Christmas Catering With Chilli Bees

How to cope with the chaos of Christmas catering with Chilli Bees

From delighting vegan guests and planning your party menu, to cost-effective table styling solutions and how to spruce up a familiar canapé, founder of leading catering company Chilli Bees Ellie Short is here, to share her top tips and tricks for coping with the chaos of Christmas catering this year.

When there are lots of different mouths to feed, catering at Christmas can be a challenge; there’s Uncle Derek’s dairy allergy, your mum’s fondness for sprouts done a certain way, and teenage cousin Emma who is now gluten intolerant and a strict vegan, and that’s all before you’ve even laid the table! Planning, prepping and finally creating a fabulous festive menu that pleases everyone is up there with running a marathon if you ask me, and some of us just seem better equipped to deal with it than others.

“To be honest I LOVE IT” enthuses Ellie Short, founder of leading catering company Chilli Bees. “After at least 10 years of successful Christmas seasons and countless festive celebrations, I love the sound of Champagne bottles popping and everyone smiling, laughing and chatting while it’s getting dark by 4pm outside! On those rare occasions I get to go to a party, I still love indulging in canapés as greedily as the next person!” 

Born in Wandsworth, Ellie gained her first culinary experience in her mother’s kitchen helping to devise delicious menus for her mother’s catering business. It was there that Ellie discovered her passion for food and dedication to delivering long-lasting memories for her guests and in 2008, Ellie launched Chilli Bees Catering.

“I am a natural host, who loves a good party – whether it be a dinner or casual get together, and the delight I could see I gave people when presenting them with my food has always given me instant gratification, hence Chilli Bees and my catering career was born” Ellie explains.

Chilli Bees Catering has quickly gained notoriety as one of London’s go-to caterers, counting Coutts, Swarovski, Nike, Jo Malone and Aston Martin among their client repertoire. Ellie and her team have fed a variety of influential names in the fashion and entertainment industry including Cara Delevigne, David Attenborough, Kylie Minogue, Lenny Kravitz and Adele, and Ellie has also catered for Nigella Lawson, David Cameron and the late Baroness Thatcher, no less. So, it’s fair to say that Ellie is one busy lady, up until December 25th that is…

“Christmas Day is the one time I really put my feet up – my Mum is a wonderful cook, and she won’t let me do a thing! After 6 weeks of tending to everyone’s needs, Christmas Day is when I get spoilt!” 

But before Ellie clocks off for some festive R&R, she has kindly shared some of her pearls of catering wisdom with Toast.Life, to help you master the art of feeding your guests this Christmas season – from delighting vegan guests and planning your menu, to cost-effective table styling solutions and how to spruce up a familiar, fool-proof canapé. So go forth – it is time to eat, drink and be merry!


The Guestlist

When considering how many people to invite to your Christmas party or lunch, think about your party space – if it’s at home think realistically how many guests the space will comfortably hold once you allow an area for a bar. Some hosts like to book a marquee company with heating to extend space into the garden. If your party is at a venue then the venue managers will know exactly how many guests can comfortably fit within the space.

Plan The Menu

Once you know how many to invite then it helps to think about your style of menu – seated? Canapés? Buffet? Bowls? Food stations? For receptions, always bear in mind to have an equal balance of hot and cold canapés. Ensure that some of the cold canapes can be made slightly in advance so not everything is left to the last minute. As a general rule it’s very important to have an equal balance of meat, fish and vegetarian items – will ensure variety and can cover anyone with a special dietary requirement. And when there’s lots of drinking involved, having some heavier and more substantial canapés such as mini burgers, mini Yorkshire puddings or arancini bites is essential. 

Chilli Bees Bowls

Chillibeans Bowl Food

Chillibees Catering

This Year's Tastiest Trends

Charcoal is HUGE this year – visually it can make the colours of your food really ‘pop’ – beetroot cured salmon on charcoal blinis, venison burgers with festive winter chutney and charcoal buns are proving to be very popular choices already for Christmas parties. For drinks – ditch the mulled wine and go for hot buttered rum instead! 

Salmon Belini

Chillibees Chilli Catering

Chillibees Canape Tray

Fool -Proof Canapés

You can’t beat a simple salmon blini – and we serve thousands of these throughout the year. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to lots of parties then these can become less exciting so here are a few tips to twist things up:

  • Flavoured Blini Bases – Beetroot and charcoal blinis are the latest addition to our autumn/winter menu. The vibrant pink beetroot coloured blinis are such an attractive presentation as well as being a classic flavour pairing with salmon. Charcoal adds such a dramatic effect and looks very intriguing and sophisticated – they are very mild in flavour so don’t overpower the palette as one might expect.

  • Traditional Falvours - For a more traditional Christmas flavour combination try our smoked salmon on a lemon blini with quail’s egg and dill crème fraiche

  • Cure Your Salmon Different Ways – let your guests experiment with a salmon bar of different ways to cure the fish – beetroot, gin, vodka, citrus or even maple cured salmon for a festive twist. 

Chillibees Catering Board

Chilliebees Lime

Vegan Treats 

When catering for vegans, be extra vigilant when selecting menu choices – your caterer will be on hand to advise but some ready-made foods contain animal products. For example, ready-made pesto contains cheese but that’s so easy to miss when going through your menu or shopping list. Be careful of some breads that contain milk and eggs too. 

There are so many vegan friendly products available now such as vegan mayonnaise. We sometimes serve our mushroom arancini bites with a vegan basil mayonnaise on request. 

Tweak your main menu as much as possible – our most popular dish this year has been our Indian spiced lamb rump with butternut squash puree and Bombay potatoes, and sharing salads of cauliflower and pomegranate chaat with Meera Sodha’s Hill Station Salad. This menu is delicious and completely vegan once you replace the lamb for a spiced roasted aubergine, so this saves you having to think of a completely different menu, and they can share in the same enjoyment as everyone else. 

Chillibees Canapes

Table Styling Ideas on A Budget 

  • Coloured glassware and matching napkins are an easy way to make your table look beautifully joyful this Christmas – this can be more cost effective than you think and might only increase your tableware spend by about £3 per person. 

  • Tea lights and candles! Inexpensive and when on mass displayed in varied jars/ candleholders can look very effective and atmospheric – ask friends and family to help collect their leftover jam jars! 

  • Floral Style - We would always recommend using a florist for unusual seasonal flowers, however, when budget is concerned, even £30 won’t get you very far for an arranged table centre. It’s worth discussing your budget with florists, however if you like a quirky/informal table display then they can source you moss which can look very effective laid down the middle of a dining table when combined with tea lights and decorations like berries to look like a winter forest floor- usually only costs about £6 for a large box.

  • Wrap it up - Wrap old cardboard gift boxes with festive wrapping paper – these look effective and fun in different sizes piled up down the middle of a table.

Chillibees Table Setting

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