make adjustments.

Making Adjustments to the Menu

The process of finalizing the menu took time. The initial proposal contained an appetizer with caviar–which I was strongly opposed to using–and other ingredients, like bitter radishes and arugula– that didn’t quite match our culinary preferences. I pushed back on the items I wanted removed, but offered suggestions, which was key to creating delicious, exciting flavor profiles that wowed the guests.

Be Prepared with Suggestions

I provided a laundry list of ingredient and dish suggestions that steered the caterer in the right direction. We agreed on a few things: the menu should feature lighter, room temperature foods since the event took place outside (in a covered clubhouse for the adults and a tent on the grass for the kids) with food prepared in a very small event space kitchen without room to keep food hot. Within that framework, I provided structure for the variety of small bites and lunch plates: one sandwich item with gluten-free bread, one sushi-style item, two kinds of salads with protein, a grain, roasted vegetables, and a main protein item. For the salads, I suggested plant-based protein options to be included: chickpeas, edamame, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. I offered apples and carrots rather than bitter vegetables, and a range of gluten-free grains: rice, corn and quinoa.

Finalizing the Menu and Showing Appreciation

After a few minor adjustments to ingredients, the caterer and I finalized the menu. I was truly appreciative of the time and effort that Danny took to accommodate my myriad requests and personalized needs. I thanked him numerous times both in person and on social media. From what appeared to be highly limited food restrictions resulted in a visually stunning, delicious and nutritious set of menu items with a complex culinary profile. The end result—an impressive meal that everyone enjoyed–almost made the process look easy. It certainly exemplified the fact that anyone can host a plant-based, gluten-free event that will satisfy their guests. It just takes planning and a touch of gusto.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Menu

Small Bites / Passed Apps

Teriyaki Tofu Musubi | seared tofu, GF tamari teriyaki, sushi rice, and green onions wrapped
in seaweed

Vegan + Gluten Free Grazing Boards | seasonal veggies, dips, pickles, fruit preserves, and GF flatbreads

Portobello Sliders | with herb chutney, arugula, and caramelized onions, GF bun

Family Style Plated Lunch

Vegan Impossible Beef Kebabs | with garlic, Mediterranean spices, and zesty herb chutney

Market Spinach Salad | with carrots, beets, sunflower seeds, and apple balsamic vinaigrette

Masala Roasted Tri-Color Cauliflower | with preserved lemon and green onions

Crunchy Kale Chickpea Salad | pomegranate, edamame, and Meyer lemon

Mediterranean Rice Pilaf | with veggie broth, thyme, and olive oil


Vanilla Mini Cupcakes | vegan and GF, with vegan American buttercream frosting

Seasonal Fruit Plate | with persimmons, local apples, satsumas, grapes, and more

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