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October 2007
By: Angela Muņoz

Functionality? Check. Good looks? Check. When the dust settled, eight products—ranging from delightful dinnerware and melamine "quarry stones" to a buffet server and a classy spoon display—earned a spot in the winners' circle.

Bright and early at the publishing headquarters of Foodservice Equipment Reports in Skokie, Ill., we unleashed our panel of judges on the 51 submissions in this year's Tabletop/Servingware Competition. With eagle eyes and keen prowess, judges devoted hands-on, critical examinations to each product, hunting for unique, well-built items that serve a variety of applications.

Our three operator judges included Alan Lake, ex-ecutive chef for Cinetopia Theaters, Vancouver, Wash.; Tom Sandberg, executive chef for contract management company Guckenheimer, serving Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Deerfield, Ill.; and Cliff Wener, coordinator for Food Service Management and Culinary Arts program at the College of Lake County, Grayslake, Ill.

In addition to operators, three national dealer repre-sentatives contributed their expertise to our judging panel: Karyn Chylewski of The Boelter Cos. Illinois & Michigan, Lincolnwood, Ill.; Jim Rizzo of The Wasserstrom Co., Columbus, Ohio; and returning for a second judging stint, Sophia Rosillo, kitchens and buffets product manager for Edward Don & Co., North Riverside, Ill.

Each judge on this year's savvy team of foodservice professionals brought a unique perspective to product critiques. However, when it came down to determining which products stood out from the rest, it was apparent that distributors and operators are coming from different perspectives, and choosing the winners was a challenge. The diversity in scoring prevented many products from achieving maximum scores, hindering any one product from earning a consensus wow-factor award from the judges.

While dealers rallied for products with unique visual appeal, operators argued for those that were strong enough to handle the rigors of a kitchen. But as the judges made their way around the room to examine the selections, it became apparent that the best products would be those that could bring it all together, providing durability, versatility, and of course, innovative, eye-catching design.

So, without further ado, here are the eight products that rose to the top of the heap in this year's Table-top/Servingware competition.

Setting the scene for the judges in their pursuit of winning products was Elite Global Solutions' entry, Rocky Mountain High Display "stones," which offer the look and appeal of real granite. Since they're actually made of heavyweight melamine, the stones are much lighter and easier to handle. The display pieces come in black granite and rust granite colors. The stones are also available in four organic, irregular shapes for a display that is reminiscent of a natural, rocky terrain. Judges loved the durability and affordability of these natural-looking non-slip "stones." The display pieces are FDA approved and dishwasher safe.

Moving into contemporary tableware territory, judges appreciated the colorful, whimsical bowls of the Piacenza Collection by Orion Trading & Design. Piacenza's Italian designers took inspiration from leaves, shells and bow ties in creating the line. The two-color pieces draw from a peacock palate of red, orange, blue, green and violet and delivered a quick way to capture judges' attention, as with Chef Lake, who "loved the look."

The collection's five-layer thermo-polymer construction makes Piacenza extra-resilient and light-weight. The multifunctional collection is fun, practical and perfect for indoor and outdoor occasions. Dishes are stackable and dishwasher safe.

Our next winner, Spring USA's Vision Buffet Server, had judges ooh-ing and ah-ing over its innovative concept and "workability." The glass see-through cover lets you view food without opening the container, and the cover's hydraulic axle allows it to open and close evenly and slowly (no chance of slamming) and helps to keep food warmer longer. The Vision Buffet Server is made of 18/10 stainless steel for a sleek, durable and totally practical display.

Narum/Steelite Int'l. drew praise this year for an impressive total of three winning collections: First up, Aria Dinnerware, which caught one judge's eye for its "great, clean look." The whiteness and high translucency of Narumi bone china is attributed to its high percentage of bone ash content. While most bone china is comprised of as little as 25% bone ash, Aria Dinnerware contains 47% bone ash, which also adds strength.

From Steelite's Rene Ozorio Collection, Aura Sushi Tableware grabbed attention for its elegance. This "beautiful" collection, as one judge described it, is made of blue-white porcelain and finished with a high-gloss glaze. The curved, rectangular and square-footed sushi dishes provide the perfect canvas for presenting sushi, wasabi, ginger, sauces and other colorful appetizers, desserts or side dishes.

Also from Steelite, the Spyro Distinction Collection is clean and classic. Glossy white dinner plates feature a spiral-like embossed rim surrounding a soft shoulder and well to complement any food presentation. Backed by the five-year Edge Chip Warranty, this durable collection stands up to microwaves, freezers and dishwashers.

