Creative food stations that bring the fun and the flavor
By Sara Perez Webber
Resolved to banish the boring in 2020?
Take a cue from these caterers, who’ve come up with food stations that are as fun as they are flavorful. Imaginative twists on traditional concepts, clever containers and colorful displays draw guests to these photo-worthy concepts—while the delicious morsels served keep them coming back for more.
ARTHUR’S CREATIVE EVENTS & CATERING
Sweetening the traditional charcuterie display, CHOC-uterie from Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering (based near Orlando in Altamonte Springs, Fla.) pairs rich chocolate bites with an array of fruits and cheeses. The after-dinner station may include such chef-selected offerings as chocolate truffles, bruléed brie, aged gouda, fresh and dried fruits, sliced green apples and French baguette. “What takes this presentation over the top is the display,” says Shantel Campbell, marketing manager. “Our chefs create the presentation, taking into account the shapes, textures and colors of each item, ensuring that they are placed perfectly and result in a beautiful work of art.”
Mexican Street Corn Station
Guests can’t stop talking about the Mexican Street Corn served up by Arthur’s. After the corn is shaved from the cob, a chef attendant sautés it with butter and chili powder, adds a squeeze of lime, then tops it with chopped smoked brisket and a garnish of crema, cotija and a crispy pork rind. Served in an easy-to-carry mini cast-iron skillet, the corn is the “perfect combination of savory and sweet,” says Julie Noggle, executive chef. “This short plate can be devoured in just a couple of bites, but in those bites guests rave about how savory and especially how filling it is.”
A chefs’ competition in the kitchen of Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering led the company to launch its popular Bao Bun Station. Arthur’s team members came up with the station’s mouth-watering flavor combinations during an in-house bao bun competition. Guests can choose from two fillings for the fluffy buns—crispy pork belly with achara papaya relish and sweet-and-sour sauce; or Korean barbecue short ribs with cucumber, papaya relish, gochujang aioli, red jalapeño and cilantro. “Bursting with color and flavor, our Bao Bun Station gets rave reviews for its unique taste and vibrant presentation,” says Julie Noggle, executive chef.
Shadow Box Chefs
For a client who wanted a nightclub vibe for their event, Butler’s Pantry in St. Louis came up with several energizing and interactive culinary concepts. Shadow box dancers inspired two of the stations. Instead of dancers behind a screen, however, Butler’s Pantry placed their chefs in the spotlight. In real-time, the shadow box chefs crafted a selection of ceviche—either red pepper with jalapeño and pineapple, Vera Cruz-style shrimp, or a vegetarian “ceviche” of compressed watermelon, feta, lime and basil—as well as such small plates as Lollipop Lamb Chops and grilled tenderloin. “It was a huge hit—a feast for the eyes and the taste buds!” says Chef Vince Bommarito Jr., chief culinary officer at Butler’s Pantry.
At the Hand-Cut Pasta station, at the same nightclub-themed affair, chefs cut either penne or conchiglie at a pasta machine, boiled it until perfectly al dente, and then offered guests a choice of two broths that had been steeping in tea infusers on a glowing bar—mushroom miso or duck consommé. Guests could then enhance their own plates at a floating station stocked with microgreens, tofu, mushrooms, shaved Parmesan, English peas, sriracha and more.
Dinner in a Six-Pack
While served at a sitdown affair, a concept created by Butler’s Pantry Chef Bommarito combined the portability and ingenuity of a successful station—Dinner in a Six-Pack. Guests at a garden club luncheon at the Busch Family Estate in St. Louis were served their meal in a repurposed cardboard six-pack bottle container. Inside they found chilled melon soup in a small Coke bottle with a biodegradable straw; beef tenderloin wraps with caramelized onions, peppers, portabella mushrooms and basil pesto; and, in clear containers that fit just right, Thai sesame pasta salad; tomato, cucumber and mozzarella salad; and grilled chicken kabobs with red and yellow peppers, onions, mushrooms and red quinoa. “Catering has evolved beyond just the three- or four-course dinner,” says Bommarito. “It’s an experience, something unique and truly memorable. That is what we strive for, that is what sets us apart.”
