The secret to a great party platter is delicious food served with a heaping creativity. Innovative caterers and kitchen suppliers say it's easy to make more with less: It all begins with marrying the right idea with the right equipment.
Veteran catering manager Sue Migeot of Jamie and Jacob Catering in Naples says perfecting party platters is about telling a story. She suggests home cooks think about design as much as they do the cuisine when they plan the platter.
"I like to create a vignette, because assembling party platters is creating a display," she says. "You have to look at the fabric, lighting and color and we use a lot of glass in our platters — glass allows color to come through so people appreciate the cuisine and not just the decor."
One way Migeot draws attention to her platters is varying them in height easily by using tall, narrow glass tubes and martini glasses.
"Especially in designing a winter holiday table, one way to put the food on display is to create risers so you have different platters at different heights," she advises. "People notice food on risers right away and that helps tell the story of the cuisine and event, instead of just having a flat table."
Migeot says attention to detail is what makes a platter special, and in Naples, that's easy to do with the abundance of natural decorations found practically on every street corner or in every backyard.
"For the home cook who is designing a party platter, I encourage them to think about all the things he or she has available — like orchids or other local flowers for example — which make a beautiful statement alongside many dishes and add color to the platter," she suggests.
Migeot often creates some of her most memorable party platters with a few martini glasses and a sheet of glass, and she then uses simple ingredients to accent the table according to the season.
"One of the best tricks to highlight the holiday season and make a table look beautiful is fake snowflakes," says Miegot, who uses Buffalo Snow Eco Flurries, which are carried by Sears or available online.
"For a recent event we used it in empty martini glasses and then used the glasses to hold up sheets of glass — it's simple but elegant and really lends a little nostalgia to the table, and you can fill the glass containers in the same way with flowers or ornaments or whatever matches your event or season."
Dave and Debbie Schwarz own The Good Life kitchen and dining supplies in Naples and have three generations staffing the store, including son Scott, his wife Trish and their daughter Heather.
"We have some wonderful platters for entertaining and one of my favorites is a wine barrel top that's been converted into a Lazy Susan," says Debbie Schwarz. Each wine barrel top Lazy Susan is one of a kind and bears the identifying information of the vintage and winery.
It's one of the many platters The Good Life sells that requires no dressing up or modification, because the platter is the décor. For example, Florida Gators fans can purchase elegant alligator serving platters ($175) at The Good Life with related accessories.
Another popular party platter ensemble is the crab and lobster boil set at The Good Life, which includes a turnkey boiling pot, accessories and serving utensils. For those who prefer a spicy holiday platter, the Schwarzes sell pepper-themed party platters with matching hot and mild serving dishes and cactus and sombrero salt and pepper shakers with matching jalapeño dip dish and spreader.
The Good Life offers in-store cooking classes and demonstrations, and private cooking parties for as many as 15 people. At least one upcoming classes is holiday-centered: a "Festive Holiday Appetizers" cooking class Dec. 14.
Green home cooks are going crazy for bamboo, and for less than $15, Totally Bamboo makes a puzzle platter that doubles as a functional tray allowing guests to receive passed hors d' oeuvres and hold onto a cocktail without struggling between them. The party guest holds the elongated handle while the open notch at the end of the plate holds a wine glass. Hosts can also interlock the puzzle platters together, fill them with food and use it as an elongated stand-alone platter. They're available from the Good Life as well.
For home cooks on a tight budget, party platter treasures may be hiding in the pantry. For example:
■ Repurposing everyday items can add emphasis and create atmosphere on a bare platter. Nashville's 1808 Grill serves its special pound cake accouterments of blueberries and fresh whipped cream in old metal measuring cups that add a touch of whimsy to the plate.
■ Cookie cutters make great table decorations and reflect holiday lights, as do small glass bowls filled with colorful Christmas candy.
■ Small colanders make charming serving bowls for blueberries and other fruit as part of a build-your-own dessert bar.
■ Shells make great serving bowls for peanuts, pistachios and sweet gherkins. Wash thoroughly and arrange them with other nautical materials like fishing netting, to transform a plain fish platter into a seafood feast.
Naples Ships Store in Crayton Cove has a large collection of natural shells and maritime collectibles. If the budget allows, supplement seafood platter décor with a compass or small ship model from the store.
Where to buy
■ The Good Life, 2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 176 (northwest corner of Vanderbilt Beach Road and Airport-Pulling Road), Naples; 239-239-514-4663
■ Naples Ships Store: 830 12th Ave. S., Naples; 239-649-0899
■ Sears: Coastland Center, 2000 U.S. 41 N., Naples; 239-643-9300