A few years ago, I was at an event on a pier along Manhattan’s west side. Milling around from booth to booth, a server approached me with a tray of what appeared to be miniature grilled cheese sandwiches, carefully presented on a specially designed tray. Surely these one-bite appetizers couldn’t be as delicious as the real, full-size thing, perfectly seasoned with just the right ratio of melted cheese to crisp, buttery bread. Oh no, but they were. I guess you could call it love at first sight — I had become instantly smitten with Peter Callahan’s inventive food, presented in miniature form in the cleverest ways.
If you’ve ever flipped through magazines like Town and Country, House Beautiful, or Martha Stewart Weddings, you’ve seen Callahan’s artistry at work. A former Wall Street trader, Callahan left the financial world in 1985 to start a small, takeout food shop that quickly morphed into Callahan Catering, his Philadelphia- and New York-based business. With more than two decades of experience serving a demanding, well-traveled clientele who dine in the best restaurants and have a keen eye for smart design, it is no wonder that Callahan has become a favorite of prominent names like Tory Burch, Martha Stewart, Kelly Ripa, Hermès, and JPMorgan.
“Food should be the entertainment unto itself,” says Callahan. His whimsical miniature sweet and savory hors’ d’oeuvres have become a trend around the country, and with the new debut of his book Bite by Bite, you don’t need the checking account of a star to be able to serve guests a Callahan signature at your next party.
Leafing through the pages of the book, it's apparent that Callahan is an artist first. From chicken Parmesan “lollipops,” one-bite pies, and shooters of corn soup with a piece of crisp bacon, to one of my favorites — Callahan’s, too — fresh-mixed margaritas in miniature bottles of Patron, complete with a straw through the cork, Callahan offers a fresh approach to common comfort foods. He shrinks them in size (without sacrificing taste), and presents them in an unexpectedly innovative way, combining things we love and know so well, like short ribs and bacon, in ways that we’ve never seen before. He leaves even lifestyle experts like Martha Stewart in awe. “He can think really, really big — hundreds of guests do not frighten him or make him nervous…” yet, “he delivers small, in the sense of finely constructed, inventive, creative, delicious, mind-boggling, tiny, bite-sized, ultra-tasty tidbits”
While in his youth, Callahan was told, after taking aptitude tests, that his creativity was off the charts (he had the creative capabilities of an artist), it was really through his clients that he found his niche. “They always stressed the importance of one-bite hors d’oeuvres for parties,” as would be expected. One day, he decided he wanted to really shrink down a burger — it was an instant success. “After seeing how amazing that looked, and watching how my clients went crazy for it, I started thinking of all my favorite iconic American foods to shrink, like grilled cheese, tacos, lobster rolls, donuts, even pies.”