Another winner praised for style and versatility, The Vollrath Co.'s Double Wall Insulated Cocktail Shakers impressed judges who could see potential for table service beyond the typical martinis and cosmopolitans. One judge said the shakers could be a creative and attractive way to serve your guests soups and sauces at the table. The shakers are made of 18/8 stainless steel and their double wall construction eliminates condensation for a secure and comfortable grip. Other features include a rubber gasket which prevents leaking and an easy pull-off top. The shakers are dishwasher safe and come in three unique styles: square, oval and fluted.

And last, but absolutely not least, from WMF of America, the Spoon Tree stood tall among the jungle of products in the tabletop competition. As "spoon service" becomes increasingly more popular in high-end dining, this piece is an innovative, artistic way to present creams, fish, and sauces. The Spoon Tree may also be used for hors d'oeuvres and appetizers or as a dessert stand for stand-up receptions, or for a buffet experience that's fun and simple. Spoons and stand are 18/10 stainless steel and dishwasher safe.

Alfi/Service Ideas is a finalist this year with the Cool Bottle. The name attests to the bottle's ability to keep cold drinks cold, and to its unique translucent exterior that lets you see through to the color and level of the beverage inside. The Alfi Cool Bottle holds 25½ oz. and features an extra-large opening for pouring or refilling. The Cool Bottle comes in five accent colors: water blue, cherry red, milky white, orange and ice tea. Now that's cool.

With its clean white porcelain color and natural, round, teardrop and leaf-shaped designs, the Compliments dinnerware collection from Bauscher gives you options. The new line, debuted in May, lets you mix and match Compliments plates, platters, and bowls with other pieces of china you may already own. Compliments provides a flattering backdrop for food without dominating presentation. The plates are backed by a five-year warranty against metal marks, cuts and abrasions.

Bauscher's Induction-Ready Porcelain was another finalist this year for its innovative contribution to heated plateware. The well of the plate, which has a silver alloy decal permanently bonded to the back, heats up to 190°F within 8 secs. when placed atop an induction unit. The rims, however, remain completely cool to the touch. Induction-Ready Porcelain, first released in May, is ideal for fine dining, steakhouses, room service and non-traditional dining locations. The plates are backed by a five-year warranty.

Bon Chef fielded two finalists: First, the Three-Wall Cold Wave Miracle Bowl, so new that the company sent a prototype for judges to see. The Miracle Bowl keeps food cold for up to eight hours at room temperature: Just pop it in the freezer until the gel is frozen, fill with food and serve with confidence. Cold food stays safely cold for hours. And you don't have worry about condensation—the outer air-filled chamber of the bowl prevents the bowl from sweating. Choose from five sizes; capacities range from ¾ qt. to 10 qts.

If your buffet table needs a new way to showcase hot foods, then Bon Chef has another solution for you. The new Linking Alternate Heat Source lets you create your own custom layout and hot food display. The sturdy, stainless steel stands are perfect circles, but with just enough of a rounded cutout that lets you nest them together in a variety of ways. Underneath, fuel holders swing out to make loading and unloading canned fuel easy; the stands can also operate on electric power.

Miss Manners might not approve, but the new low-edge, open-corner feature on the Century Camtray from Cambro Mfg. makes for a laid back, rest-your-arms-on-the-table comfortable dining experience. The low-profile design helps the tray hold more items than traditional trays. The durable, fiberglass trays can be personalized with photo-quality images. Camtrays have greater stacking capacity than most other trays, are fast-drying and dishwasher safe. Choose from 14 color options in two sizes.

For on-the-go chefs and caterers, Candle Lamp Co. has developed the Folding Chafing Dish, which debuted as a prototype at the Tabletop Competition and as a ready-for-market product at The NAFEM Show this month. When you're traveling to an event with a van full of food, dishes and servingware, the collapsible legs of the stainless steel Folding Chafing Dish are a big space saver. They lock firmly in place during service, and fold under the serving area for transport and storage.

Nothing beats hot, fresh tortillas at the table when you're serving a Mexican dinner. But the traditional tortilla servers can take up space on crowded tables; where do you put the lid? Carlisle Foodservice Products' Hinged Tortilla Server solves that problem with, you guessed it, a hinged lid. The 7"-wide tortilla server is made of a thick-walled polypropylene that's microwavable and dishwasher safe. The stackable servers come in black, blue, green, red and terra cotta with an Aztec design on the lid.

