Catering without pandering

I was really excited to do my first post-culinary-school “pro-gig” this weekend. Nothing huge, but a solid 35-person crowd at a music recital. There were to be hors d’oeurves, cheeses, and a selection of desserts, and they were to be served before the recital, as well as between the performances, as well as after the performances. I think, for the most part, that it’s wise to bribe people with food during art exhibitions of any kind. I don’t say this because art isn’t important, just that people are more apt to pay attention to things if they’re also being fed.

I’m really fortunate that the group of people I work for give me license to do whatever the hell I want, within a few guidelines. Most work at the hospital with Chris, and have limited culinary preferences. My guidelines for this function were “I like Asian food” and “I don’t like ham. Or squash.” Mmmmkay. That’s fair. I came up with a menu that I thought would be tasty. It may have been a little bit far-reached for some of the macaroni-loving crowd, but it’s good to expand horizons a little bit. Maybe to realize that Asian food doesn’t just mean Ramen noodles and PF Chang’s. How to work a cheese course into an Asian menu? Kind of a tricky question. Asians are lactose intolerant. And the request for desserts was “carrot cake. And that chocolate cake you made that one time.” That chocolate cake was actually an opera torte, which is an insane amount of work. I had done it in school, with the support of a crazy, old French pastry chef. And neither carrot cake nor opera torte are in any way Asian.

So my solution, with approval from the client, was to do a cheese/meat/melon platter before the recital, then 4 Asian items at the intermissions, then the completely unrelated dessert at the end. At least the lack of synchronicity was broken up by Mozart on the French horn. So, here goes:

1st–smoked gouda, Grafton cheddar, roasted garlic crackers, chianti-cured salami, and fresh assorted melons (they’re in season and they’re FABULOUS). My arrival at this decision was made mostly by the fact that I used to eat the HELL out of smoked gouda, salami, and roasted garlic triscuits when I was single. It was multiple meals out of any given day. No accompaniments necessary.

2nd–chilled cucumber-curry soup shots (pictured above) and filo-wrapped chicken sesame “egg rolls” with an apricot dipping sauce. The cucumber soup is one of my favs because it has about 4 calories per bowl and is delicious. The filo-wrapped chicken was a holdover from our garde manger class at school, when someone else made it and I thought it looked interesting, but didn’t eat any of it because I was busy starving myself for my wedding dress.

3rd–spicy beef satay with peanut dipping sauce (‘cuz DUH) and a Thai salad made from bean threads, cucumbers, carrots, and, in this case, crushed macadamia. I dressed it with a sweet chili sauce, a condiment I love into teensy pieces and with which I would happily dress my cereal if it weren’t weird to do so.

4th–opera torte and two carrot cakes with cream cheese frosting.

People ate the FUCK out of the stuff. Honestly. I had made mini-quesadillas and fruit kebabs for the kids’ table, but then the kids parents (wisely) left them at home. What I saw was a group of Texas-sized adults wander over to the kids’ table and begin eating the quesadillas and fruit kebabs. Without it being announced, as the other dishes were. I swear to you. Only in this state. Everything got eaten, save about two of each, which I squirreled away for the host and his wife to eat later.

What I hadn’t banked on was that people would be surrounding the open plan kitchen watching me while listening to music. So rather than have the privacy to be a little bit frantic and possibly screw something up, I was under scrutiny of a throng of people the entire time and had to look composed and, more importantly, not spill chili sauce on my sundress. About 2.5 courses in I said “clip this noise” and poured myself a glass of wine. A few sips of a local chardonnay and I chilled out quite a bit. Enough to tolerate the Russian piano lady who kept talking about borscht and loudly asking me why I wasn’t fat and how much chefs make.

I gave out my phone number to some people who asked, so this may even drum up some business. The only thing is that I still feel, for all intents and purposes, like a little girl playing “chef” in her Little Tykes kitchen. It’s very difficult for me to imagine that the food I’m making is in any way professionally presentable. That’s for the REAL chefs. Currently it’s working out great. People seem impressed and rave about the food. But I’m still worried that any moment they’re see through the facade and be like “THAT’S not a chef! That’s just Kristie.”

10 thoughts on “Catering without pandering”

  1. Congratulations on your first pro-gig!!! How very exciting! I hope the recital was less painful for you then the ones that my parents used to have to go to….but what with the 'no kids' I'm guessing it leaned towards tolerable.

    Now then, onto more important business: curried cucumber soup with about 4 calories per bowl? Let's talk about that one. In depth. And with a recipe guideline, please.

  2. I think culinary skill is something that few people develop beyond their mother's spaghetti. The fact that you take an interest in expanding your culinary repertoire and then put that to use is more than most people do, or expect. My neighbors think I'm a gourmet chef because I brought them smack once. So, even though it's hard to believe that just doing something you enjoy could be commended, you know how to do something well that most people can't, or at least think they can't, do at all. You'll get used to it. I still feel weird going on business trips and rubbing elbows with our EPA big wigs who expect me to manage millions of dollars. But I think everybody feels that way when they first start out.

    Wanna help me co-cater Victor's b-day? :-) Oh, don't mention it on my blog though, he reads it.

  3. u r the bombe, but then I did twat you out, as you used to like to remind me on a regular basis. I am very proud of you, and it sounds like you did an awesome job. I still think of you at your Little Tyke's kitchen writing the menu on the little blackboard… Love, Momma

  4. It's because you are, as the Russian lady kindly pointed out, too thin and attractive to be anything but a TV chef. It's very confusing to people that you have an actual culinary education, I'm sure.

  5. Congratulations..that sounds wonderful….I can't wait to hear about your next professional gig! Please post that cucumber soup recipe.

  6. Okay! Cucumber soup! Hooray!

    3 large cucumbers, peeled and cubed
    2 cups fat-free plain greek yogurt
    1 t each of cumin, curry powder, and turmeric
    Salt and pepper to taste
    milk as necessary to thin.

    Blend it. Chill it. Serve it. It's so good, and will make your stomach flat and sexerific.

  7. thanks for posting that soup recipe! we want to make it for papa, whose favorite foods are cucumber and curry. he thinks he hates yogurt, so that makes it extra fun.

    now: tell me about sweet chili sauce. they served it with lots of delicious plantain dishes in peru (as you may have seen in my photos) and i want to know whether i should make my own or buy it. i have 4 plantains ripening in the kitchen, and i want to try frying them up this weekend.

  8. I didn't know that Garland makes an Easy-Bakeā„¢ oven.

    It's important to remember that most people can't cook their way out of a wet paper bag, and do not read or write food blogs in their spare time. Especially in Texas.

  9. oh honey
    you are awesome

    and i did NOT twat you or anyone else out for that matter

    for a catering gig i'd use at least the 2% plain greek yogurt… but that's just me and what do i know?

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