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Review of the Catersource 2011 Trade Show

If you are involved in on/off-premise catering you must attend the annual Catersource conference and trade show in Las Vegas, NV.

I started to write this post the day after attending — however I have been consumed with several large and demanding projects. So here we go!

With very limited time this year – March 1st I headed out early Tuesday morning driving East across the barren Mohave desert towards the new city of lights — during the transition from a dark night to an Electra dawn.

With the windows rolled down, breathing in brisk desert air and listening loud to; The Ramon’s, Pink Floyd, Puccini, Sinatra, Country and some new electronica dance music while channel surfing thru an extensive menu on Satellite radio. This made the long drive pass quickly!

Industry trade shows and gatherings such as Catersource, are a rich depository of industry related information, education, relationships fostering experiences, and a library of trivia.

Later at some opportune moment – what was collected is called upon and used in some purpose, often not for the intended purpose. Basically you get to see a lot of new and very cool ideas, concepts and interesting people. I constantly found the long time pros helping newer players to excel!

What did I see that was new and or interesting to an information and idea junkie like me and perhaps you?

I started at one end of the trade show floor going aisle to aisle and booth to booth finishing as the doors were closing and people where preparing for the spectacular Tuesday night party.

After so many sales reps are asking the usual monotonous, “How are you?” I cut to the chase by asking, “What’s new? What’s unique?” Usually followed with “What are people attending the show finding interesting in your booth or with your company or products and services?” and the inquisitive “How does you product, compare to brand X.”

That’s the point where we get down to business and have an information exchange and usually learn something useful.

Setting aside the wonderful suppliers for a moment, it was really great to meet the people attending. Some I have been exchanging emails with – as readers of this blog, some new — we just met for the first time while scoping out a booth or demonstration — all united with a common cause to get better at catering!

Here is some of what I saw and found interesting at the trade show. You may already know about these ideas, perhaps you will find some new here!

Art of Flame "Fire on Water"

Art of Flame 

Fire on Water!

As you may know, I’m big on “function over fashion” any day of the week – however the flame floating on water in a glass container, takes the prize this time.

Medrith Nolan, the inventor is a chemist. She figured how to make a unique safe, visually stunning multipurpose decorative flame. Her creation is simple, intriguing and so safe — it often passes the open flame limitation with ease.

I had a great chat with her and applaud her for turning her idea into a success! Yes she has some new design coming out – so don’t wait. Now you can make use all those glass vases collecting dust in the warehouse.

I expect to see her floating flame creation gracing tables at events and talked about widely.

 Vikki Smyth 

Vikki is my favorite designer for working with acrylics in all shapes, colors, sizes. Jackie has managed blend the gray area of function over fashion, always with stunning results. She is simply the best for “floating food in the air concept.”

You will find she is full of energy, passionate with her infectious enthusiasm — morphing science, craftsmanship, and art into some really amazing wow attention-getting designs. Everyone I’ve sent to her for solutions and products over the years is always satisfied!

Black or white Honeycomb is her newest design — which can create a “vertical bento box” display. There are lotsa’ combinations that make this a crowd pleaser for displaying Hors d’oeuvre, Tapas (Small Plates), Dim Sum and Desserts.

ISI North America

Carol Kentis was showing off new “carbonator” aka as the “twist & spakle.”

Thru some incredible end of show discounting — I picked up a new “Twist and Sparkle” unit and a Thermo Whip Plus.

Already I have put the “Twist & Sparkle” to good use pumping CO2 into wide variety of beverages — all were great over-the-top experiences.

This has been a great hit at several parties carbonating a variety of juices; cranberry, orange, apple, pineapple rum, coconut milk, mango, guava, grape juice. I have been giving this puppy a work out. Jack Daniels, a few dashes of Reagan’s #6 orange bitters chilled and carbonated became very popular at one party for toasting shots — fizzy cosmopolitans at another. Lemon infused sparkling water at another. Adding air makes a difference.

Thermo Whip Plus

The thermo whip Plus is more than a whip cream on demand maker. Fresh whipped cream is always enjoyed for a high end coffee or dessert bar.

Warm Bailey’s Irish Cream foam was hit at St. Patrick’s Day parties.

However the optimal applications for the Thermo Whip Plus are far more exciting — especially when you blend in lessons learned from macro-gastronomy.

I have been fooling around separately with warm beet, carrot, sweet potato, and green pea foam to dress plates – an airy tempura bather with great success and I even experienced a few food fatalities. The Thermo Whip Plus – as the name implies is insulated — so dressing up warm plated food on a fast-moving plating line with a hot sauce-foam is a breeze and will keep you outta’ the weeds!

