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These 2024 CATIE Awards Winners Took Us on the Ultimate Sensory Journey

As caterers, we know that there’s more to a plate than the way it tastes. Every dish is a mix of art and science, masterfully combining flavors, colors, textures, and more. This year, the International Caterers Association introduced two new awards categories to the CATIE Awards that truly celebrated the sensory journey culinary excellence can take you on: Best Main Course Plate Presentation and Best Dessert.

Today, we’re sharing the behind-the-scenes of the 2024 finalists’ thought processes in creating gastronomic experiences that delighted guests and their taste buds.

Finalists for Best Main Course Plate Presentation

Each of these finalists reimagined familiar ingredients to cultivate a never-before-experienced dish, providing guests with a meal and an experience.

WINNER: Dish Food & Events, "Carrot Wellington"

More and more, caterers are being asked to answer the question, “What’s the vegan option?” And the team at Dish Food & Events wanted the vegan option for this client’s event to be more than an afterthought of sides plated into a “meal.” Their goal: challenge the idea that a vegan dish can’t be a star on its own, both visually and in taste. That’s where the concept for their Carrot Wellington was born. 

Carrot Wellington. Photo courtesy International Caterers Association/Dish Food & Events

The challenges 

Naturally, recreating a traditionally hearty, meaty dish like a Wellington is going to be a challenge when all the ingredients are 100% vegan. They sourced Dufour Plant-Based Puff Pastry, which was difficult to find, made the chestnut cream with oat milk, and created the duxelles with brown cremini and baby portobello mushrooms. The positive here is that the challenges were at the forefront, and the actual execution of the dish on-site was fairly simple. 

The execution 

On-site was the easy part for this dish. After mastering textures and components to ensure the vegan option shone just as bright as the meat option, plating was the last element. The sauce was served room temperature, the Wellington rolls were pre-sliced ahead of time, and they added dill oil from a squeeze bottle for an earthy green element that provided a bit of visual flair. Rather than serving with the puff pastry on top, they served three open slices so the colors of the vibrant carrots were the star of the dish.

The JDK Group, "Autumn's Bounty"

The JDK Group created another culinary masterpiece. This time with their Sous Chef’s dream venison dish. When their client sought out a unique fall celebration entree for her 60th birthday, they knew they had to make a feast about it by spotlighting grass-fed venison mixed in with a memorable flavor profile for 50 of her guests. It was executed with extreme precision and delivered a true testament to the season’s bounty. 

Autumn's Bounty. Photo courtesy International Caterers Association/The JDK Group

The challenges 

As with any work of art, it’s sometimes the smallest details that turn out to be the biggest challenges. In this case, getting the carrots to stay standing upright to create the “forest” landscape on the plate was the toughest element. Each dish was carefully plated with enough support from the venison medallions and Jerusalem artichokes so they stayed put for an Insta-worthy finish.

The real kicker is that all of this masterful plating artistry was executed in a single-car garage at the client’s residence. Because of the level of expertise required to pull off the vision, they couldn’t pre-plate as they usually would in a scenario like this. So instead, they mapped out stations in the garage beforehand so everyone had enough space to make it happen for the client. 

The execution 

According to The JDK Group team, the dish required careful planning, a lot of hand movement, and balance. The carefully placed set of grass-fed venison medallions were grounded in a mix of vibrant and earthy colors from the juniper berry, fennel, and bourbon reduction. The standing component of the heirloom carrot aigre doux was truly unique as it provided an inverted look at how this root vegetable naturally grows in the earth. Then, the Jerusalem artichokes and young garlic confit element provided a potential element of surprise for guests who never experienced Jerusalem artichokes before. The team then drizzled parsley oil at the base for added flavor and vibrancy. As they explained, “A season’s harvest presented on one plate.”

Colette's Catering & Events, "Beyond Accommodation: Our Moroccan Cauliflower Steak"

Similar to Dish Food & Events, the Colette’s Catering & Events team created this dish to meet the ever-evolving demands of clients in the culinary space. They wanted the vegetarian option to go “beyond accommodation” to be a dish that meat lovers would actually order and enjoy as well. 

Beyond Accommodation: Our Moroccan Cauliflower Steak. Photo courtesy International Caterers Association/Colette's Catering & Events

The challenges 

Creating this dish at scale for large events is difficult because the timing needs to be impeccable to maintain the appeal and freshness of the dish. To ensure a consistent flavor profile and consistency, the team had a strategic plan that incorporated pre-event prep, as well as on-site coordination and continuous checks before serving. 

