CAMBRIDGE — “Go for the drama,” says Robert Harris of Season to Taste Catering. The chef and owner arranges serving dishes on a large table, placing some of them on top of upside-down bowls and wooden slabs to give them height. Anything on a buffet, he says, looks more appealing displayed at different levels. “When it’s flat,” he says, “nothing pops out at you.”
This multi-dimensional presentation is perfect for showcasing what the chef calls “The Big Table of Awesome Stuff,” an array of antipasti featuring salads and dips, an assortment of pickled, raw, and roasted vegetables, local cheeses, charcuterie such as salami, prosciutto, and pate, breads, crackers, mustards, and jams. The goal is to create a vision of abundance, yet the selection is practical.
The 42-year-old chef worked at a handful of area restaurants before founding his company eight years ago. In that time, he’s learned what hosts can accomplish without busting the budget. If you’re giving a party, he advises being “all set up and ready to go” well in advance of guests’ arrival. With his cornucopia on The Big Table, the spread looks like a host fussed much more than he or she has to.
The time frame for your soiree will ultimately determine what and how much you serve. A party scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m., says the caterer, usually means cocktails and appetizers. An invitation starting at 8:30 p.m. implies dessert and champagne. But if the event starts at 6 or 7 p.m., “You need to provide dinner for your guests, especially if they’re drinking,” he says. “If you don’t want to go to the expense or effort, then adjust your timeline.”
One idea for dinner-hour parties is a crepe station. Inspired by a family trip to Paris about two years ago, Harris says that all you need for affordable crepes is an electric griddle. Set out a stack of crepes you made the day before, and a selection of fillings, and let guests assemble and cook their own. “It’s hot and fresh and fun,” he says.
Another simple entree is a roast side of salmon or bluefish, seasoned with warm spices like coriander and cumin. The caterer is not a big fan of sliced meats on a buffet table because they sit out and lose their appetizing quality after a while. But a hearty casserole or stew, kept hot in a chafing dish or on a warming tray, is a nice make-ahead entree.
Party fare doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be inspired and plentiful. A little novelty thrown into the mix also goes a long way.
Season to Taste Catering, 2447 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-826-9037, www.seasontotastecatering.com.
Lisa Zwirn can be reached at email@example.com.