I’m on mission to create some tasty soy-based foam for those lactose intolerant and hard-core vegans. If you have ideas — let me know. I promised my newest “BFF’s” at ISI, that I would share and post my research so that others can benefit!

BTW I’ll being writing more extensive posts on these wondrous culinary tools here at the blog soon.

Sunkist Bar Buddy

Sunkist Bar Buddy

Sunkist Bar Buddy has been around some time, an indispensable tool for high volume consistent cutting (sectional) of wedges and slices of apples, oranges, lemons, limes and tomatoes.

What’s new? Additional blades such as the 10 piece wedge. The new 10 wedge blade saves you money on bar garnishes and is absolutely perfect for cutting lime wedges for small tacos. Besides the 10 wedge sized lime wedge fits better in the top of a bottle of Corona beer.

Cutting limes for bar service often is often delegated to on-site bartenders. Really the preparation ought to be preformed by the kitchen or select staff — so that lemons and limes and other drink garnishes are prepared properly saving time, keeping on-site labor in check and maintain consistency and quality of cutting.

Bamboo Imports 

Extreme customer driven picks and skewers created from bamboo. Losta’ colors, styles, shapes, great service.

While talking with Ryan Young, he showed me several examples of customer wish created products. Ryan explained, “Caterers are in the food serving and entertaining business. We’re in the sourcing and production business to support caterers. Most of our products were created by requests from caterers. We’re always on the look out for new requests.”

Fresh White Endive

California Vegetable Specialties

Belgian endive has been used number of times as an edible transport vessel-carrier for a large variety of toppings.

When I asked what’s new “Humus bars” was the reply. With so many variations on flavored humus there certainly is potential. Great ideas on how to use endive at the site above.

Belgioioso Cheese 

Famous for their authentic Italian style cheeses — especially the mozzarella sheets — was another visit after the endive booth. So with the new concept of humus bars, so I asked, “Why not soft cheeses?”

Belgioioso creates 12 different flavors of soft cheese that when formed as cannels or piped would sit nicely in the endive. So another food presentation idea worth considering.  

Big Ass Fans New Pivot 180


I have been an advocate for several years. The fans do the trick of moving large volumes of enough air at low speed to lower temperature.

Showing off a new Pivot 180º Fan, that will be great for cooling event and kitchen-cooking-preping tents during warmer periods.


Blaze Products  

New clear container, looks cool behind glass blocks supporting a warming griddle because you don’t see the container. Another nice plus is that you can actually see how much fuel is left.

So instead of tossing ½ used fuel cans at the end of an event, cap’em and use the remaining fuel next time, you’ll same money and help the environment.


The new chork: a blend of chop sticks and a fork The Chork The Chorkä is quite an idea blending a fork and chopsticks together. How many events do you take tons of forks and chopsticks for Asian food? The Chork solves the problem with one utensil that will certainly be a popular topic of conversation.I have another idea for the Chork -- which I’ll reveal in another blog post!Electric Buffet Burners

Buffet Burners

Bob Feaglery enlightened me about the applications, ease and smart use of this electric chafing dish heaters for adopting existing chafing dishes. Using existing chafing dishes is the key point here.

As you know many,  historical sites, office buildings, and venues prohibit any open flames – so instead of buying new electric only chafer dishes — adopt these heaters to your existing rectangular and round chafers.

The heaters meet the no open flame requirement and from further discussion if you are at a venue on a regular basis — I suspect the operating cost and safety consideration beats using the canned fuel.



Caviar Specification Tool Kit

Chef Rubber

Chef rubber is a great resource for macro gastronomy, tools, specialty pastry ideas. It was a lot of fun to see some many items — get your hands on them and ask questions about use. The staff was such a treat to answer questions and offer ideas!

If you have been thinking about adding Caviar spheres or perls to dishes or cocktails and weren’t quite sure where to start, this is the place. Order the Caviar Specification Tool Kit and start making tasty luscious pearls right away.

I have been looking at using round silicone molds to use to make ice spheres for drinks for specialty bars such as Scotch bars. The round sphere melts slower — so the cocktail is cooled and not watered down.

I found a 2” dia. silicon sphere mold here that’s perfect for a whisky bar.

Creations in Lucite

Edgy display and in clear, opaque, black plastic and a willingness to  customize.


Food grade fiberglass and silicone molds-shapes for well; butter, sorbet, chocolate, ice cream, bread, mac & cheese bites and more. This is one of those thrust your imagination into overdrive for possibilities companies.