From across the room, this new station by D’Amico Catering in Minneapolis looks to be a traditional caviar bar, with tins of eggs (playfully labeled “D’Amicroe”) housed within an ice sculpture. Up close, however, guests discover the tins contain brightly colored beads of orange, pink, white and sienna. The faux caviar was created through a molecular gastronomic process, using natural ingredients. “These tiny bubbles are not only bursting with flavor, but create a fun, conversation-starting experience,” says Christie Altendorf, D’Amico Catering’s senior event planner and marketing manager. Guests can select from four hors d’oeuvres that the “caviar” accents. Options include buttery Hamachi with fried ginger, garlic and micro cilantro, topped with ponzu “caviar”; fresh burrata, basil crystals, sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil topped with tomato “caviar”; a tiny cucumber cup with mint syrup and fresh mint filled with melon “caviar”; and a petit cone filled with vanilla bean mascarpone, chopped peanuts and caramel “caviar.” “Guests’ reactions to the look, textures, colors and interesting twist have been unparalleled,” says Altendorf, adding that requests for the station “have been huge.”
Bouteille de Parfum
Another new concept from D’Amico, this perfume bottle-inspired station was originally created to solve a problem. At an event to celebrate the opening of a new venue, a station needed to be set up in a room with mirrored tables that couldn’t be moved. So—inspired by old Hollywood glamour—D’Amico placed gilded trays on top of the tables. The trays displayed tiny cups of salad featuring fresh crab, radish and thinly sliced peppers, each with a petit silver fork. An attendant holding a vintage perfume bottle asked guests if they would prefer a mist of lime or a mist of mint, spraying the salad with the guest’s choice. The station “stops people in their tracks,” says Altendorf, and encourages them to “think about how everyday objects can be transformed.”
CULINARY CAPERS CATERING
Peking Duck Station
“In Vancouver, we are definitely seeing a decline in traditional plated dinner-style events, and chef-attended food stations are a much more modern and chic update on buffet dining,” says Debra Lykkemark, founder and CEO of Culinary Capers Catering, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. “The stations themselves offer creative twists on global cuisine, street food, urban foodie culture, and the best of local and seasonal ingredients.” One of Culinary Capers’ most-requested stations, the Peking Duck Station features barbecue duck, hoisin, green onion pancakes and crispy noodles, served up in cute mini bamboo baskets. “Clients love being able to grab a bamboo basket,” says Lykkemark. “It’s an upscale take on a takeout container.”
Culinary Capers often presents its Poutine Station as a late-night grazing option. Clients can opt for the tater tot or French fry version of the Canadian favorite. Both come loaded with traditional cheese curds and house-made gravy, and can be customized to include such fun toppings as bacon, short rib and mushrooms.
Ice Cream Cart
To please Vancouverites, who—the company notes—eat the frozen treat year-round, Culinary Capers launched its popular Ice Cream Cart. The mobile station serves up the company’s artisan flavors—such as Fromage Frais, Rhubarb Ginger and Vietnamese Coffee—that Culinary Capers makes with its own industrial ice cream maker. “There is always a lineup at this station!” says Lykkemark.
Schaffer in Los Angeles serves up a modern twist on a classic with its vegetable tartare interactive station. Chefs use traditional hand-crank meat grinders to create seasonal vegetarian dishes. Varieties include carrots ground with walnuts, Moroccan spice, chive oil and curried chutney, served on a crostini; beets ground with pistachio and lemon aioli, served on a potato crisp; and portabella mushrooms ground with red wine mustard, parsley and spicy tomato jam, served on a taro chip. “This station was originally created for an environmental charity gala,” says Kathleen Schaffer, owner and creative director of Schaffer. “I saw Daniel Humm’s Carrot Tartare dish at Eleven Madison Park in New York City and thought we could do a variety of tartares with the classic hand-crank meat grinders. It was such a success as an interactive station at the gala we have continued to serve it to both vegetarians and omnivores alike.”
Cotton Candy Hair Salon
For a children’s charity fundraiser in 2018, Schaffer was asked to create many stations that were “interactive and Instagrammable,” says Kathleen Schaffer. One they came up with—the Cotton Candy Hair Salon—has been reborn several times for corporate and social events. “It’s super popular at mitzvahs!” says Schaffer. The station features homemade cotton candy affixed to mannequins in towering hairstyles. A chatty “stylist” talks to the mannequins, giving them names while giving them a trim—and entertaining guests when they stop by for a sweet fix.