The duo behind Pinch Food Design get people talking by treating the parties they cater like stage sets, with their inventive party food ideas as the star.

April 28, 2012

Finding unexpected uses for everyday objects is thrilling," says TJ Girard, the designer and co-owner of the Manhattan catering company Pinch Food Design. Whether looking in hardware stores or high-end design shops, she finds surprising ways to serve food—screwing cabinet knobs into reclaimed wood to create pedestals for hors d'oeuvres, say. When she can't repurpose, she creates from scratch, designing pieces like acrylic trays with honeycomb cutouts so canapés don't slide around when passed (one of her party-food pet peeves).

Girard and her business partner, Bob Spiegel, are quite different—she's a 30-year-old former set designer, he's a 30-year veteran of the catering business—and they push each other (with a good bit of bickering) to reinvent the status quo. A few of their ideas are inspired by restaurant trends: At chef's tables, for example, cooks assemble hors d'oeuvres where guests can watch.

As for the food, Spiegel wants to surprise people more with form than flavors. "I think about how to create familiar dishes in an architectural way," he says. Sometimes, he simply turns an hors d'oeuvre on its side, like stacks of blini layered with crème fraîche and topped with caviar. Other times, Girard adds the architecture—for instance, setting tacos in a piece of wavy crown molding. A perk: There's no way the food can slide.

Provocative Party Food Ideas

Using her background in theater-set design, TJ Girard comes up with dramatic ways to present chef Bob Spiegel's delicious riffs on comfort food.

Party Food Ideas: Taco Station

Taco Station

"I love serving food in nooks and valleys," says Girard. When Spiegel wanted to set up a taco bar, Girard realized that wavy crown molding from a lumber store would be perfect for holding the tortillas. She sets the toppings in resin bowls by Tina Frey. Bowls from $156;

Party Food Ideas: Pretzel Pop-Up

Pretzel Pop Up

To capture the fun and energy of a restaurant pop-up, servers circulate with foods for only a few minutes. Here, they offer soft pretzels hanging on hooks on a thin copper pipe from a hardware store.

Party Food Ideas: Adjustable Tray

Adjustable Tray

Girard designed a number of trays to prevent food from sliding around—one of her pet peeves. For instance, she sets magnetic tacks on a white stainless steel strip and places a doughnut around each one. $8 for 6 Magnutz, $13 for a white Mighty Magnet Strip;

More Party Food Ideas:

Party Food Ideas: Comfort Food Appetizer Recipes

Comfort Food Appetizers

Party Food Ideas: 30-Minute Hors d'Oeuvre Recipes

30-Minute Hors d'Oeuvres

Party Food Ideas: Make-Ahead Cocktail Party Recipes

Make-Ahead Cocktail Party Recipes