Feeding the Imagination

Successful stations appeal to the eye as well as the appetite

By Sara Perez Webber

How do you “station”? For many caterers, this ever-popular way of serving food at an event is a chance to not only show off their cuisine but their showmanship. “We want to create experiences that capture guests’ interest and attention,” says Bobby Stern, president of Riviera Caterers in New York City. “Our clients are constantly asking us to push the envelope.”

Riviera—along Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering in Altamonte Springs, Fla.; Limelight Catering in Chicago; and Eatertainment Events & Catering in Toronto—shared a few of their station concepts with Catering Magazine. These clever ways to serve food and drink prove that when it comes to serving concepts, a little imagination goes a long way.

Riviera Caterers

New York ••• rivieracaterers.com

Artist Chef’s Table

The execs at Riviera like to create their concepts from scratch, with everything custom-built, and its Artist Chef’s Table is no exception. “It’s a rectangular station that’s six feet long, and we cut a piece of white acrylic to fit the top of it,” says Andrew Cavitolo, Riviera’s CEO and creative director. “The chef paints food onto the station while creating hors d’oeuvres and food items, making it look like a piece of art.” For example, if the chef is making a Caprese salad, he or she might paint a balsamic glaze on the canvas, then layer the salad items on top of that, with the guest picking up the creation with a mini bamboo fork. “We want to make it visually appealing and visually interactive,” says Cavitolo. “I firmly believe that interactivity brings food to another level.”

Mobile Sushi Cart

“A lot of times people at cocktail parties don’t want full stations but they want station food, so we made a mobile station on wheels,” says Cavitolo. Instead of guests visiting a station, the station visits the guests. The multi-compartment carts have been used to serve a variety of food and drink—from ice cream sundaes to different types of cognac—but one of the most popular is the mobile sushi cart, in which a sushi chef rolls the cart up to guests and makes sushi rolls to order. “When a guest goes to a party, they want something a little bit different,” says Bobby Stern, Riviera’s president. “This allows for customization, as the chef can create multiple different types of rolls, and it’s a social experience, a conversation-starter.”

Foam Food Truck

Riviera found a way to bring the ever-popular food truck to an indoor event. “We created these big foam cutouts of food trucks and then put a food station behind the truck,” says Stern, who notes that the truck can be branded with a company’s name or logo. Guests walk up to the serving window to order, just as they would at a real food truck. Riviera has served globally inspired street food at the food truck station—including a bao bar—as well as pizza, and chicken and waffles in baskets. “The reactions are pretty priceless,” says Stern.

Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering

Altamonte Springs, Fla. ••• arthurscatering.com

Bison & Bourbon Bar

A crowd-pleaser for Arthur’s Catering outside of Orlando is the Bison & Bourbon Bar, a big hit especially at corporate events. In this station, Arthur’s pairs seared bison tenderloin burgers and Parmesan rosemary fries with its “Smoking Jacket” Old-Fashioned specialty cocktail. The drink is “smoking” because an attendant torches a cedar chip and an orange peel, covers it with a Mason jar until the taste of cedar and orange permeates the jar, and then adds bourbon, freshly squeezed orange juice, maple syrup and orange bitters, topped off with a bourbon-infused cherry. “The use of the torch accompanied by the smell of cedar is an instant draw,” says Executive Chef Julie Noggle.

The Avocado Bar

A client favorite, Arthur’s seasonal Avocado Bar features freshly imported Hass avocados scored on site by a server and placed into a Cosmopolitan cocktail glass. Guests then add their choice of toppings—including lump crab, bacon, feta and Parmesan cheese, grilled corn, chickpeas, grape tomatoes, chopped cilantro and tortilla strips—followed by a choice of dressings, including Southwestern ranch, lemon vinaigrette, balsamic syrup or extra-virgin olive oil. “With the trend toward healthier eating, our guests love that our Avocado Bar is organic, healthy, and delicious!” says Noggle. “Guests also enjoy how interactive this station is.”

