Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Killin' it in a cocktail dress

Ladies (and gentlemen?), don't wear four-inch heels when you're catering a party. I only rocked the heels for about 20 minutes before changing into more sensible shoes, but two days later, my calves are killing me!

Because I threatened to do it. on Twitpic
Click to embiggen. Awfully blurry, I know. My camera batteries were dead and my little cell phone was the best I could do.

(Good dress though.)

This past Sunday, I was fortunate enough to cater a fundraiser for a film my good friend Jim is writing and directing called Widow's Walk Lake. The fundraiser was an Edward Gorey-themed garden party, as the look of the film itself is based on Gorey's artwork and is set in the 1930's.

Photo taken at the fundraiser by Circle23, who set up a room at the event for fabulously "gorey" poses. See the entire awesome set here.

When Jim asked me several months ago to cater the party, I said yes with no hesitation. Cater a friend's costume party for about 100 attendees on my day off? Perfect! Ever since I worked as a catering server in Los Angeles, catering is something I've kept in the back of my mind as a career path. I love working in a restaurant kitchen, but I enjoy the change in scenery that catering provides too. I didn't let the fact that up to this point I'd never planned a meal for more than 12 people on my own deter me at all. I happily trotted along, recruiting a few awesome and eager friends from OCI to help me with my little project.

Two weeks before the party, I woke up with the worst, most panicky feeling in my gut--though I've prepped for and plated plenty of large parties at work before, I was two weeks away from my first "solo" event, with insanely scattered ideas for what to do about sourcing the product, budgeting the event, and actually prepping and transporting everything. I had no idea how far in advanced I wanted everything to be done, or how much of anything to get. I immediately thought of my Term 3 Pro Skills instructor, Maxine Borcherding, who besides teaching management at OCI (and WCI previously), ran a catering company in Portland for 20 plus years and still caters parties from time to time.

As soon as I reached out to her, the sinking ship could not have righted itself any faster. We sat down over lunch and talked everything out. The original menu I came up with, an OLCC-friendly menu with several options--soups, focaccias, tea sandwiches, crostinis--were all very Victorian-era finger-food-type things that I thought would look and taste fresh and amazing for an indoor-outdoor garden party. It quickly became evident that with the budget constraints under which we were working, I had to simplify the menu while making it hearty enough for the fact that the party was being held during dinner hours.

Chef Max suggested I revamp the menu, and we decided upon an easy, inexpensive but still delicious menu:
- Tuscan white bean salad
- Penne salad with roasted bell peppers
- Summer melon, grape and pickled fennel salad
- Three types of focaccias: Roasted shaved asparagus and caramelized fennel; Yukon Gold potato, crimini mushroom and truffle oil; and caramelized onion, toasted walnut and Gorgonzola cheese.

With the help of my amazing friends Jess, Nate and Pablo, all of whom I attended school with, not to mention the endless support and resources from Chef Maxine, it took us two days to prep out the final menu. While planning amounts and recipes, I couldn't help but be grateful for all the number crunching we did during school.

I contracted a killer head and chest cold a week before the event, so Maxine in all her awesomeness made a comprehensive (think Excel spreadsheet) shopping list for me. She also secured us kitchen time in a local catering kitchen. I made my first will-call pickup order at Sheridan Fruit Company, which took up five big veggie boxes. We slowly but surely got through the boxes, and with a little baking guidance I pulled off some awesome handmade focaccias (I say they're awesome because I'm massively impressed I managed to not screw it up... though I'm pretty confident they actually tasted good).

The morning of game day, running on five hours of sleep and adrenaline, we knocked off one by one the items on the prep list I'd written and re-written the night before. I kept having moments where I thought I should be freaking out but wasn't at all--things were going so smoothly, it was eerie. There was definitely a little bit of a race to the end, but we finished it all on time. We packed everything up in the Zipcar'd Honda Element and carted it over to the truly gorgeous Overlook House in North Portland. They couldn't have picked a more picturesque spot for a Victorian garden party, and once the attendees started arriving, I felt like I was in another era altogether.

Photo by my good friend John. See the rest of his set here.

How could I not cater this party in a cocktail dress? I mean, really.

Once we set up the buffet table, it was smooth sailing. Jess and Pablo were great about keeping the table refreshed and clean. The crowd favorite was the Gorgonzola focaccia though the dapperly-dressed ladies and gents were helping themselves to seconds, thirds and fourths of everything. At several points in the evening there were small crowds of people around the table, munching and chatting, and I could not have been happier.

Thanks to a dead battery in my camera, the best photo I managed of the table I took with my pitiful camera phone. Still, you get the general idea:

The spread in full FX on Twitpic
Click to embiggen. From front to back: Roasted bell pepper penne salad, Tuscan bean salad, melon and pickled fennel salad, lotsa focaccia.

We overshot the estimated amount needed by quite a bit and ended up offering leftovers to guests to take home. Everything was snatched up in a matter of minutes.

All in all, a smashing success in my book. Though the event was small fry, logistically speaking, in the vast world of catering, I loved the challenge and the gears are starting to spin for side projects I'm envisioning. I'm thinking of catering events every now and then for friends and friends of friends, charging only food and supply cost to get my chops up. Thoughts?


ml said...

nice. so what will you name your catering company?

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Richie said...

met some nice ladies from Le Pigeon last night. They brought us beer...have you been?

Ingrid said...

Le Pigeon is of my favorites in Portland--easily top 3. The chef/owner Gabe is a friend, and their crew frequents my place pretty often and vice versa. In fact, one of our kitchen guys splits his work week between the Pidge and my restaurant. They do some rad shit with offal and the cheap "throwaway" parts.

It's also the t-shirt I'm wearing in my profile pic. If you're ever in Portland, you should go.

Carrie said...

hi Ingrid - love the pics, and i'm sure you did GREAT!! :)

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