I’m not a big pastry maker. However I often marvel at the creations, and am always borrowing techniques and ideas for other and cocktail creations and enhancements.


“Flame on!”

New Sterno Jet Burner

Sterno was showing off their new Jet burner. This innovation will be outstanding for certain stations where portable fast heat is needed to finish off dishes that also has stylish form.

New Sterno Torch

The new torch was also on display. Seems the days of carmelizing desserts and such with my plumbing torch are coming to a close. The canisters use the same fuel source as the butane stoves.

Xroads Philippine Sea Salts    

An informative chat with Lennie who founded the company. Her sources follow traditional sea salt farming practises long time in the making. The taste of her salts were fresh and clean!

I have been considering using finishing and or premium sea salts as lead generation offers or gifts to select clients packaged in special vessels. The different textures, flavors and colors is certainly appealing especially when finishing seafood dishes. Xroads has some truly unique bamboo packaging.

I learned that all sea salts are to be labeled with a notice about possible allergic relations to shell fish. Often sea salts contain some trace amounts of what causes a reaction. There’s nothing like a guest experiencing anaphylactic shock to dampen the enthusiasm for a party.

Mini Push Up

J.B. Prince

Another kid in candy store moment with lotsa’ things — hard to find, unique culinary tools, and I didn’t have to travel to Manhattan. The booth staff was as always very helpful answering questions, and explaining new and different applications. What a joy!  

JB Price has the new push ups cups in two sizes that have become so popular for breakfast, snacks and desserts!

Vanillaness at it's best!

Nelson-Massey Vanilla

Beth was a real treat to talk with. I received an in depth education on vanilla —  a spirited debate concerning vanilla from Tahiti and New Guinea or Mexico, plus a review of some other new flavorings and extracts – which I will be experimenting with shortly.

Sensational vanilla flavoring that fills your mouth with wholesome “vanillaness” Ummmm so good!

Pick On Us

There was the book: “Stick It, Spoon It, Put It In a Glass” signing with chef Eric B LeVine, certainly a masterpiece to add to your culinary library.

There was large display of so many different ways to secure and transport food; picks, skewers, stirrers, etc. of all types of color and shape and design.


New “Scratchless” stainless steel scouring pads — that doesn’t leave marks on stainless steel. Essential for cleaning stainless steel display items that have accumulated crud – you know the kind where the only grime removal tools left are harsh chemicals or elbow grease.

New Safe Tray

Safe Tray        

There was two nice lassies from Scotland. One was Alison Grieve, the inventor who was was pitching in a very charming way her new Safe Tray.

The Safe Tray I believe, has great promise.  The collapsible handle on the bottom is perfect for learning balance, stacking and a few new magic tricks and navigating thru crowds that have been happily drinking. see the video at YouTube:

Safe tray is “spot on” for training new inexperienced staff to hold, balance, serve and clear tables with a tray. We had good a good chat about establishing distribution and learning to drive on the “right” side of the road. I plan on using he trays for training new staff soon. I wish them well!

Must Have Sklips


I have seen the ads for the sklips™. This was the first time I could actually get my hands on them. A simple, functional design for turning sheet pans into stacking racks.

I bought a box and have been using them extensively on events since the show where counter and shelf space was limited.

Another great application is to use them give some height to buffet tables which are usually flat. Stack a few sheet pans add some draping to cover the pans and suddenly you are escaping flat land, safely.

Suggest you order a box or two of each size and add them to your culinary tools arsenal.

Cocktail Rimmers

Rimmed cocktail glasses especially for specialty welcome or signature cocktails at events present an incredible visual, tactile-tasty garnish which instantly increases the perceived value to guest.

With over 30 prepared varieties of colored, flavored sugars and salts makes this the one stop shop for cocktail rimming. Every color and flavor I had been challenged to create and experimenting with over the past few years was here. Great, now I can move on to something else. 

 I love the Wrap-N-guard for at least two ideas; a built in nice stainless steel stylish wind screen — which comes in handy on windy days for outdoor events, plus the space saving design that require less space for transporting chafing dishes.

Space saving at first, doesn’t seem like such a big idea…until you try packing 26 chafing dishes for a large event. The space taken up is huge. Or if you are trying use one van to deliver several hot lunches to be served from chafing dishes. The space saving and bulk reduction helps a lot. 



New Misty Stix



Having been challenged at some events like large outdoor weddings on hot summer afternoons in Southern California with getting 200 cold Moijtos or Margaritas served quickly to thirsty guests as the ceremony concluded.

