Innovative serviceware and creative decorative display, as well as cutting-edge exhibition-style food-holding equipment, create an impact that can enhance operators’ customer self-serve buffets.
Colorful ceramic bowls hold product for service at a cold display station in the French Quarter Buffet. A frost top counter and specially fabricated refrigerated air curtain provide freshness and flexibility for the station.
Sauté pans, placed on a hot-holding glass counter system, move from range prep to service at the Italian stationof the French Quarter Buffet, Showboat Casino Hotel, Atlantic City, N.J.
A butcher’s block and infrared heat lamp were used at the carving station at the Sagamore Resort’s food and wine tasting. This station served sliced buffalo with a tray of roast chili and pepper garnish for guests’ self-service with small tongs.
Creative display stations, such as this one offering a profiterole dessert, were fashioned from cardboard boxes and other products from the kitchens at the Sagamore Resort, Bolton’s Landing, N.Y., at its annual food and wine tasting.
Stainless chafing units with slide-out hotel pans for food are kept warm with sterno at the daily luncheon buffet offered at Jewel of India Restaurant, NYC.
The self-serve, all-you-can-eat buffet remains a mainstay of casino hotel restaurant facilities, even as buffet prep and service style have changed. Dining options at Harrah’s Showboat Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., include the high-volume, 800-seat French Quarter Buffet, serving more than 7,000 covers daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Traditionally, buffets offer diners the opportunity to put together their own meals from myriad offerings of already-prepared foods displayed for self-service. The French Quarter Buffet reflects a trend towards a marketplace configuration in the modern buffet, consisting of multiple stations, frequently equipped with exhibition-style menu preparation capabilities. The seven “action” food stations that comprise the buffet, along with the back-of-the-house kitchen supporting buffet operations at the Showboat Casino, were designed by John Egnor, president of Linwood, N.J.-based JEM Associates.
“We designed this buffet to include a spacious 20-ft.-wide work area for chefs, to accommodate out-front cooking equipment and worktables including undercounter refrigeration to hold ingredients at each station,” Egnor explains. “And the casino buffet setting lends itself to the design and installation of some of the most innovative display cooking and holding equipment found in the industry today.” The food shields installed throughout the buffet facility, for example, were specially fabricated from a design JEM produced. The glass guards, utilizing a mirror-finish stainless steel, keep the focus on the food, as they blend in seamlessly with display station design.
The design of the cold food display station at the French Quarter Buffet includes a frost top with a specially fabricated air-screen curtain to blow refrigerated air continuously across the cold salads and other menu items displayed in colorful crockery bowls. “Rather than an ice trough or drop-in wells, this unit provides flexibility with product display, keeps all the food product at a consistent 38°F. for freshness and adherence to food safety codes, and is very easy to clean and service, as the frost top display counter lifts out,” Egnor explains.
Hot food stations found in the French Quarter Buffet include the Italian station and Asian station, where under the customers’ watchful eye chefs prepare menu items using 14-in. sauté pans or commercial woks on range tops behind the display area. Food is then immediately transferred to the self-serve hot-holding display area. The service display areas feature a sleek, lexan glass countertop system for hot holding sauté pans, including a granite countertop with holes cut into it for holding wok pan preparations for self-service. “Because cooked food items are not transferred from one pan to another for service on the buffet, but served right in the pans used for preparation, patrons can appreciate the obvious freshness of the preparation. Chefs also have more control over the amount of food prepared as needed for service at any given time in the buffet, which makes economic sense for the facility’s operations,” Egnor points out.
A workable prototype for a new, vertical display rotisserie has been perfected from a design that Egnor developed two years ago. The seven-spit rotisserie can cook different types of meats at the same time, as the vertical construction keeps meat drippings from cross-contamination. The gas-fired rotisserie is designed so that each spit can turn individually as the whole spit unit turns, and contains radiant heat units in corner panels as well as a center flame post, providing visual drama in a display setting. The rotisserie is not part of the Showboat Casino’s current buffet equipment package, but it is now being specced into future JEM Associates’ casino buffet projects, according to Egnor.
