Presentation Genius or Lucky Break?

By Nicole Burke

It is said “you eat with your eyes first” so creating a lasting first impression, is the key to getting the guests to not only try the food, but love it, Instagram it & talk about on social media. Let’s face it, the landscape of food service has changed in the past years. Everyone is a “foodie” pinning pictures of the latest and greatest. So as caterers and planners, you have to dig deep for innovation and big ideas. But where do the ideas come from?

Three sources of inspiration we stem from at Emelle’s Catering are Necessity,  Special Request,  Environment.


Catering presentation is made from necessity. While I am not admitting to anything (we have never been guilty of leaving the shop without a platter or two) what you have to simply make up, based on what’s available on location becomes the most inventive. Since the biggest challenge we face is the logistics of making a dish work on-site – when you are forced to react, you get to try it, without over thinking. You don’t have any other choice!  Consider one of our favorite canapes – our micro fork scallops.  WHAT!?!, the bamboo picks didn’t get packed.  Hmm, something needs to hold these together. What do we use instead? We have cocktail forks, let’s try these.  VOILA!  While the size of fork, wasn’t ideal the first time, we went back to our supplier to ask if there such a thing as a micro fork?

Special Request

Client: I am having a garden party and want it to be over the top & cool. But I only want vegetables and dip.
Me: OK, over the top vegetables & dip, got it.

Ok, so… vegetables & dip is nothing new and has been done since the dawn of time, but in 2001 when wheat grass was making its way to juice bars and becoming trendy, (and incidentally was about the time of this request) we took a simple order and made it new again by using wheatgrass, a crate, carved carrot crocuses and radish roses. Garden’y; right? The guests loved it. In fact raved so much, that even today, some 15 years later, it is still one of the most requested, signature items we offer. While this is a simple example, it our goal to customize to suit special requests. That’s what’s fun and challenging about the entire process.


If you can’t find a theme, just look around! We draw much of our inspiration from the venues we work in. Be it a heritage building inspiring food presentations with old world charm or a museum, evoking visions of west coast first nations, we take direction from the color pallet, greenspace or natural décor elements which allow us to build presentations to fit the space. Recently we had the pleasure of working with Christopher J Designs on an event at the Museum of Anthropology. Once again we were serving vegetables & dip along with cheeses. To create something really unique, Christopher brought a canoe as one of the statement pieces. So instead of a table with a linen, we created the “look” to the fit the space. You can build from there, adding wooden boards, complimentary colors, signage that draws the eye. Anything that adds color and texture will help make the “staples” ever more special.

Nicole Burke
Nicole has been with the Emelle’s Catering since 2001. Much can be said about Nicole, but what tells the story most, is her personal tag-line  “Smiling at Strangers since 1977”. In addition to her work with Emelle’s, Nicole has worked with Capilano College’s Continuing Education. Department, facilitating special event planning workshops.