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My hat's off to the pros! My catering saga

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Last Saturday (June 24, 2006), I hosted a surprise birthday party for my Aunt Bette who was turning 90. The genesis of the party was that her daughters (two of my cousins) starting planning this about nine months ago, and enlisted me because Bette is here in New York and they are not. (My husband Paul and I also spend a lot of time with Bette -- we go to the theater and concerts together, eat out together, spend New Year's Eve together at East Village clubs listening to marching bands and Brazilian drummers :crazy: -- she's a wonderful, hip lady.)

Originally, I was to find a location and a caterer. My cousins arranged for a musician, worked out the list of people to invite, and took care of all the invitations. As things moved along, it just seemed better if I would host in my home. And then, of course, I offered to do the cooking. :o All of this started out with an estimate of 50 guests; the final list was about 72, almost all of whom said they'd come. And most of the acceptances actually came, so I had almost 70 people. :eek:

I started thinking about the menu first. My aunt keeps kosher, as do some of her friends and some of the other relatives. So that was a major consideration, although the meal did not have to be all from kosher ingredients; just no mixing meat and dairy, and so on. Also, fancy stuff is not for them. :look: Which made it much easier, to not have to do elaborate items. So many people in my space -- and some fairly elderly -- meant it had to be a sit-down dinner. I thought about the menu for a couple of months, and finally came up with the basic menu. As I checked out my local wine store and saw what Costco had available, the menu evolved to (*I made):

Early nibbles (while we waited for the arrival of the Birthday Girl):
Lightly Sweetly Spiced Mixed Nuts*
Hummus* with Pita Chips and Baby Carrots
San Pellegrino water

First course:
Baby Spinach and Romaine Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Marinated Artichoke Hearts, Creamy Hazelnut Vinaigrette*
"Seeduction" Bread from Whole Foods, Dinner Rolls, Butter pats

Main course (mostly served cold; only the rice was hot)
Oven-Poached Salmon Medallions* with Tzatzaki*
Saffron-Steamed Basmati Brown Rice*
Early-Summer Vegetables (haricots verts, sugar snap peas, red bell pepper)*
Wine: Palmer Rosé (from New York State)

Dessert
Olive Oil Gelato (from Mario Batali's restaurant, Otto) with Fresh Strawberries, Raspberries, and Blueberries
Amaretti Cookies
Wine: Glenora Peach Spumante (from New York State)
Decaf Coffee* Decaf Tea


The food was the easiest part. In fact, I pretty much started on Thursday (ordering fish, going to Costco) -- maybe made the nuts a day or two before -- and did all the prep and cooking in a day and a half. I unexpectedly had to turn 36 salmon steaks into 72 medallions, but it worked out (even though it did make for a biohazard in the garbage room, when the container of scraps opened and leaked :eek:). A lot of creative shifting of fridge and freezer contents into coolers meant that everything stayed safe to eat -- a super-important consideration when feeding older people. So the fish was processed, cooked, and refrigerated as soon as it arrived on Friday. I made the hummus Friday, and finished the tzatziki then too, after draining the cucumbers over Thursday night. Vegetables were blanched and chilled the morning of (stored in Styrofoam coolers with ice on top), and bagged salad ingredients were also washed and spun dry the morning before use. I was making the salad dressing as the first guests arrived. :blush: And washed the fruit while everyone was eating. At least I remembered to start the coffee hours and hours ahead: a 100-cup percolator takes forever.

The more nerve-wracking part was arranging for the tables (ended up with nine 48-inch rounds for 8 people each), chairs, dishes, flatware, glasses, linens, coffeemaker, etc. I played telephone tag with the rental company from Tuesday until late Thursday afternoon. The only company I called. :p So if they had not been able to supply everything . . . well . . . I just assumed everything would work out. In fact, that was my mantra: "Everything will work out" for getting everything done in time AND for getting Bette to my house, even if my cousins had to kidnap her (which they did! :crazy: ). Fortunately, the company has everything on its Web site, so I could pick out all the patterns online; didn't have to go to their showroom. And even though it was crowded -- I had to move most of my living- and dining-area furniture out -- it fit, and it looked beautiful, very tasteful. (I still have to get pictures from someone.)

Flowers came from FTD. Well, eventually. :rolleyes: I started to order online, then ended up doing it over the phone. I thought at the time I'd have seven tables, so ordered seven of the same bouquet, in vases. Except that four came at 9am Saturday from one florist, and the remaining three . . . were delivered late in the afternoon to the building next door to me. :mad: I got a call from the errant (second) florist at a little after 4pm (guests were to arrive in one hour :eek: ), and had to send someone to pick them up. :rolleyes: Needless to say, the latter three did not match the first four. But they were close, and all lovely anyway.

