By Jenny Berg Posted December 6, 2011, 5:25 PM EST
CHICAGO At the Chicago Botanic Garden on Thursday night, servers wearing train conductor caps poured cotton candy martinis at stations dubbed “bar cars.” Guests sipped the sweet cocktails while checking out the garden's “Wonderland Express” exhibition, an annual display of miniature trains that inspires the holiday “All Aboard!” fund-raiser. Tickets went for $400 a head, and the function drew 325 guests. For the first time, proceeds will benefit the community garden programs Green Youth Farm and Windy City Harvest. Susan Tupper was chair, and Susan Spears was vice chair.
Each year, the event gets decor inspired by the idea of an international train voyage, with different dining areas channeling distinct locations. This year, Heffernan Morgan Ronsley brought elements of Sweden, Brazil, and India into the dining rooms. In the tranquil Stockholm room, centerpieces held tall, silvery branches. Servers wore turbans and distributed Indian flower necklaces in the Jaipur room, which was spruced up with golden chairs and silky purple linens. Palm leaves and bright tropical hues filled the Rio de Janeiro room, where servers wore colorful, ruffled tops inspired by traditional Carnival costumes. Music from the different countries formed soft soundtracks in each room.
Calihan Catering's menu also took inspiration from the international locales. Servers circulated with miniature pea and potato samosas, venison braised in juniper berries on brioche, wild mushroom and goat cheese strudels with balsamic syrup, and shrimp cakes with chili-lime cream sauce.
At one food station, staffers poured demitasse cups of butternut bisque, asking guests which room they were seated in for dinner to determine the kind of toppings they got on their soup. The ethnic finishes included vanilla skyr (an Icelandic cultured dairy product), roasted pumpkin seeds spiced with garam masala, and papaya relish. The evening's beneficiaries provided the micro greens and produce.