There's no great mystery to a great meal. Its flavor comes from the talent and style of the chef mixed with the freshness and quality of the ingredients.
The same goes for the buffet or tabletop design on which the meal is served. A caterer can create a good-looking buffet or seated table, but the synergy between a caterer and an event designer often provides the missing ingredient.
Too many cooks can't spoil this recipe. Each person offers his or her own ingredient, and if everyone communicates, no one will get burned.
For example, a client told me that her event would have multiple buffet stations, one of them Asian. Because this event took place in the San Francisco area, I assumed that Asian meant Chinese and began designing a buffet using red satin fabric, Chinese paper lanterns and parasols covered with Chinese characters.
But when I called the caterer, I discovered that the food at this station actually would be sushi. The decor obviously needed to be very different. It was no problem to redesign the station, but had I never talked to the caterer, we all could have ended up with egg foo yong on our faces.
Conversely, we were in constant contact with the chef during the events we produced in France during the course of the World Cup '98 soccer matches. The theme of the opening event was A Taste of France, and several regions of the country were represented.
The chef told us everything he planned to serve, noting which dishes would be served hot and which cold. With this information, we researched how those foods are served in their regions. One of the resulting buffets represented Provence, where terra cotta often is used. We designed the entire buffet around terra-cotta containers. And with the help of the chef and our design team, we created a Gala Award-winning buffet.
Other challenges are less concrete. While working on an event at which the theme was simply "color," we were challenged to create several different, monochromatic looks with the buffets. It's easy to use fabric and flowers in red, green or yellow-but food in those colors? In this case, the caterer and I both worked on the menu, brainstorming food and decor concepts at the same time.
To design an all-green buffet, we covered the entire tabletop, front and sides with all types of foliage. In the center, a mannequin torso painted in green and covered in plants became the Green Goddess surveying her kingdom. Fresh green vegetables served as containers for a menu of green foods.
The synergy from this event crea-ted a camaraderie that has spanned many years of working together. Not only did we have a successful event, but the caterer and I now have a thriving working relationship as well as a friendship.
Finally, open communication can heat up the coolest of ideas. For an event with a Fire and Ice theme, the caterer and I conceived an unusual first course. We served cold tomato soup in bowls of ice set atop flame-red charger plates. It was a smashing look, made all the more so by a centerpiece of jagged blocks of ice carved to hold flickering candles.
All of these ideas came from the designer and the caterer working together. It is truly amazing what can happen when you stir it up as a team.