Catering a Grand Opening Event

Another in our popular series, Designer’s Notebook.

By Melissa Johnson

The deeper meaning behind certain events can unexpectedly make the task at hand spiritually fulfilling. It became apparent during our first walk-through that we were being honored with the great task of producing a very significant event, as well as handling the catering a grand opening. Our goal had to keep The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (informally known as The James) mission and purpose at the forefront of the evening.

Our first meeting gave us descriptive words such as: innovative, forward-thinking, hospitable, caring, world-renowned, one-of-a-kind, cancer fighting, healthy, local, and seasonal.

We also secured a list of objectives from the client:
• Leverage the opening of the redesigned cancer center to host a special, high impact, premier fundraising event celebrating this important moment in time, which falls outside the hospital’s current fund-raising events;
• Provide a sneak peek of the hospital to 600 donors, advocates and leaders;
• Take guests through a cocktail hour, timed tours, food stations, bistro experience and dessert between 6:30 and 10:00 pm on a Thursday in November.

The James lobby

A shot of the new lobby of The James as the guests began to arrive.

We toured the different floors as the James’ team described their vision of where to set up food and beverage, which is where we stopped them. In hindsight, we knew that eating would not be at the forefront of the guests’ minds while learning about the state-of-the-art equipment and care that patients receive. Instead of food, we suggested a simple water-only station on each floor for guests who might like a quick sip but were focused on the tour. We served cucumber and blueberry lavender infused water in glass beverage dispensers.

Our general approach with this event, as it is with all our events at Cameron Mitchell Catering, is to truly partner with clients. We don’t approach an event trying to over shadow it and highlight ourselves with food, beverage, service or décor that could detract from the event’s mission. We find we can still take the guests on a culinary journey while delivering our fresh-made, chef-driven cocktails all while making sure the client’s mission has top billing.

To that end, we put together an inspirational presentation for this client to introduce our ideas. We included a “Local + Healthy,” a “Heart-y,” and a “Go Vertical” station. The food would all be displayed in modern, sleek, creative and health conscious ways.


The evening’s most delectable hit: our signature flatbread

On the night of the event, guests received a grand entrance and cocktail hour in a 30-by-235-foot clear-topped tent carpeted in red. We served passed hors d’oeuvres and passed champagne. The tent served as a great place for all guests to gather with high energy synergy to watch the center’s video and messaging for this remarkable new hospital.

tent 2

The red tent all set up and ready for the guests’ grand entrance.

Guests proceeded into the vast lobby for food stations, designed with CORT Furniture tables, Lucite and metal risers and a variety of lighting elements, to await their tour time. Tours were signaled by LED wristbands guests received and wore upon entering the event. When wristbands lit up, they signaled guests’ tour time was ready to begin.

bistro james

Tables provided by CORT Furniture.

bistro james 2

A shot of the guests, seated after settling into the dining area.

The “Heart-y” station featured beef sliders, buttermilk buns with aged cheddar served with a sous vide jar of sweet potato puree, braised oxtail, Kona coffee reduction, crispy shallots and pea tendril garnish and a fried butternut squash ravioli, dandelion green pesto, white wine poached pear pearls on faux slate plates, Cedar plank Sockeye salmon, blistered tomatoes, and caramelized lemon wedges.

kobe sliders 2

Kobe beef sliders from the Heart-y station.

The “Local and Healthy” station featured sea bass skewers with salsa verde and zucchini ribbons, roasted crop vegetables, pickled hummus and shaved vegetable salad in little cups, cucumber noodles with asparagus, carrots, pickled red onion and ginger sesame sauce, as well as grilled flatbread bites, port wine onions, burrata, and sliced Fuji apples with sea salt.

sea bass skewer 2

Sea bass skewers with salsa verde and zucchini ribbons.

Ultimately, we decided not to go with the “Vertical Station,” but in its place we designed The James “Bistro.” The Bistro was a pop-up restaurant created on the upper level of the lobby to provide a mini-dining experience, served immediately when guests were seated. The tables were pre-set with miniature antipasti displays to give guests an instant bite. Then servers offered wine followed by a bistro plate of zucchini cannelloni and braised short rib. These guests were used to full gala events with plated dinners, so The Bistro was incorporated to include their past James’ event experience as well as keep the intimacy in this large space. Back in the tent, dessert was served — a large assortment of seasonal delights as well as an interactive stone fruit cobbler station.

Overall, the most important takeaway from the event was showcasing the hospital, which stands as such an important asset to its community. After the James sneak peek, guests left with a sense of pride and awe at this unique experience. We were honored to provide modern, delicious  and most of all healthy food to enhance their experience while the focus remained on the hospital’s mission.

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Melissa Johnson

Melissa joined Cameron Mitchell Restaurants in 1997 as an assistant manager. Within two years she was promoted to general manager, and the first female general manager of the company, at Martini Italian Bistro, in downtown Columbus. Cameron Mitchell has established itself as a premier caterer in Columbus and Central Ohio. As a restaurant company, Cameron Mitchell Premier Events attributes listening to its guests as the secret to its success. Melissa is also a lecturer for the Special Events class at Ohio State University and is chair of the Hospitality Management Advisory Board.

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