Faced with no freezer or cooler and limited resources; time and staff – I often inserted small pieces of dry ice into the drinks, to cool and not water down the cocktails. The icy smoke cascading off the glasses always looks so inviting. However my dilemma was always guests grabbing a cocktail too soon and burning their lips on the pieces —  I was often fishing out the larger pieces as the trays left for passing.

MistyStix solves the problem. The capsule stirrer holds the dry ice and preventing burns from the dry ice. The unit can we washed and reused.

BTW the way I also learned of this terrific site for locating dry ice anywhere in the world something to add to your computer and cell phone favorites.

Truffly Made

What I liked best was the simple clean mold designs and a willingness to help and even create custom molds. I told the rep in the booth of my quest for round ice spheres. He promptly showed me a sphere mold that was just over and 1” in Diameter.

He provided me with samples for testing. Now I’ll be ordering a few molds to make smaller ice spheres for some special cocktail and drink events.    


Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar

Gourmet Blends 

There’s a lot of good Balsamic vinegar floating around these days. Some OK, some good and what I found here had an exceptional clean, wholesome, satisfying taste — I dreamt for a moment I was standing in an aging room somewhere in Modena, Italy and that we were lucky to sneak a sample of something that had been waiting 12 years just for this moment!

The quality is high and the blends such as vanilla fig are sensational for dressing up some strawberries, persimmons and ice cream!

Best part two parts the boys can ship on large volume packaging – so you don’ have to fool around with all the smaller bottles and they work with you to create and work out the details  for special unique gift packages to give to clients!


As mentioned in the start of this post — I listed just some of the more interesting booths I saw at the trade show. Can’t wait to put to use many of the new and different ideas I found.

Mark your planner now for next year: February  26 – 29 th 2012 in Las Vegas, NV. 

Hope to see ya’ there!

P.S. Want more information on Catersource 2012?  Here’s where to go:      




How To Use A Digital Camera To Improve Event Planning

A photo from the back of the Kodak EasyShare C...

Image via Wikipedia

 “That’s not where the band goes…”

“You guys got the stations reversed. The pasta station goes over there     
   and the carving station goes here.”

“Are you sure there’s no plugs on the wall, I could swear I saw one during the walk thru.”

“So how did you expect us to hang this banner from the ceiling?”

“Where are the staff, vendors, and guests supposed to park?”

“OK, so where do we set up the kitchen?”

Off premises catering staff hear these and other questions often.

 “There are always two people in every picture: 
A photographer and the viewer
.”  ~ Ansel Adams

When ever a sales person, planner-designer or coordinator meet with a client for a site survey or walk through of where an event is going to take place, they must always take a long a digital camera to help tell the story of what is expected.

What You Need For Your Visual Thinking Tool Kit

A digital camera; doesn’t need to be expensive — $200.00 will get you a great compact functional camera that will take good pictures. Don’t rely on your cell phone camera. Spend some bucks — do it right, you won’t regret it.

Get a carrying case, be sure to attach the wrist strap to help protect the camera and buy a camera battery charger for your car. Make sure the camera batteries are charged when you leave for the site. Cameras get used a lot, left turned on by mistake, not charged up, and used by others. Then when you arrive at the venue, say a park or an open field, there’s no power to charge up — you can’t take pictures.

Also carry a 25-30’ tape measure with you. The tape measure is useful for figuring out distance, width and heights of doorways, etc. For more details on what else to take to perform a complete walk through, see my blog posts on “Site Survey Tools” and “WAGES.”

The camera can photograph thought.”  ~ Dirk Bogarde

Preparing For Story Telling

Carry the camera with you as you walk around and shoot pictures of everything — to help tell the story of what the sales person-planner-coordinator-designer and client have in mind during the event. Don’t worry about taking too many pictures. It’s easy to edit later.

Include shots of where to park, unload, where to set up the kitchen, canopy, stations, tables, buffets, bars, gift tables, cigar roller, photo booth, the DJ, the band, face painter, portable restrooms, coat rack, umbrella stand, valet, generator, lighting and the list goes on.

Make a panorama of any large open areas or room(s) including shots of the walls, door ways, hallways, ceiling and floors. Include close shots of details such as doors, where lights and power are located, and parking for the guests, staff and vendors.

If cooking is to be done on site, take pictures of the ranges, ovens and prep area so the Chef and kitchen staff know they have to work with.

Don’t worry about the quality and framing—you will improve with practice.

