This is my favorite station, in any professional kitchen ,as it is the area where the Garde Manger chef makes beautiful masterpieces for buffet tables or colorful and tasty canapés for a cocktail party. It has its practical and mundane work such as providing appetizers, cold soups, salads, and cold sandwiches to the dining area, but it is its artful and creative side that I love.
A three hundred pound block of ice gets transformed into a powerful, looking eagle or a gentle swan. Smaller blocks of ice are formed into dishes to hold shrimp or baskets of flowers. These become the center pieces for buffet tables. Some state fairs will feature blocks of butter which have been carved into people, animals, or other things to promote their dairy products. This too is the work of a garde manger chef. Besides ice and butter carvings, tallow can be used. Tallow is made from rendered fat, paraffin, and bees wax and can be carved into fascinating sculptures. These three types of carvings require knowledge, skill, special equipment and storage space.
Another form of art in this culinary area is Chaud-Froid buffet items. Chaud-froid means hot and cold in French and is used on whole cooked hams, fish, or poultry. and as a base on which elaborate decorations are placed. The chaud-froid sauce is basically a sauce made from mayonnaise and heavy aspic ( meat jelly made with gelatin) . It is not that difficult to do, but is very time consuming and tedious work.
A very easy, cheap, and rewarding way to display your artistic abilities is vegetable and fruit carvings. This is one area that my students used to enter into competition at state and national conventions of the youth organization, where they were all members. The only things you need to do this successfully is have imagination, a cutting board, and a good set of sharp knives. Apples can be made into birds for color to a cold cut tray, pineapples can be transformed into birds that hold fruit, or an acorn squash hollowed out for a dish for dips. Technically every kid that has carved a pumpkin for Halloween has done garde manger work. The flowers that I have made out of vegetables for previous pictures are all garde manger work.
One of my favorite fruits to use for this work is the watermelon, which can be easily made into a baby carriage for a baby shower. Viking ships from watermelon are popular at boys birthday parties and the donkey head fruit tray for young children’s parties. A safety note is that toothpicks are inserted into these pieces to secure them. These should be removed before the items are consumed. I did a whale from one for a Connecticut state affair as this is the symbol associated with Connecticut. ( The Whalers hockey team).I used a baby breath floral piece to depict the whales spray.
In lieu of flowers, edible fruit arrangements are now the “in thing”. This, too, is garde manger. So grab some fruits or vegetables and start creating. You too can have fun and be creative.