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[Weekender] Master of mini foods weaves design with fun

Peter Callahan’s petite comfort foods connect people at parties

Sitting at a dinner table with strangers, it is often hard to avoid the awkward silence.

You try to think of what to say but you are not sure what would be appropriate. This is when you turn to the one thing that is always safe as an ice breaker ― food.

Everybody is interested in food. Food is the universal medium of communication.

Peter Callahan, who is participating as a speaker at the Herald Design Forum that opens on Nov. 26, made his name as a food stylist by reinventing food into a fabulous medium of communication through design.

He runs Peter Callahan Catering, whose clientele include U.S. President Barack Obama and former U.S. vice president Al Gore.

To Callahan, the food he creates “gives people something to talk about and connects people.”

He is best known for miniature foods ― french fries not bigger than two-thirds of a finger and hamburgers the size of a coin.

He shrunk American comfort food such as mini grilled cheese, mini lobster rolls and cotton candy to pass as hors d’oeuvres at the fanciest parties.

“A crucial component of our success is making these normally large items such as a hamburger, one bite size so when you are all dressed up at a party it’s manageable while looking very original, new and stylish, even though it’s a common item like a hamburger,” Callahan said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
Peter Callahan
Peter Callahan

He sensed how guests at a fancy party often feel tired in their tuxedos and other elegant attire trying food they don’t know the names of.

“Food used to be somewhat intimidating at cocktail hours; it was serious ingredients and it wasn’t always clear what you were eating. This is the opposite; it’s fun and easily identifiable foods that make me people laugh,” he said.

It is much harder to make a mini hors d’oeuvre than its larger counterpart.

To make a miniature hamburger, for example, the buns needs to be not too tall; the patty must be the exact size of the bun; the lettuce needs to be visible but not too big; the cherry tomato cut very thin. 

“The most important thing that makes a small dish inspiring is that it must look exactly like its full size counterpart,” Callahan said.

“If the size and shape aren’t done exactly correct, it loses all benefits and has no value.”

What he does is not just about the visual. Callahan explores diverse ways to stimulate the five senses of guests and therefore create a more exuberant atmosphere.

For instance, having broths poured tableside to release aromas at the dinner table or a steam aroma of citrus under a glass dome over a fish course so guests can have the aroma rise up in unison as the domes are removed from the fish course can add delight to the ambience.

Callahan works together with not just inventive chefs but also artists and design majors who help create new looks for buffets, bars and hors d’oeuvre trays.

His plan for the future is to bring his food experience to as many people as possible worldwide.

“I would like to partner with hotels and resorts to bring my talents for food plus designs together with their amazing properties for parties. And in each region, to honor their food, design, heritage and culture in what I do,” he said.

“I plan on trying to make some miniature Korean food soon!”

By Kim Seong-hun and Kim So-hyun