When Sarah Kraber starts working with a catering client, a thoughtful game of 20 questions ensues. The first few queries are basic in nature, such as "What's your favorite type of cuisine?" Soon, though, the questions grow more detailed, such as 'What's the venue's architecture style?'
Gathering information is the first step in her creative process. It leads her to draft completely customized menus and artistic presentations through her catering business, Pino and Tinks at the Lake, lovingly named after her English bulldogs. But despite her knack for coming up with new recipes upon request, she has a few signature offerings, like her tomato oil with a spicy kick and her NYO (Not Your Ordinary) Bread made with various cold cuts and cheeses.
"I think a lot about food and read a lot about food," Kraber says. "It consumes me. Even if it's just my family visiting for a weekend, I just really try to be thoughtful in what I'm going to serve. I want to make and present amazing food and create unforgettable moments. You can’t bottle those, and when it all comes together it’s magic."
Aside from her delicious menu items, it's also her creative food displays that keep clients coming back. At one recent catering event for Nathan Taylor of Obelisk Home, guests thoughtfully waited to dig in until everyone got the perfect photo of her egg rolls plated in single-serving wood trays and garnished with flowers imported from San Diego.
"For inspiration, I read a lot," Kraber says. "I look into what people in New York are doing and what people in California are doing. Then I create recipes with my own spin based on the event, the space available and the flavor profiles I'm trying to achieve."
Although her home base is right off of Table Rock Lake in Reeds Spring, she provides her catering services in surrounding areas, including Springfield. We sat down with the chef to chat about her inspirations, her love of Thai flavors and more.
When did you discover your love for cooking? My mom and dad built, owned and operated a restaurant up in Moberly, Missouri. It was farm-to-table before there was farm-to-table. We had cattle, so we raised the cattle and would have them butchered. As a 9- or 10-year-old, I'd bring my friends to the big walk-in cooler and there'd be sides of beef hanging. I just remember I'd go through cookbooks and I'd be like, 'I want to make this,' and Daddy would walk me through it and I'd learn how to make it. It's just in me.
What would be your ideal day of eating in southwest Missouri? Consistency is very important to me. If I have a dish and like it, that is how I want it every time. I'd start out at Gailey's Breakfast Cafe and order the Eggsra-Ordinary Omelette. For lunch, I'd have the the fried mushroom and patty melt at W.F. Cody's. I'd end the day at DiGiacinto and order the shrimp and scallops with tomato cream sauce.
What are your favorite flavors to work with? I really love Thai food. The balance of salty, sweet, sour and spicy is extremely satisfying to me. And the herbs – the cilantro, the Thai basil, mint. I love the way all of those flavors bounce around my mouth.
What is the most memorable meal you've had lately? When we took our daughter to New York to drop her off at New York University, I was excited about getting her settled in, but also about eating. We went to Uncle Boons, a Thai restaurant there with one Michelin star. Thai restaurants just don't typically receive a Michelin star. I was really excited to try it, and they did have an amazing banana blossom salad with chicken and it was so memorable that I had to come home and recreate it.
What would you choose for your very last meal? Probably my mom's tenderloin and mac 'n' cheese. My daddy actually taught her to cook after they got married, and to hear her tell the story is hilarious.
Pino and Tinks, instagram.com/pinoandtinks