Best of 2011: 6 Caterers Describe Their Most Inspiring Meals

December 20, 2011, 8:30 AM EST

Photo: Greg Powers

Six caterers describe the most inspiring meals they sampled this year.

“I went to this tiny restaurant in the Bordeaux region of France and had dinner at a French farm. It was the most incredible experience to see the cows and chickens, and know that your dinner was created completely there. It was complemented by the most wonderful wine, made up the road. My other most inspiring meal was fresh seafood pintxos, which I have brought back as a concept to use at Calihan Catering. Pintxos are like tapas, but from the Basque region of Spain. They are always made from fresh local ingredients and really showcase the flavors of the region.”
—Nash Calihan, director of operations, Calihan Catering, Chicago

“I dined at D.C. restaurant Rogue 24 with chef RJ Cooper. His unique blend of interesting ingredients and preparation techniques really amazed me. My favorite dish is one in which he freeze-dries foie gras and then adds lavender meringue, huckleberry gel, and vanilla-smoked sea salt.”
—Chap Gage, president, Susan Gage Caterers, Washington

“At Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, we were surrounded by the farm that grows much of the restaurant’s produce and rears its livestock. The food was incredible. The visit and the meal inspired me to keep growing Apple Street Farm [McClelland’s organic farm in Essex, Massachusetts] and incorporate the farm into all possible aspects of our service.”
—Frank McClelland, C.E.O., Au Soleil Catering, Boston

“My partner and I happened upon Full of Life, a charming artisan bakery and restaurant, on the central coast of California. The menu is composed of seasonal fare prepared in a wood-burning oven. We enjoyed prosciutto wrapped and burrata-stuffed artichoke with fava beans, the fig and stinging nettles flatbread, and the Los Alamos s’more, composed of oven-roasted homemade marshmallows and chocolate espresso cookies.”
—Mary Micucci, owner, Along Came Mary, Los Angeles

“A brunch at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Las Vegas was remarkable in its simplicity of presentation on the menu and on the plate. Tip of the Tongue co-owner Scott Fagan ordered chicken and waffles— served with a succulent chasseur sauce and Tahitian vanilla bean butter—and I ordered eggs Benedict, perfectly poached and served over house-made, crispy biscuits with a fantastic hollandaise sauce. The meal reminded us that quality always rises above trends and gimmicks.”
—Eric Mcintyre, co-owner, Tip of the Tongue, New York
“In New Delhi I saw a street market vendor sitting cross-legged on the pavement doling out spiced chickpea curry called chole and condiments. In a few minutes, he served about 35 people, filling banana leaf bowls according to each customer’s desires. I found the economy of space dizzying, as were the flavors he could create out of his tiny compact 'storefront.'”
—Wendy Pashman, owner and founder, Entertaining Company, Chicago

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