"Sturdy," "modern shape," and "great price point" were some of the comments judges made about Carlisle's Rave Displayware. Each piece from this versatile collection gives you the look of fine china, without the breakage and replacement costs. The pieces are made of heavyweight, break-resistant melamine with skid-resistant feet. The black and white dishes come in an assortment of edgy shapes. Rave Displayware is dishwasher safe and safe for temperatures up to 212°F.

Also from Carlisle are the new Oval Melamine Ramekins and the Melamine Butter Dish. The oval shape of the 2-oz. ramekins lets guests neatly pour dressings or sauces or use it for dipping. The oval shape also takes up less space along the edge of a filled plate. Choose from black, bone or white. The wide mouth of the butter dish makes it ideal for 1-oz. pre-portioned servings of butter, wasabi, spices and other condiments while giving the illusion of a larger portion.

Caterers: Have you ever wished for a more convenient way to distribute plates and utensils all at once? Cater Brand's new Cater Plate provides plate, fork, spoon and knife all in one from a single piece of durable plastic. Utensils detach and reattach for a complete, color-matched place setting. There s even a notch in the plate for holding wine glasses. The plates come in nine jewel-tone colors. Dishwasher safe.

Consort Display Group marks its second year in the Tabletop Competition with a user-friendly upgrade to its table display product. The Podia Menu Pro shows off your daily specials in a durable polycarbonate freestanding form—but it's now designed as a one-piece unit. No more lids to lose, in other words. To use, just print your two-column menu on standard 8½" x 11" paper, fold lengthwise and slip it in through the opening at the bottom. The Podia is perfect for quick-serve and high-traffic restaurants, and you'll never again have to worry about missing pieces. Choose from 11" - and 8 ½" -high models, with gray or silver bases and tops.

Dover Metals submitted three entries this year, each offering an attractive way to maximize your display space. First up, Glass Risers are a simple and elegant for your food display to visually float above the table. Three graduated-sized plate-glass discs—each about 1/3" thick—are tiered on top of each other, supported by slip-proof, rubber-footed metal stands. The stands come in seven different finishes. Truly a modern, stylish look for your table.

Next up from Dover Metals: The Coffee Station Amenity Stand combines all the necessities for your daily morning brew service. The set includes two amenity stands holding rectangular baskets and bowls—perfect for sugar packets, packaged creamers, stirrers and more. An airpot holder and a drip tray complete the array. The vertical design maximizes table display space.

Finally, Dover Metals' Tapas Stand lets you serve (and show off) hors d'oeuvres and desserts. The 24"-high stand, topped by a decorative metal finial, rests atop a sturdy square base. Five metal arms hold 5"-square plates at varying heights. The steel stand can be powder-coated or copper- or chrome-plated. The Tapas Stand measures 15"W x 15"L x 24"H.

For a display that climbs as high, figuratively speaking, as the Rocky Mountains, Elite Global Solutions offers Rocky Mountain High Step-Up Risers. These rectangular quarry-stone look-alikes with their chiseled edges are actually made of durable melamine—perfect for display case use. Choose from five dif-ferent shapes, then stack and tier as needed. Elevate the platforms with non-slip, rubber-coated steel pedestal stands in 2", 3", and 4"heights. Use Step-Up risers under platters, bowls, or trays. Dishwasher safe.

Another eye-catching finalist was sent in by G.E.T. Enterprises, maker of all things melamine. G.E.T. has expanded its popular Geneva Series to include a line of sturdy, thick-walled bowls with attractively ribbed sides. You'd be hard-pressed to tell these from real china without touching them. The new Geneva bowls are available in red, black and white, come in at least four sizes and are dishwasher safe.

G.E.T. Enterprises' second entry scores a definite Big Apple theme. The New Yorker Series pairs eye-grabbing primary colors with an extra-glossy finish and a slightly ripply surface. Choose from black, cobalt, chocolate, ivory, red or yellow. Shapes include square plates and serving bowls, oval platters, round bowls and more.

More melamine displayware from G.E.T. Enterprises: The Soho Series offers a sophisticated, high-contrast alternative to china. Its black-on-white fleur-de-lis pattern fills the rims of square, rectangular and oval platters, bowls and plates. G.E.T. melamine products are dishwasher safe and break resistant.