Consider this: If you weren’t around during the event set up, could anyone looking at the photos have pretty good ideas of what needs to be done to pull off the event?

Think in terms of making a story board. The pictures (photos) will help tell the story. Storyboards are graphic pictorial organizers usually made up of a series of drawings, illustrations, images and photos that lay out the sequence of scenes in a film or animation, for planning or visualizing what is to be accomplished.

If you’re working on an event at a client’s home or office, ask for permission to take pictures first and explain how you will use the photos.

Often back at the office and as the event takes form — situations change; the menu switches from buffet to station or plated service — themes, colors, weather, time of day, what ever. Instead of revisiting the site again, look at the pictures. One of my bosses used to say, “An event like good food needs to cook a little.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

If you have exclusive venues or locations where you work on a regular basis, take a few hours and go photograph the venues and set the pictures up in catalog on your computer. It will save you time in the future. BTW take pictures of the same spots a few times during the year as lighting, foliage and colors change with the seasons. Be sure to label the photos indicating the time day and month of year.

Building And Tweaking Your Library

Once you have taken the pictures download the pictures on to your computer and perhaps pass them thru the latest version Adobe Photoshop elements. This inexpensive program ($49.95) will help clean up the dark spots, sharpness focus, remove red eye, and adjust contrast and colors.

Label and catalog the pictures in a folder for each venue for easy reference by everyone in the office. Does this take time? Yes and it beats driving back to the venue for another walk thru.

The photos can be saved at PDF’s or JPEG’s and sent to anyone involved with the event planning.

Kick it up a step — by copying, pasting or importing the photos into any of several software programs. There are some sophisticated drawing programs and you can do some incredible detailing in them. However basic favorites are with a short learning curve are:

Excel spreadsheets using the drawing tool function, you can add call outs with details and dimension lines.

SmartDraw If you need to make a sophisticated lateral time line. SmartDraw allows you draw and paste in photos together.

PowerPoint like Excel has some call features. I’m not a big fan of PowerPoint because of the limitations and few have it loaded as software.

Googledoc’s The program is free and assessable by anyone with an internet connection and there are no cross platform issues either.

“A great film is made on paper first.” -Alfred Hitchcock

Getting Everyone On The Same Page

You can print the photos out in various sizes. There’s no need for expensive color printing on gloss stock especially during the concept layout stages.

Printing the photos out on a 600 or 1200 DPI Black & White laser printer is sufficient for layout and most detailing. You can always upgrade to color.

I like using 8.5 X 11 size paper sheets for initial drafts and concepts. There’s plenty of room to make detail notes for reference or for passing on others involved in the planning.

As situations take form, I like printing out a final version on 11” X 17” paper. This size folds in half and fits nicely into folders, three ring binders and provides extra room to hand write last minute changes, details.

This 11 X 17 size is also good for posting on the walls in your command center. Use the blue painters tape so no residue is left on the wall.

Pull and check lists and can be taped to the side of the drawing for all to see and comment on as needed.

Copy and store the digital updated versions into a folder marked specific for the event. After the event you can place copies back in the library for future reference.

Size Does Matter

Sometimes I go to Kinko’s and print out 24” x 36” or even a 36” X 48” sheet especially when there’s a lot going on. The larger sheets work well for overviews. Then use the smaller sheets for specific station activity details.

Use a sharpie and draw and mark them up with details or dimensions. The marked up photo “print outs” then can be copied, or scanned and saved as PDF’s and emailed for planning, review and comment and placed in the event folder for reference.

You don’t have to be a Frank Gehry or Leonardo to draw up the roughs. A good reference to help you out would to get your hands on a copy of the “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam his book, website site and blog are enlightening on communicating and problem solving with simple drawings. I have been drawing stick figures of chefs and servers for years. It’s amazing how an elaborate table setting can be draw and detailed in Excel.

In some instances we marked up a photo and then created a rough mock up the station or buffet to get a feel for things and therefore created a new or revised pull list. Take a picture of the finished mock up for reference.

With photos it’s easy to check back and review when things change.

A photograph is like the recipe – a memory of
the finished dish.”
  ~Carrie Late

After the actual station or activity is set up completely at the event, take a few pictures while the guests are interacting. Sometimes you will want to discuss lay out changes or traffic flow after the event for the next time. Don’t depend on the event photographers — some times they will give you the pictures — other times not.

Add the event photos into your library and save your self some time next time you the same or a similar type of activity.

The small investment in a digital camera will pay large dividends in helping you plan and tell the story of events details. The stress level will subside and you have a vast library to reference from in the future.

Hold on to you aprons,