The execution 

The team used precision in grilling to achieve a tender yet firm texture, evoking the essence of a steak dish. Before being grilled, the dish was masterfully seasoned with complex Moroccan-inspired seasonings. After, it was plated atop garbanzo beans with fresh grilled shishito peppers, microgreens, and a drizzle of chili oil to finish.

Finalists for Best Dessert 

A sweet finish comes in many forms, and all of this year’s finalists embraced fresh fruit as the focus for their delectable endings!

WINNER: Forte Belanger, "Strawberry Four-Play"

This sweet strawberry dessert was the final dish of a private five-course Valentine’s Day dinner. And it was the swoon-worthy plate that stole the hearts of everyone in attendance. This plate mirrored the elegance and sophistication of the four-course wine pairing menu that preceded and featured:

  • Strawberry gelee with vanilla bean cream in a crispy chocolate tart shell
  • Strawberry shortcake with slow-roasted strawberries
  • Strawberry ice cream topped with strawberry leather candy
  • Strawberry soda with a strawberry sugar cloud to savor as the final sips of the night 

Strawberry Four-Play. Photo courtesy International Caterers Association/Forte Belanger

The challenges 

The room was filled with discerning palates, and the chef knew this dish needed to wow. The level of creativity required to showcase one single ingredient and demonstrate its complexity in four different ways in one dish was no small feat. Overall, the various components took over 1,000 tries to get right—and they only had three weeks to make it happen from booking to execution. Plus, every element was cooked and plated live in front of guests in darkness at the dinner. Talk about a heart-stopping moment! 

The execution 

The Forte Belanger team tried 30+ different serving dishes before landing on a black slate plate. They chose this presentation because it elevated the brightness of the strawberries and seemed to be the most fitting frame for the four mini works of art on the plate. They added dehydrated strawberry dust, gold shavings, strawberry leather, and drizzles of puree to truly make the dish pop off the slate canvas.

The JDK Group, "Sous Vide Vanilla-Infused Pear"

With a local, seasonal focus for a central Pennsylvania dinner, The JDK Group team knew they needed to feature a pear for the dessert course. Their goal was to showcase familiar ingredients but in a new way—and that started with a vanilla-infused pear focal point. 

Sous Vide Vanilla-Infused Pear. Photo courtesy International Caterers Association/The JDK Group

The challenges 

How do you present one of the most common fruits in a way that surprises and delights? After testing over 10 different concepts, the team landed on using a whole pear that was hollowed out at the bottom and could be filled with a delightful surprise—the surprise being a rich, delectable burgundy anglaise cream. Then, they plated it with pea flower foam that needed to be re-frothed every two minutes, which was a level of complexity that required strong planning. By hosting team stand-ups prior to the event that mapped out the timing for every step, they pulled it off without a hitch. 

The execution 

The pears were cooked via sous vide in vanilla syrup to infuse the warm vanilla flavor into the sweet fruit. Then, they were each hollowed out so they could be expertly filled with the burgundy anglaise from a piping bag. Not only was the cream a delightful surprise, but it also helped the pear stay upright.

After each pear was cooked and stuffed, it was then carefully placed in the center of each dish and surrounded with pea flower foam. To keep this element the right consistency for the presentation, it needed to be frothed every two minutes and then meticulously swept around the base of the pear. Three small dollops of lychee gelee were incorporated around the pear base before a garnish of fresh sorrel was added.

Blue Plate, "Citrus Inception"

When it comes to art on a plate, this citrus-centric dish was a home run. The Blue Plate team’s goal was to create a lemon meringue pie-type flavor but with Asian influences. 

Citrus Inception. Photo courtesy International Caterers Association/Blue Plate

The challenges 

The biggest challenge was transporting this complex dessert so all components made it to the venue for plating in one piece and at the perfect temperature. The team had to work out specialized packaging and transportation measures to prevent shifting or damage. 

The execution 

Several components went into crafting this artful plate. First, the centerpiece was prepared with lemon cream prepped and poured into once ounce spheres and frozen. Then, the yuzu mousse was piped into a lemon-shaped mold along with the frozen lemon cream spheres and frozen again. Finally, the glaze had to be applied at exactly 86 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve the exact layers of flavor, texture, and visual appeal the team desired for the client. No small feat!

Dreaming of artful creative plates for your own team? If you want to be inspired by even more International Caterers Association CATIE Awards finalists, see the entire list here. It’s also never too early to start dreaming up your 2025 submissions! Join the International Caterers Association today to be alerted when submissions open this fall. 


International Caterers Association

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