Off premise catering by any name or means has always been my benchmark of a tough job: a world of ever changing venues, loading trucks, unloading trucks, moving in, moving out, different rules for every location … the challenges are endless. Oh, did I forget the food and decor … it must be spectacular and the beverages spot on. Just another day in the catering world.
This story has a dual timeline … one for my personal evolution of a FSM feature, one for the building of a catering event by one the region’s leading caterers (with 30 years of experience) Chef’s Expressions with chef/owner Jerry Edwards.
I contacted Laura Alima, the always energized marketing director for Chef’’s Expression, via email after sending last minute regrets for an invite I had for one of their own social events where they get to entertain customers and potential new clients. I said I had an idea for a story. She said, “Let’s talk.” … game on.
On the train to New York to the James Beard Awards, I was going through my ever-growing potential story list and I realized that a follow-up call to Laura was way overdue. It’s time to get moving.
I see in one of the promotional emails that they have an upcoming event for the Edward’s team: an Expressions benefit dinner for Meals on Wheels at Gramercy Mansion in July. The Bastille Day Wine Supper appealed to me for its location, manageable size (for me) and the fact that I felt comfortable I would not get in the way of a customer.
Looking ahead, Laura and I decide that it would be best to feature the September 18 Harvest Table Wine Supper for Healthcare for the Homeless at Gramercy Mansion. That would fit my editorial calendar and Chef’s Expressions could include me in the early stages of planning.
I realize it’s great working with catering folks … they have to have the details organized and written down. Laura shares with me the schedule for covering the Harvest Table Wine Supper. First on the list is the menu and wine pairing dinner. Yes, for these dinners Jerry gathers clients and staff together at his home in Verdant Valley Farms in Monkton Md. Here they will gather 20 or so wines and taste them and begin the process of developing a 5 to 6-course meal.
We are here on Jerry’s porch for the Inspiration. Jerry likes to start with a clean slate … on this evening we are tasting 20 or so wines with a bounty of local farm-to-table ingredients with the wines coming from producers who use sustainable practices. It’s the euphoria of eating and drinking. It’s also a way for the Expressions team to share the creative process with current and potential clients and to nourish their interaction with staff. The conversation is lively and the tasting notes cover the nose/scent recall, taste and flavors, menu ideas. Early on the Paul Mas Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc is served. It’s a simple wine, a good value and forward in its citrus overtones and minerality. Oysters come to my mind and I jump into the conversation with perhaps a grilled oyster. Jerry seems interested and mentions the idea of perhaps serving it with a beurre blanc. The evening continues as we taste, eat and converse – though the sauvignon blanc, viognier, gewürztraminer, chardonnay, Grenache and cabernet. It’s all good.
The menu is done! Jerry has finalized the menu and we chat on the phone. And go down the list for his creative reasoning for the final pairings. As the menu is released to the public, Alima “starts marketing the Supper to our clients, social media and charity partner supporters.
BUTLER PASSED HORS D’OEUVRES
Roasted Dates filled with Firefly Farm Mountain Bleu
wrapped in Verdant Valley Pancetta drizzled in Balsamic & Dusted with Cinnamon
Chesapeake Crab Fluffs in Natty Boh Batter
“J” Brut Sparkling Wine, Sonoma California
Grilled Salt Pond Oysters … Napa Cabbage, Fennel and Columnar Basil Slaw
Paul Mas Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc France 2011
White Pepper Papardelle … Diced Heirlooms, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Fresh Buratta and Sel Gris
Domaine Lafond Lirac, Rhone Valley France 2012
Duck for Breakfast … Duck Bacon Bing Cherry and Pecan Pancakes Maple Syrup Sabayon
Girasole Pinot Noir, Mendocino California 2010
Gunpowder Bison Short Ribs … Boysenberry Demi Glaze Smoked Corn and Bacon Succotash Fried Leek Feathers
Qupe Grenache, Santa Maria California 2009
Coffee Rubbed Verdant Valley Black Angus Rib Eye … Whipped Potatoes with Chocolate Nibs Creamed Cauliflower
Domaine Bousquet Grand Reserve Malbec, Mendoza Argentina, 2010
I was thrilled to find the grilled oysters made the final cut. Here he has added a Napa cabbage and fennel slaw that adds complexity of flavors to the sea taste of the oyster. I can’t wait to taste it with the Picpoul de Pinet. I feel like I have equity in the dinner. Course by course Jerry talks about seasonality, how the white pepper will work with the Lirac, how we taste salt and acid and how wines complement. Did I tell you Jerry knows his wines and how they work with food? One of his favorites sounds like the duck bacon with the pinot noir … how the whole bing cherries contrast with the acidity and their affinity to the wine. I end the phone call thirsty and hungry.
Two weeks out I attend their meeting where the details are reviewed from the service team to rentals to plate design to perfecting the menu. The logistics are keyed into proprietary catering software so everyone will work from the same list. How many chefs are needed? What are the kitchen requirements at Gramercy Mansion? What are the linen needs? What colors? As the menu is reviewed Jerry sketches out plate designs with how the food will be presented. The executive chef talks about mis en place and what will be done at the Timonium Chef’s Expressions kitchen and what can be done at Gramercy. It’s all discussed down to the addition of a dusting of cinnamon on the roasted dates.
Since this is my October cover story, I have to get my 15 minutes needed for the photo session added into the scheduling timeline. We decide on 5 p.m. after tables have been set and before the pre-meal class.
The warehouse team packs the truck … chefs prep the food.
The day of the Supper has arrived! In the morning and early afternoon, chefs finish and pack the mis en place in the truck. I meetthe truck and stay out of the way as they spring into action unloading and setting up the kitchen and dining room. For setup the crew is in Chef’s Expressions T-Shirts with a Creative and Passionate side. At 5 p.m., we have the photo shoot, at 6 p.m. the guests arrive and the “curtain” is up for showtime. Jerry and Laura mingle with guests and sponsors. Every moment is a marketing opportunity. They engage the guest in a sharing of hospitality that is both genuine and a smart business practice.
The evening and food moves along with precision in timing and execution. Any blips are resolved on the fly without a change in smiles or service. They have done this before. As the courses are finished the effort in the back of the house moves toward the end of the evening … repacking, reloading and preparing for the dessert course. It’s a symphony of moving forward and backward at the same time.
I saw it all (well, I wimped out and didn’t go back to headquarters for the final unloading and cleaning). I told you catering is glamorous on the outside but one of the most demanding iteration of foodservice and hospitality.
Thanks to the Chef’s Expressions team for sharing it with Foodservice Monthly and its readers.
The Chef’s Expression Team
Harvest Table Wine Supper
Jerry Edwards, Owner and Corporate Chef
Charles Hamilton, Executive Chef
Ted Berencz, Director of Personnel
Chris Graebener, Event Specialist
Laura Alima, Marketing Director
Anna McCoy, Marketing Specialist
Marvin Roxas, Server
Clarice Jones, Server
Antane Francois Jr, Server
Louis Banegas, Server
Jack Carter, Chef
Eric Johns, Chef
April Pitts, Chef