by Andrea Doyle | October 04, 2016
During a top producer dinner for real estate company RE/MAX INTEGRA this past April, 53 culinary staff members from D'Amico Catering in Minneapolis left their stoves, and took center stage.

"We wanted this to be out of the box -- not your average sit-down-in-a-hotel kind of event," says Shannon Hicks, events manager for RE/MAX INTEGRA. "It had to be a really unique, interactive evening that would wow the group."

And wow it did.

Held in Aria, in the heart of the Warehouse District in downtown Minneapolis, with original brick walls, cavernous ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and whimsical artwork, the decor was minimal as all eyes were on the chefs on stage.

"Catering usually happens behind the scenes," explains Rachel Bruzek, D'Amico Catering's senior creative event and trend specialist. "We took the open-kitchen concept and put it on a stage. There were monitors throughout the room so the guests could see the chefs' every move."

As the 175 attendees watched in amazement (and anticipation), the chefs produced a 12-course menu of intricately designed dishes, working at four lines of tables on stage. Just as important as the food was to the event was the music, as the chefs paired specific songs to each course. Many even broke out into dance as they created their dish, with the guests following suit. The waitstaff got in on the fun too, even breaking into the Macarena at one point.

"As we were figuring out what we wanted to do, we considered musical acts, comedians, and artists who would create paintings on site," says Hicks. "We wanted the group to have an experience that couldn't be duplicated -- an event that they would feel honored to be invited to -- so we decided to take all our efforts and resources and put them into the dinner to make it truly unique."

Real estate is a time-consuming profession. This was taken into consideration by opening the event up to guests. "We understand the sacrifices spouses make and wanted to recognize them as well," explains Hicks. That's why the event had to be something that everyone would enjoy and not too industry-focused.

"This group has gone to every venue imaginable," says Bruzek. "They have had plated meals, buffets, they have experienced it all."

The group consisted of RE/MAX INTEGRA's top salespeople who reached a specific production level in 2015, and the planners felt a culinary offering like something from Travail Kitchen and Amusements, an intimate restaurant just outside Minneapolis, would be perfect.

Bruzek, along with a handful of chefs from D'Amico, headed to this popular eatery for inspiration. "We watched what was being served and our ideas just started flowing," says Bruzek.

The biggest difference being that 175 were being served at the RE/MAX INTEGRA event in one venue -- without a kitchen.

Each course was intricately designed with items that were unusual and surprise elements sprinkled throughout. What appeared to be Asian cuisine was actually Mediterranean. For example, bao, a type of Asian bun, was more Alsatian in flavor. During this course, servers painted each plate with apple miso and then handed out Asian steamer baskets filled with the bao.

With the goal of activating all the senses, servers sprayed Yuzu mist with a citrus undertone in front of each guest before the fish course, getting their olfactory systems engaged.

Another course that appeared to be coffee and a roll turned out to be a red-eye soup served in a mini white espresso cup, with a savory ham-and-cheese roll.

Bowls containing sugarcane shrimp, king oyster mushroom, and abalone carpaccio were placed in front of each guest for the soup course. They were then topped off with broth that chefs poured in each to complete the dish.

For a palate cleanser, guests joined the chefs on stage, where each received a large, white Chinese soupspoon that was filled with créme fraiche panna cotta, black-pepper berries, aged balsamic, and crisp prosciutto one ingredient at a time.

Butlers passed handmade truffles that were served tableside out of cigar boxes. They had an added kick as they were filled with bourbon.

The dessert trio featured a candied bacon s'more tart, salted caramel, malted chocolate mousse, chocolate almond cake, passion fruit pearls, coconut mascarpone cheesecake filled with strawberry, and hibiscus gelée served on white rectangular plates. The last bite was sweet poutine, mini churros, warm Mexican chocolate gravy, and sweet cheese crumble, served in fryer baskets.

Not only were hot boxes brought on site but fryers as well, especially for the mini churros. "I have been managing RE/MAX events for nearly 10 years and have witnessed food and beverage increasingly taking center stage, but this event took it to a whole other level," says Hicks.