Sea Scallop & Pumpkin Ravioli Short Plate Station

A new station for Arthur’s, the Sea Scallop & Pumpkin Ravioli Short Plate Station debuted at a corporate party at Orlando’s largest performing arts center, with guests from more than 100 corporations from across the city. The station consists of New England sea scallops—freshly seared at the station by a chef—pumpkin mascarpone ravioli, brown butter sage cream sauce and Brussels sprout leaves. “Many guests contacted us after the event to request that this dish be added to their corporate holiday party menu,” says Noggle. “It was the hit of the night without a doubt!”

Limelight Catering

Chicago ••• limelightcatering.com

Wok the Wok

Limelight Catering took a cult-favorite food for Chicagoans—ramen—and translated it into an interactive station. After a chef tosses noodles to order in a rich, flavorful broth, guests can top their bowls with an array of additions, including beet-pickled eggs, barbecued pork belly, chopped scallions, pickled carrots, daikon radish, shredded cabbage slaw, bamboo shoots, Naruto (cured fish cake), sambal, soy sauce and tamari. “Guests love getting to play with their food and warm up on a cold Chicago night with a bowl of ramen,” says Sarah Banasiak, chief creative officer, who adds that Limelight switches the concept up during the summer, serving cold noodle salads instead of hot soup bowls.

Pedaling for Paletas

A crowd favorite at all kinds of events—from corporate celebrations and meetings, where it is branded with the company logo, to weddings where it displays the couple’s monogram—Limelight’s paleta bike brings frozen popsicles to guests in such flavors as Mini Hibiscus and Raspberry Paletas, and Mini Toasted Coconut and Cinnamon Paletas. “We not only surprise with our cooler on-the-go but with our innovative flavors as well,” says Banasiak. “The paleta bike never fails to elicit smiles on guests’ faces.”

Fruit by the Foot

To energize and engage guests at all-day meetings, Limelight came up with this throwback to a childhood favorite—fruit leather. It features an 8-foot-by-4-foot wall with dowels holding housemade Straw-Raspberry Basil Leather and Blueberry Chia Leather, which staff members cut to order. “We are always looking for healthful yet playful ways to feed and entertain guests,” says Banasiak. “Our fruit-by-the-foot wall is a perfect way to do this.”

Eatertainment Events & Catering

Toronto •••  eatertainment.com

Antipasto Station

While the concept is tried-and-true, Eatertainment’s antipasto station is a client favorite, partly due to the pleasing presentation. Displayed on wooden boards, in baskets, and in jars and glass cubes, the Mediterranean-style station features hearth breads and grissini; vegetable juice shooters, poured and served by the chef in square shot glasses; spanakopita, grilled pita and lavash; full bricks and slices of artisan cheeses with dried apricots, cranberries and whole almonds; dips including spiced hummus and baba ganoush; sundried tomatoes, olives and artichoke hearts; and a leg of prosciutto, sliced by the chef at the station. “It makes such a bold impact at an event because it literally looks like a feast,” says Sebastien Centner, director. “We’ve seen guests position themselves in front of it most of the night since it’s one of those stations you can’t get enough of.”

Sweet & Savory Station

Eatertainment’s sweet and savory dessert station, served in the fall and winter, is popular at media events for top clients who consider it Instagram-worthy, according to Centner. One of the most eye-catching offerings at the station is the Chocolate Pudding Terrarium, which features a chocolate pudding base with an Oreo cookie crumble topping and handmade edible succulents, all on display in a brandy snifter. The station also features apple cider, served hot or cold; three freshly squeezed juices—carrot/orange/turmeric, beet/ apple/ginger and kale/apple/passionfruit; stone fruit skewers (cherries, peaches, plums and apricots) with brown sugar and cinnamon; baked polenta mini cakes with fresh fig and gorgonzola; blue potato chip with cured salmon and fish roe; and two-tone blueberry panna cotta garnished with thyme.