Ignore the image of tepid tofu topped with soggy sprouts: Organic catering is casting off its hippie associations and moving mainstream. Back to Earth Organic Catering, based in Berkeley, Calif., has seen its business grow more than 100 percent every year for the last three years, according to principals Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster. "So we know that this is more of a growing wave than a fad," the pair says.

The movement got a boost in February when celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck served an entirely organic menu at the Governors Ball following the Academy Awards. Last month, Puck announced that he will serve food that avoids cruelty to animals in his Los Angeles-based culinary empire of 43 catering venues, 14 fine-dining restaurants and 80-plus cafes. The program has been developed in concert with the Humane Society of the United States.

NICE NICHE

Organic menus still represent a niche market. Clients requesting entirely organic menus make up roughly 25 percent of his business, reports Henry Stout, owner of Indian Hills, N.Y.-based Full Moon Catering. And costs can run higher; Stout says that his organic menus run about $10 more per person than conventional menus.

But offsetting the higher food cost is a "sense of restraint" at "green" events, says David Casteel of Mitchell's Catering & Events in Raleigh, N.C. "A few more cents on food cost can actually balance out with a downscaled portion size/preparation, therefore not really adding that much cost to an event menu," he notes.

For the complete story, see the May issue of Special Events Magazine.