Merion GC’s Executive Chef shares tips for building modern buffets.
Buffets are an essential service style. But to display buffet food, chefs are moving away from chafing dishes, which are now viewed as old-fashioned and boring.
Instead, buffets now feature a series of service styles to showcase the variety of dishes being served, including chef-manned action stations and clever plating presentations with more attractive vessels.
At Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., Executive Chef Jerry Schreck—who is also a regular contributor to Club & Resort Business—goes above and beyond to create modern buffets without chafers that are much more aesthetically pleasing. Doing so allows Merion members to enjoy both the food and the culinary team’s inventiveness.
“Chaferless buffets can be really flexible,” says Schreck, who will present on this topic at the next Chef to Chef Conference in New Orleans, March 12-14, 2019. “They allow us to create a different and innovative look. They force us to think outside the box, and they often surprise and delight our members.”
Before taking away the chafers, however, food safety must be considered. “Don’t go chaferless if you have a buffet open for an extended period of time,” says Schreck. “In situations where the buffet has to be open for a couple of hours, chafing dishes are necessary.”
But when it’s safe to do so, modern technology can offer a number of other heat sources for buffets, including direct or indirect heat, canned fuel, steam, butane, torch, electric and induction.
“It’s possible to continue to cook proteins and keep caramelization when you go chaferless, as long as you use the correct process,” says Schreck. “The biggest challenge in tending to the food is that it must be constantly refreshed.”
Once the proper temperature controls are in place and safety is ensured, Schreck suggests that chefs unleash their creativity and think boldly as they create displays to “wow” members and guests.
“At Merion, the culinary team designs and builds the buffet displays, so there is less repetitiveness or following standard diagrams, and more ingenuity,” says Schreck.
“Plus, chaferless buffets keep the crew engaged and gets them in front of the members,” he adds. “Re-traying and rearranging food creates more culinary interaction, which is entertaining in its own way.”
Planning and plating are also critical to success.
“Be creative and develop a plan,” says Schreck, who suggests using pans, ceramic bakeware and other interesting plating vehicles to enhance the look of the food being served. “You can present a lot of different foods using induction and a stainless-steel paella pan or a cast-iron pan,” he notes.
Risers can also enhance the look, because buffets are usually more captivating if members’ eyes are drawn to different levels.
“The goal is always to make the food the star of every buffet,” says Schreck, who uses many different materials to create displays for every conceivable requirement. “The creative possibilities are endless.”