Our next finalist, one of three from Gourmet Display, adds a new "spin" to tiered displays. The AG 360 Tier M features two tiered glass bowls—one large, one small—that can rotate 360° to provide easy access to food presentations and save space on the table at the same time. The rounded, yet slightly wavy square bowls sit atop a sturdy metal stand. Dishwasher safe.

Also from Gourmet Display is the Vine Tier Server. Designed to hold three square glass bowls, this tiered metal display stand draws inspiration from a climbing vine. Use it for whimsical presentation of desserts, candies, fruits and other foods. The metal stand is finished with a high-gloss, clear powder coat. Its built-in handle is designed to resemble a piece of the vine, making transportation all the easier.

A third finalist from Gourmet Display, the BH Cold Concept, offers a new take on cold displays. The clear, textured acrylic container resembles glass, but is more durable and lightweight. To use, fill the generously sized base with ice, place it in the metal stand, then at service time, rest a matching food-filled tray on top. An accompanying domed lid with handle protects food, while the ice keeps it plenty cold.

From Hollowick, Odyssey and Mirrored Platform Tealight/Votive Lamps are contemporary, compact ways to add candle ambience to the table. The Mirrored Platform Base uses the pyramid-shaped top to reflect candlelight from a mirrored inset. The Mirrored Platform Base may also be used with interchangeable globe tops. Featuring subtle curves and a brushed finish, the square Odyssey Base, paired with the inverted pyramid top, elevates candle-light a bit higher off the table.

For our next finalist, Marinex Tableware from Lancaster Colony Commercial Products, subtlety goes a long way. Made of fully tempered, shock-resistant glass, Marinex Tableware is clean, clear and simple, allowing attractive food presentations to take center stage. This durable selection is available in clear glass as well as special-order amber, blue or smoked glass colors to accent a variety of table settings.

From Mikon Int'l. comes the eye-catching Culinaires Concierge Collection. The display stands feature satin-finish steel plate risers supporting round or rectangular platters in ceramic, glass or in some cases, granite. Our judges admired the three-tier angled riser, which would look equally at home at a Renaissance Faire-type event or a black-tie dinner. Its accompanying bowls have saucy rims that are slightly higher in back. The line also includes stands for rectangular and round plates in heights from 3" to 9".

A "sleek look for a great price," said one judge of the Myco Elite Vacuum Carafe from Myco Tableware. These teardrop-shaped, steel-lined airpots and carafes have a mirror finish and are available in 20-, 34- and 51-oz. sizes.

Another finalist from Myco Tableware, the two-piece New Wave Table Number Stand does it all—i.d.-wise, we mean. It's designed to hold custom printed business card stock that can be printed from your computer. The "tent" piece is removable, so it can be placed directly on the table or atop a stand. Use it to reserve place settings, label tables or identify buffet items. Classy!

If you're looking for a tableware collection to set a fun, festive stage for food presentations, look no further than the European handmade Fused Glass Collection from Orion Trading & Design. This sassy collection of red, blue-, green- and yellow-accented glass tableware takes its charm from colors that are hand-applied and baked permanently into the glass. Choose from a wealth of innovative shapes, including round, domino, honeycomb, crescent moon and more. The pieces, which are microwave and dishwasher safe, add pizzazz to any event.

Another finalist from Orion Trading & Design, the Tequila Shot Flight offers all-for-one, one-for-all presentation of the popular drink. Cone-shaped glasses made of extra-thick glass float above the table in a rack that holds four 1½-oz. shot glasses plus a 4-oz. conical bowl for lime wedges. A built-in loop handle at the top makes this party drink easy to bring to and from tables.

Pickard China, maker of fine china for presidents and royalty, this year looked to the garden for inspiration. Its latest design, Wind and Wings, lets you mix and match designs. Choose from pieces edged with any of three butterfly patterns (Buckeye, Tiger Swallowtail or Monarch), dragonfly patterns (Yellow-Sided Skimmer, Green Darner or Saffron-Winged Meadowhawk) or a simple "wind" rim design. New buttercup- and copper-colored charger plates complete the

Next up is Polar Ware with its generously-sized Hand-Hammered Double Wall Party Tub. The double-wall construction prevents sweating and keeps ice from melting quickly while the hand-hammered exterior hides scratches and finger prints. The Party Tub is lightweight, durable, and "great for parties," as one judge noted. Just add ice, an assortment of your favorite beverages, and it's party time!

