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Action Stations are Action Heroes for Caterers Today

Action Stations are Action Heroes for Caterers Today

Today’s savvy party guests expect a bit of fanfare with their dinner fare, which is why action stations are cutting into the buffet line. Entertaining and innovative, these chef-attended food stations add that ‘à la minute’ extra freshness to plates. Here, off-premise caterers share their action-packed favorites. 

Thomas Caterers of Distinction, Indianapolis

Mini and made-to-order, Thomas Caterers of Distinction’s popular “Pasta-tini Bar” serves its pasta up and with a twist. “It’s our oldest yet still most popular action station,” says owner Kelly Early, CSEP, of the chef-attended station. It features a choice of three varieties of pasta and sauces that are “shaken, not stirred,” and served in a martini glass complete with garnish.

“Pasta is filling and never goes out of style,” Early says. “This method also helps to keep the freshness of the dish intact as each dish is custom-made for the guest.” Another Italian staple—pizza—gets the slider treatment--literally. Personal pizzas are “delivered” in tiny pizza boxes down a custom-made, stainless steel slide.

In an effort to come up with a non-dessert application for liquid nitrogen, Early and her team created their “nitro salad station,” featuring mixed greens, hearts of palm and orange supremes tossed with a sesame-orange vinaigrette and garnished with orange-almond meringue “croutons” for the show-stopping liquid nitrogen component. “The salad is made at the station,” Early explains. “Then the meringue is dropped in liquid nitrogen for a quick freeze before topping the salad.”

Undeniably innovative, “misting stations” allow guests to custom-flavor grilled, skewered meats and veggies with a spray of flavored oil. “The idea is that you offer the guest their choice of skewer—chicken, fish or veggie—and they then choose a ‘mister,’ which is a similar to a little perfume bottle filled with flavored oil, typically truffle, pineapple or balsamic,” Early says. “When we first tried it, there were two problems—the mist didn’t give the dish enough flavor, and guests would spray the mist and miss their plates, leaving a slick of oil on the floor.” A couple of tweaks—pre-seasoning the skewers and a protective carpet runner—resolved the issues. And they have been misting ever since. 

Culinary Capers, Vancouver and Bejing

The key to an action station’s success is creating a station where you are not cooking everything at the station,” says CEO Deb Lykkemark. “Think smoke and mirrors. Have a chef there to do the finishing touches for theatrics.” The Culinary Capers team finds this method especially effective at its African-themed barbeques, where meats such as Madagascar peppercorn-crusted beef strip loin, slow-roasted pig, and Maghreb lamb racks are barbecued in view of guests, then carved to order at stations.

Having an office in Beijing has given Culinary Capers an edge on one of the hottest food trends—noodle-pulling. “We have a chef in China who can make hand-pulled noodles for the guests,” Lykkemark says. “It’s fantastic to watch her take a lump of dough, then whirl, twirl and smack it until it turns into thousands of perfectly formed strands.” The noodles are then quick-cooked and placed in a bowl. Guests choose a flavored broth and a selection of raw veggies, which quick-cook in the hot broth.    

Culinary Capers has found great success with its dim sum-style dessert carts loaded with an assortment of ice cream-filled profiteroles and mousse-filled martini glasses. A trio of sauces drizzled by an attendant—cranberry-lime, strawberry-Grand Marnier sauce or spiced apple compote—provide the finishing touch ... 

See the full story in the July-August issue of Special Events, which is available to ISES members for free and to subscribers. Not a subscriber? We can fix that; just click here.

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