Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Catering Post-Mortem

Last weekend, I catered a Christmas party and wine tasting with Doug Reichel Wine Marketing. It was the first time I had catered for people who didn't know me at all. I discovered a few things during this adventure, some related to cooking, and others relating to me. 

Apparently (who knew?) there's a lot of ego attached to my cooking. I claim to love cooking for itself alone, and that people enjoying the food that I make is just an added bonus. This is mostly true, but I found myself faced with clients who didn't know what I was capable of, and having to prove myself, which made me a little grumpy. If I were more of a drama queen, I may have shrieked, "Don't you know who I am?!"

But really, who am I to these people? I'm someone they've hired to perform a service, and a fairly lowly service at that. The wine was the focus; the food was a sideline. Once I wrestled with all of this for a few days, I got over myself and decided to treat the whole thing as a learning experience, and a chance to have a good time with Doug, whose wine I love, and whose company I enjoy.

From a catering perspective, I learned the importance of clear communication of expectations. I had to make some items ahead of time, and needed final numbers early. I didn't quite communicate this as clearly as required, and my client went out of town, then replied, FOUR DAYS before the event, that she was expecting 37 people instead of 50. I had said I would charge her per person, but a 25% reduction in numbers, on such short notice, would have eaten into my profits considerably, since I had already made the most labour-intensive items, and had purchased most of the groceries. She was reasonable about it, though, and so we both ended our experience satisfied, she with the product and what she was charged, and me with a reasonable profit (as long as I don't count the hours of list-making, planning, and lying awake trying to think of everything that might possibly go wrong).

The event went over well, and I also learned an important lesson in the midst of it: the art of letting go and not fretting over results that don't meet my high standards. My Bearnaise sauce didn't thicken, because I was paranoid of curdling it. The oven didn't run as hot as mine, so my pastries didn't brown as I would have liked. Those two dishes were the ones that got me the highest praise from the party goers. They could have been better. But I was the only person who knew that.

Here's the menu, for those who are curious, with links to the wines and recipes that I used:

• Destin√©a Sauvignon Blanc with Citrus-marinated Seafood Salad (sans black olives)
• Mount Difficulty Chardonnay with Mini Prosciutto-wrapped Chicken Skewers and B√©arnaise Sauce (used the recipe for the sauce from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food)
• Melipal Malbec and Traditional Argentinian Empanadas (with this pastry and this filling)
• Diesel Pinotage with Artisan Breads (from Christie's bakery), dipped in olive oil and Rozendal vinegar, served with vintage gouda and South African dryworst and biltong (traditional South African sausage and jerky)
Torreon de Paredes Reserve Late Harvest dessert wine with blue cheese shortbread topped with fig spread and Late Harvest wine poached pears

My days feel empty, now that I don't have to think about the planning of this event anymore. And that is a relief. Now on to wrapping up Christmas baking (one more item on my scaled-down list!) and then wrapping up Christmas baking (as gifts)!

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