In addition to three winning products, Rene Ozorio/Steelite Int'l. also delivered two finalists: Inspired by Asian dining rituals, the Aura Asian Collection features cool blue-white porcelain pieces with a high-gloss glaze. With more than 42 items in the collection, which can also be combined with other pieces from the 140-item Aura line, the tabletop possibilities for your dining room are endless. The covered bowls are perfect for soups, noodles and rice dishes; the coupe-shaped platters accommodate family-style service; and the tea set evokes Asian ceremonial meals.

The second finalist from Rene Ozorio/Steelite Int'l. is the Infini Collection. The sleek embossment and high-footed plates of this classically attractive collection are made of a cool blue-white porcelain with a high-gloss glaze. Tea cups with square-shaped handles and smooth plates and bowls with striking rims comprise this line of more than 24 items.

Handcrafted and made with recycled glass, the Plates With Purpose collection by Riverside Design Group is "a good idea," one judge said. This series of custom-designed glassware earned recognition for its new 14" Tree Plate, which like all of the series, artistically reflects the mission of a non-profit organization. Riverside Design Group donates 15% of the profits from sales of these products.

Here's a colorful, efficient way to dispense napkins and a message at the same time. SCA Tissue's Xpressnap Tabletop Dispensers come in a spectrum of 10 colors. Built into the side are "AD-a-Glance" message panels to use for customized in-store promotions. The tabletop napkin dispensers cut waste by delivering one napkin at a time, so customers touch only the napkins they take. With a capacity of 200 napkins, the Xpressnap Tabletop Dispenser is designed for quick-serve restaurants where dispensers are placed on every table.

Spring USA's Double Juice Dispenser was praised by judges for the way its space-saving design fits two dispensers in only a little more counter space than a single dispenser. Filling a glass takes only a push of the bar lever. A column down the middle of each side holds ice to keep the beverage cool; a drainage tube in the back allows water to drain out before new ice is added. Each compartment holds 1 1/3 gals.

Judges were impressed with the "great look" and affordability of the Artisan Series Serving Baskets from Tablecraft Products Co. These sturdy, black powder-coated metal baskets are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. Use them to serve bread, fruits and centerpieces at any occasion, formal or casual. The baskets are available in oval, round, oblong and rectangular shapes.

Here's an innovative new take on restaurant style water pitchers: From Tablecraft Products Co., the new Pass-N-Pour makes passing the pitcher back and forth easy and helps to eliminate accidents. With an added recessed handle on the opposite end of the regular handle, passing water, tea and other beverages from either side is a breeze. Just pass the pitcher and pour!

Like a beautiful lady in red, the Newport 17" Peppermill from Vic Firth Gourmet captures attention for its elegance and bold color. Made in Newport, Maine, from American maple, the peppermill's patented "lock & grind" system lets you choose a variety of grinds with a two-step process. Peppercorns are first crushed to release their natural flavors and oils. Then they are ground to the desired consistency. The peppermill comes with a stainless steel pop-out mechanism for easy cleaning, and a lifetime guarantee. Peppermills can also be custom engraved.

Add a little Zen to your tabletop with Villeroy & Boch's Flow 2-in-1 Plate. Shaped like a flowing infinity symbol (a figure eight), the white porcelain Flow 2-in-1 Plate combines entrée plate and side plate into one visually striking design. The plates are pretty and more than tough enough for the dishwasher.

This year The Vollrath Co. has added two new shapes to its Stainless Steel Serving Trays lineup, a finalist from last year. The Triangle and Oval Trays have mirror finished surfaces and a satin-finished rim design that camouflages fingerprints and other signs of wear. The trays are made of 18/8 stainless steel and have integral handles for comfortable carrying. The addition of the Oval and Triangular trays gives you five shapes to choose from: rectangular, round, square, triangle and oval. All shapes come in three sizes.

Another finalist from The Vollrath Co., the Valhalla Urn has a certain "residential" look and appeal, according to one judge. The urns, which are designed to complement the Valhalla Dripless Chafers, are available with black or burnt-maple legs and feature a tapered, mirror-finished design. Hardwood handles stay cool to the touch for safe transport, and removable faucets are easy to clean. Urns are made of 18/8 stainless steel construction.

Developed to withstand the rigors of grilling, Wilton Armetale's stylish, Southwest-take on the common grill platter has a unique food-safe finish, allowing the Gourmet Grillware Sizzle Platter to be put directly on the grill and taken right to the table for a rodeo-esque presentation that keeps food sizzling hot. The rim's rope design lassos in sauces and juices, so food stays on the cooking surface of the platter.

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