Tough times encourage culinary creativity

 - December 1, 2008, 6:12 AM

While the faltering economy may demand cost-cutting measures, caterers have not abandoned creativity.

Chef Rob Sobkowski at Silver Lining in Pompano, Fla., recently created cupcakes with the face of the client’s new baby. Sobkowski also happens to hold the world record for the largest Mickey Mouse made of popcorn. “If it’s not on the menu,” said Silver Lining director of marketing and sales Kris Goodman, “we’ll make it.”

Chef Steven Bergante at 121 In Flight Catering in Oxford, Conn., has developed an unusual popcorn coating for shrimp and chicken. Signature dishes include home-made pasta, braised short ribs and wood-fired pizza.

Sensations In-flight Catering in Saugus, Mass., just north of Boston, has reinvented the Caesar salad, according to partner Steve LaRosa. He calls it the “Sensational Caesar Cylinder.” It’s built in a hollow cylinder of shaved and roasted Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Inside the cylinder goes cut romaine lettuce, along with croutons, grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes and slices of bell pepper. The distinctive Caesar dressing comes on the side. “The ingredients come packaged separately, along with simple instructions for assembly and plating,” said LaRosa.

Many of the new items on the Sensations menu are from the mind of the caterer’s new chef, Gary Ghildar, who served in the kitchen of the ocean liner QE2 and has created “rice dishes beyond imagination and sea bass with layers of salmon.”

And to add to the mix, Sensations recently opened its own on-site bakery where three bakers are creating everything from croissants to muffins to specialty breads. More remarkable is a line of small cupcakes in a bewildering array of flavors and styles, including the bacon ’n’ egg with cherry wood-smoked bacon, maple frosting and bits of candied pecan.

Tastefully Yours continues to set aside time every Friday to try new recipes. One of the most popular recent creations is a spicy corn chowder, which can be embellished with the addition of crab or chicken to suit individual tastes.

“Tough times don’t destroy creativity,” said co-owner Paula Kraft. “They demand that you rise to the occasion with even greater creativity.”