Sometimes you need a blood-red cocktail to go with your Halloween vampire bash. Other times, there's not a theme in sight — but the menu can still add signature style. Here, three caterers show us the spectrum: from conceptual menus for low-key environments to themed dishes that are a dead-on decor match.
DREAM A LITTLE THEME
So what's the difference between a themed menu and a conceptual menu? “Preparing themed foods is more a journey through culinary traditions, while preparing conceptual foods is more an exploration of the imagination of the chef,” says Gavin Fine, owner of Bistro Catering in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
An overt themed menu seemed most appropriate for a February Mardi Gras masquerade-theme gala at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts, for which Bistro cooked up Cajun specialties. And Fine notes he can't wait to do a whiskey-and-barbecue party for the upcoming launch of the new Wyoming Whiskey whiskey brand.
Two-thousand five hundred busy executives can work up major appetites when making decisions about all-important advertising dollars. At the annual “upfronts,” television networks introduce the season's TV lineup to potential advertisers, and creating a convivial and delicious atmosphere always helps business. For its May event at the Wollman Rink in New York's Central Park, Fox tapped New York-based Relish Caterers to create a series of nine conceptual stations to appeal to a mixed demographic of men and women aged 21 to 81.
In addition, the event was all “green” — from food to decor with recycling and composting to boot — resulting in a carbon footprint of zero, notes Relish president Claudine Revere. Relish cut waste by using traditional china, but the team still had fun with alternative service items. Sliders came in paper boats and doughnuts in mini paper bags, both made of recycled material. Fresh-baked cookies perched on recycled plastic plates, and some dishes were served in the same containers they were baked in to cut waste, Revere says.
Client requests for conceptual stations are on the rise, according to Robert Muehlich, director of food and beverage at the Setai hotel in Miami. But that's not to say stations can't have themes too.
Last summer, the Setai held a party in its penthouse for a de-signer of luxury watches. The hotel converted the penthouse courtyard to an Asian street market with stations serving dim sum and Peking duck hanging from a steel bar. The Setai team got creative with presentation, using artist palettes as serving trays with edible cones filled with tomato sorbet. Another clever touch included converting the client's watch boxes into serving vessels.
BIG EASY EATS
Bistro Catering's menu added some “ooh la la” to a Mardi Gras fais do-do.
Corn Cakes with Barbecue Crawfish
Louisiana-style Crab Cakes with Shrimp Bisque poured tableside
Boneless Short Ribs with New Orleans Gravy, Cheese Grits and Sauteed Greens
Cherries Jubilee with Vanilla Ice Cream
Assorted Petits Fours and Truffles
The Setai used everything from wooden plates with handles to dim sum carts to serve this Asian street-market menu.
Crispy Fried Crab Dumplings
Tartare of Tuna on Won Ton Triangles with Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette
Grilled Singaporean Lamb Satay Skewers with Peanut Sauce
Vanilla, Pistachio and Raspberry Macaroon
LOOK, MA, NO KNIVES!
Besides appealing to a broad range of tastes, Relish Catering made sure no knives were necessary. Here's a taste of what some stations served.
Gourmet Sliders and Fries
Sliders: Turkey Boursin, Beef and Cheese, or Vegetarian
Rosemary Parmesan Fries and Sweet Potato Fries
Healthy and Delicious
Watercress, Ruby Red Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
Shredded Jicama and Snow Pea Salad with Mandarin Segments
Grilled Corn, Cherry Tomato, Cucumber and Mint Salad
Made-to-order Mini Doughnuts
Peanut Butter Glazed with Strawberry Jelly, Chocolate with Chocolate Icing, Vanilla Bean Glazed, Toasted Almond or Plain
A Division of Fine Dining Restaurant Group