Buffet displays in the form of multiple food stations are a notable trend in dining options for special events, from weddings to food and wine tastings to corporate get-togethers. “We rarely set up traditional buffets or use chafing dishes for menu service at special events these days. More popular now are food stations that offer the opportunity for guests to sample a variety of menu items,” explains John McPhee, marketing director at Miami-based A Joy Wallace Catering Production. “The look of our food stations has recently moved towards clean lines — several years ago we were providing a lot of fluff and fabrics, but now we have stripped down stations to consist essentially of collapsible banquet tables covered with a simple satiny fabric, display equipment for food holding, clear plexi cubes used as tiered display platforms, and flowers or candles as decorative accents.”
The catering company frequently utilizes small cassette burners powered by butane cartridges for hot holding of menu items at event food stations. Chefs will use a 10-in.-wide, Teflon-coated cast-iron grill top for the burners when preparing an item such as the popular mini Cuban hamburgers (ground beef, chorizo and manchego cheese). Tuna tartare cones, another popular offering, are created by wrapping wonton skins around metal pastry tips and frying them to create mini cones that hold tartare mixture. The appetizer is displayed on a 41/2-ft.-long stainless tray sitting on 18-in.-high supports. The tray itself has small holes cut in the top and was created by the company to hold and serve the tuna tartare cones upright, which whimsically suggest ice cream cones.
“We’ve also created an ingenious way to transport knives and sharp-tonged serving forks to service destinations,” relates McPhee. While service spoons, tongs, knives and forks are transported in tool boxes, transporting sharp knives and forks loose in theses boxes created the potential for utensil damage and cuts to hands. Now, these tools are placed in clear plexi tubes with a stopper on one end and a screw top on the other, effectively sheathing sharp edges.
Food and wine enthusiasts who travel to the Sagamore Resort, located in Bolton’s Landing, N.Y., in the Adirondack Mountains, for the annual food and wine weekend in early April enjoy a first-night buffet spread of gourmet delights. Visiting chefs, wine purveyors and the Sagamore Culinary Team provide guests with dizzying choices in menus that range from crudités, hors d’ouevres and palate cleansers, through entrée selections, to desserts including artisanal cheeses.
This year, the featured special guest was Farmer Jones of The Chef’s Garden, where sustainable agricultural techniques provide specialty produce for the nation’s top chefs. In a nod to Farmer Jones, buffet display for the special event included stations decorated with seemingly haphazardly stacked produce boxes, topped with butcher-block boards or mesh screens to create various levels for food presentations.
“We wanted to provide guests with the feeling of visiting a farmer’s market,” says Sagamore’s executive chef, George Bargisen, who created the unique display concept. Raw and grilled vegetable crudités from The Chef’s Garden were an enjoyable starter for the evening’s menu offerings.
Guests at the special event could grab oyster and caviar shooters, served in thick glass cocktail glassware, or palate cleansing fruit shooters served in martini or champagne glassware. Bite-size hors d’ouevres such as foie gras forks with chocolate foam, or braised pheasant spoons with truffled lentil and quail’s egg were served on tableware with specially curved handles for ease of display and use. Entrée stations included buffalo carved on a butcher block equipped with an infrared warming lamp, organic chicken breast served from a classic banquet chafer, and pan-flashed escargot, prepared on skewers and held on a grill-topped cassette burner. The combination of the creative decorative display, and the variety and quality of delicious menu items and methods of holding and service, made for an impressive and enjoyable buffet-style event for all attendees.
Plenty of all-you-can eat, buffet-style menu offerings can be found in restaurants in New York City, and are sought out by those hungry diners who appreciate the good value and array of food choices that they provide. A number of Indian restaurants in Manhattan’s Midtown theatre district, such as Jewel of India Restaurant, offer luncheon buffets, generally including vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
At Jewel of India, luncheon buffet is assembled daily and served from one long table along the wall of the restaurant. Nine rectangular frames, fabricated to accommodate slide-in hotel pans of menu items prepared daily in the restaurant’s kitchen, include stainless covers, serving spoons, and sterno cans beneath to keep pans warm through luncheon hours. Customers may choose from four vegetarian and three non-vegetarian options daily served with rice and bread, including chicken acutti, vindaloos, curries or spinach in ginger and coriander. A separate draining ice trough holds fresh salad and cucumber and yogurt raita in glass bowls.
“We have been offering luncheon buffet at Jewel of India for over 15 years, so it is a tradition for our restaurant,” comments Manager Anand Gadkar. “The multiple choices offered in the buffet are a great way to introduce customers to different Indian dishes that they may not be familiar with, and if they enjoy our cooking, they may very well return to the restaurant to dine again.”