Setup help came from my weekly cleaner, Jackie, who helped me move out the furniture; my cousins and their kids set up the tables, placed linens and chairs, and set the tables with b&bs, flatware, glasses, and pre-meal stuff. They also helped me plate, ran the plated food to the seated guests, and bussed, as did some of the guests. I had them scrape plates just inside the kitchen doorway, drop flatware in a container, and stack plates back into the crates they had arrived in -- all without coming more than a couple of feet into the kitchen. I stacked the refilled crates in front of the stove, since I didn’t have to cook anything. Paul circulated with the wine, and replaced bottles of water. Me, I stayed in the kitchen. :D

The two cousins stayed after the party to break down the tables and set everything to the side for Monday pickup. Paul vacuumed on Sunday and we moved the furniture back in place Monday night. Jackie cleaned the kitchen floor on Wednesday; I had already scrubbed the counters as I cleared off the dishes I had to wash (my own that I had used for serving pieces; everything else went back to the rental company unwashed). So within one week, the only visible sign was the now slightly-droopy flowers. And now, even those are gone.

We broke one glass, no plates, and the only thing of mine that went missing was a tiny glass salt spoon! Amazing!!


The most important thing: the Birthday Girl and everyone else had a great time! :D :D :D

Would I do it again? :confused: :look: :lol:
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #2 of 13
You are a champion Suzanne. That was no mean undertaking. A sitdown of 70 or so in your home is not something most of us can/could do. Congratulations.
post #3 of 13
good going.
starting out with the right menu makes all the difference in the world.
glad it went well, I rely so much on my rental company.....they are gold, more exspensive than most but they are gold.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #4 of 13
Congrats Suzanne! No easy feat! I gotta ask now... how big is your house?
post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
Kuan: the part where we put the tables is an L-shape, about 14 feet wide at the top, 30 feet down the left (longest) side, 19 feet down the right vertical of the L, then 20 feet across the whole horizontal bottom of the L and 8 feet across the inner horizontal top of the L. In all, approximately 500 square feet. That was as much space as I could free up. I had to leave some of the furniture, such as bookcases and filing cabinets in place; they are just too heavy for me to move, even with help. (The apartment as a whole has about 1800 square feet, but that includes kitchen, bathroom, office space with immovable built-in furniture, and walled-off bedroom where I stored the furniture I was able to move.)

Shroom, diane, Kuan, et al who do this for a living: What I meant to say was that you rock! :bounce: That you can do this sort of thing day in and day out -- wow! You have my sincere admiration. :cool:
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #6 of 13
Way to go!

In reading your saga, I kept waiting for the part about the tremendously embarassing disaster. It never came. Congratulations. :bounce:

Now, about that olive oil gelato. Say what? Why? How was it?
post #7 of 13
catering is very different from restaurant work.....it's alot of schlepping and if you are not prepared with contingencies life can be rough to say the least.
Not having an extension cord when you need it......just the little things make all the difference in the world. Someone said it succinctly time can be your best friend or your worst enemy......when you're offsite catering getting everything to the site at the right temp in working order is different than turning around in a kitchen and pulling something from the walkin.

It's all in the schlepping.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #8 of 13
It's all in the schlepping AND the looking calm and composed when you're wondering why you do this type of work anyway.

Sounds like a wonderful party! Kudos to you!!
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Shroom -- yeah, I was glad to be "onsite" -- so that I had whatever I needed to improvise solutions, like being able to use my own bowls, since I didn't order any extra serving pieces. No schlepping! :bounce:

castironchef: Olive oil gelato is one of the incredibly wonderful flavors made at Mario Batali's pizzaria/enoteca Otto. It is a lot like vanilla, but has the spiciness and fruitiness of a really good olive oil. If you didn't know what it was, you'd be scratching your head wondering :confused: and then taking another spoonful and another and another. :lips: :lol: I got it because 1) it was easy :o and 2) my cousins asked for it; one of them (and Bette) had it when we all went to Otto last New Year's Eve, and they both loved it. If you ever get the chance in NYC, go to Otto and order ALL the gelato flavors. :lips: The person who devises them (and whom I happen to know from culinary school) is BRILLIANT! :chef:
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #10 of 13
Wash DC restaurant Zytania has olive oil sorbet/ice cream also.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #11 of 13
Thread Starter 
That's a great place! Steve Klc, the exec pastry chef for Jose Andres's restaurants, is also a very smart cookie (pun intended).
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #12 of 13
Thanks for the "skinny" on the olive oil gelato. If I ever make over to that side of the continent (from the Calif. wine country), I'll be SURE to check out Otto and try Babbo, as well.

Just tonight, I finished the book Heat, which is about a magazine editor who spends a year in the Babbo kitchen and then runs off to Italy to explore the roots of Tuscan cuisine.

I definitely makes me want to experience Maria Batali's approach first hand.
post #13 of 13
Suzanne, I do no catering off site. The closest I get to off site is our capcious front lawn. Garden parties, marquets and so on. DH has tried to get me to do it, but I am too old, can't stand the pressure. Just can't be bothered. So my hat is off to those who do too. And still think a sit down for 70 at home is masterful.
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