Monday, March 12, 2007

Notes on catering

Having friends who are far more creative and successful than I, I manage to be invited to a lot of catered events. As someone who semi-semi-demi-professionally caters, this is not only an opportunity to stuff my face, it's also an opportunity to baldly steal ideas and diss the talents of other caterers.

Tonight was such an evening. I went to a screening of a new HBO film called "Addiction" at the Hammer Museum in Westwood (It's a fascinating, hopeful and difficult look at people facing and sometimes dying due to addiction: difficult because the insurance industry does not want to cover treatment of these people, hopeful because there are treatments out there and some people who traditionally overlooked addiction are facing it head-on, such as the union of construction workers in the movie. It's well worth seeing, and if you don't get HBO it's available as streaming video or podcast at their website). The person who invited me, in addition to being an Emmy-nominated producer is my partner-in-crime, and co-conspirator in the catering biz. Well, biz is like writing that I pump my own gasoline, so I am clearly General Motors. We do it for friends, we do it for parties, we do it because the actual act of coming up with the menus, sitting around chopping stuff up while watching HGTV and enjoying each others company while creating that most basic of human need: sustinence is such a wonderfully and singularly enjoyable part of our decades-long friendship that I don't think either one of use would trade it for the moon. It's Zen, with a balsamic reduction.

in any case. my notes on catering. (this is mostly for cocktail partied, where the servers are wandering around with trays- not that I've ever had them)

Usually, I think that one should serve things that should be a one bite affair. Tonight broke that rule, but did it with a mini-burger with a beensy onion crisp and a blob of gorgonzola, so I forgive them. I am also stealing that. But I think I will serve it not on a bun, but wrapped in a bit of bitter lettuce, like rocket. I don't want to bake 200 tiny little buns.

I also don't think you should be served things that leave evidence behind, like skewers or bones. Nothing makes you look more like a hog than having a pile of skewers like Lincoln Logs or a pile of chicken wing bones like some out-take from "Apocalypto". Of course, if you have a buffet, this is less of an issue, if you have a descreet place to let people to offload the remnants.

Anything wrapped in bacon is going to make everyone absurdly happy. Even jaded foodies. Trust me. Bacon-wrapped Water Chestnuts have been known to evince marriage proposals.

People in magazines will tell you that cold Polenta is an appetizer. Do not believe them. Cold polenta is like cold mashed potatoes. It says "I'm not trying" Cold polenta tossed in a bit of cornstarch and black pepper and quickly sauteed in a hot pan however says "not only am I trying, I'm trying to impress" They stay in a warm oven very well and like all of these can be on a buffet, with small picks for the delicate.

Fondue is never over (for small gatherings, it's unwieldy for say over 8). It's melted cheese, people: in a perfect world this would be available on streetcorners, with cubed day-old sourdough....

Hot should be hot and cold should be cold. You can even do hot outside and cold inside. Lukewarm is never good. Lukewarm duck on lukewarm whateverthatpancakewas with a dab of hoison sauce (lukewarm) are not going to make people happy. Freshly sauteed mini quesadilla (which I have cooked on a $9 gas stove I bought in Little Tokyo) served with home-made guacamole and home-made salsa will make people very happy indeed, and will cost a lot less. However, quesadillas with brie and fig will just get you a really bitter look. From me.

If you are serving shrimp (they didn't, this is just a general guideline), there must be no part of the shell when it gets to the diner. By all means cook it in the shell, it's more flavorful that way. But nobody wants to perform major surgery on their canape, getting sauce all over themselves in the process. All it says when you serve it shell-on is that you are hoping that you can at least slow the diner down from eating your expensive appetizer in the fond hope they'll hit the mixed nuts. Better to buy those baby shrimp and make them into a salad: the last catering I did I made an Asian salad out of bay shrimp with lime zest and juice, fresh and pickled mango, shallot, rice vinegar and sesame oil, served on endive spears. Nobody felt cheaped out, and I didn't break the budget.

Since it's 11pm here, I'll wrap this rather random post up.

Last bit of advice? Serve liquor. They didn't. Hello, it was called "Addiction"! What were they going to serve? Oxycontin Martinis? What does that say that that sounds kind of refresing at the moment? Hmmm....

Failing that, for the budget minded, Miss Mapp had the right idea, sort of. Sangria can turn a couple of bottles of two-buck-chuck, some fruit, soda and spices into a gallon or so of a beverage so delightfully refreshing no guest will feel you've cheaped out.

And with that, Sue Ann Nivens retires...


colombina said...

OMG, I didn't think I had any appetite, but this makes me salivate something awful...I want that mini burger! And MR C. would totally marry anyone for anything wrapped in bacon :-)

tmp00 said...

that mini burger was delish- I had about 4!

elle said...

If there ever is a perfumista get together (well, other than the official sniffas), you MUST do the catering!! I'm dying for that hot polenta. And you're so right - fondue *should* be served on street corners. The world would be a far, far happier place.

tmp00 said...


Sweetie, if there is a mix of us all, I expect all of us in the kitchen! It will be a symphony of sniff, sautee and swillin'!

We can have the Misters barbeque, right? They do that well (god love them) and that leaves us to deciding upon whether regular bacon or pancetta makes better fettucine carbonara and whether the gin -and -tonics are better served with ice cubes made with Meyer lemon simple syrup or regular Persian lemon ones. Sounds good?