Clever and Creative

Caterers are raising the bar with their station set-ups, capturing guests’ attention with imaginative food-and-drink displays

By Sara Perez Webber

When it comes to creativity, stations are in no way stationary. Caterers, hotels and even convention centers continue to come up with ways to make their food-and-drink stations and buffets engage the imagination as they whet the appetite. Read on for examples of clever and creative station concepts that keep ’em coming back for more.

Anaheim Marriott

Anaheim, Calif. • marriott.com

Lego Buffets

Phil Aldax, director of food and beverage at the Anaheim Marriott, spends at least two hours each week surfing the Internet for creative ideas that will make the food presentation for group and meeting attendees at his hotel stand out from the competition. Sometimes that “aha” moment comes from an unlikely source. When Aldax read about modular housing inspired by Legos being constructed in areas hit by natural disasters, he came up with the idea of building buffets out of oversized Legos. Meeting attendees are delighted when they encounter the lighthearted displays. The hotel often sets out small Legos for guests to play with while they’re chatting, making the set-up more interactive.

STARR Catering Group

South Florida • starrevents.com

Caja China Bao Station

A huge hit at large events in the Miami area—home to the Cuban tradition of roasting a whole pig in a “caja china,” or Chinese box—this cross-cultural station encourages guest interaction and always attracts a crowd. STARR Catering usually brings a roasted full pig for display, with pork and other selections already prepared and portioned in pans for service, but will roast on site upon request. Guests then can choose from preassembled bao options, including the Caja China Bun, with thinly sliced mojo pork and onion slaw; Jerk Chicken Bun, with tropical slaw, guava and barbecue-glazed chicken; and Curried Crispy Vegetable Bun, a crispy potato and pea croquette with curry aioli.

Centerplate at Orange County Convention Center

Orlando, Fla. • centerplate.com

Living Greens Salad Buffet

More than 50 different food concepts are available at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC)—the second-largest convention center in the U.S. One of the most robust takes advantage of the Center-to-Table Gardens, 88 aeroponic towers that provide Centerplate—OCCC’s food-service partner—with a full harvest of approximately 3,500 plants every six weeks (and can be viewed by guests entering the convention center through the Westwood Lobby). Nowhere is this bounty on greater display than in the Living Greens presentation, featuring assorted freshly harvested greens—many in water with their roots still attached—with an array of fresh crudité, in-house pickled items and dressings, so guests can create their own fresh salads. Often positioned prominently in the display is a living mushroom log, with the chef slicing away still-growing mushrooms to add to guests’ salads. “Guests are delighted to view the colorful display and have stated that they have never experienced this type of service in a convention center,” says Doug Conner, Centerplate general manager at OCCC.

Centerplate at Vancouver Convention Centre

Vancouver, British Columbia • centerplate.com

French Holiday Bakery

Instead of presenting a standard tabletop dessert buffet for a 2,000-guest holiday party, Centerplate at the Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC) created two authentic-looking French bakeries, featuring multi-level displays of cakes and pastries. “The beautiful and delicious selection included 152 cakes, 12 Yule logs, 1,000 verrines (tiramisu and raspberry panna cotta), 1,000 Christmas cookies and 2,800 French pastries,” says Andrew Pollard, Centerplate general manager at VCC. The center had good reason to showcase its goods; Executive Pastry Chef Maurizio Persichino and his team prepare everything from scratch (including all the center’s breads) for more than 500 events each year. Unlike most convention centers, VCC garners about one-third of its revenue from local banquets, including gala fundraisers, weddings and graduations.

Photo by Jumi

Made by Meg

Redondo Beach, Calif. • mbmcatering.com

Tuscan Station

Meg Walker, chef and owner of Made by Meg, describes her Tuscan station as “the granddaddy of all grazing stations.” A successful concept at weddings, large residential parties and corporate events, the station features charcuterie, such as prosciutto, soppressata and Spanish chorizo; such cheeses as Manchego, Camembert and Saint Agur; an assortment of antipasti, including marinated olives, roasted red bell peppers, and marinated and grilled artichokes; fresh fruit, which may include figs, champagne grapes, blood oranges and pomegranates; and such breads as toasted focaccia, grilled rosemary bread and handmade puff pastry twists. Whole fruits add dimension and color to the display, while the rustic look is enhanced with hollowed-out tree trunks to hold the puff pastry twists, hammered silver bowls and black slate trays. “People call it a feast for the eyes!” says Walker.

Photo by Molly Adams (Instagram: @mollyktadams) for Geffen Events (Instagram: @geffenevents)