NACE with grace

In a field of entertainers we do so love to show off for one another. You’d think that after spending most of our cognicent waking hours toiling away for the parties of others we’d all just sit down in a bar and chat, complain, and trade war stories over cocktails and snacks. But if the National Association of Catering Executives has anything to say about it, we party on in the style of and some times better than, our clientele.

Case and point yesterday, at our very own Suite One Hundred (SOH for short), where the movers and shakers of the Tacoma Guild made their monthly meeting in the CTA building. Sadly, we drew the “Healthy” meeting package, an expose of how small changes in the diet can have tremendous results. This is some what regrettable as our general feel is something more upper class and extravagant. Our events are those times where you’re cheating this week because it’s so and so’s birthday, or wedding, or just cause it looks delicious. So we settle for a menu that nods at something healthy, but by and large it was our tag line: “A grand affaire, at a great value.” And being on the inside doing a good chunk of the purchasing I definitely think our group got it’s monies worth.

We had a stationary appetizer buffet which held a new version of the Gorgonzola Rose Petal, and a new item, Saltim Bocca bites. Monica had built a Plexiglas and clear block tower which hosted our new four compartment trays. Which I really want to use for a seated appetizer menu or wine tasting. A little something different in each one, with sauce and garnish. On the other hand, as my buddy Nick pointed out. Left to my own devices I have a nasty tendency to choose projects and ideas that are very labor intensive and annoying to the back of the house. Food items that I would be staunchly against if one of the ladies suggested them. Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment so long as I’m the one serving it, but I’ve gotten off track.

The Gorgonzola Rose Petals were very pretty, though the petals themselves were a bit large for our purposes. The Red Onion Relish with Pecan and Gorgonzola mousse had a pop of flavor but became flimsy if you had to take more than one bite. And if you have any sort of manners at all, you would for petals that size. I am happy to report after tinkering with the recipe I’ve finally learned how to candy nuts like Nick does. Before they always came out over done or bound together like peanut brittle. This only comes to mind because we’ve topped the dish with a candied pecan.

(Now before I start to get crap about not knowing how to candy nuts, ask yourself this: how bloody often does a standard dinner or catering chef need to candy nuts? Yes they covered it in school but I sucked at it then and to be honest I didn’t take full advantage of my two week pastry rotation. Down with Pasties, long live Foodies!)

Though with a throw back to last weeks post about food that induces a chef’s visual foodgasim response this would be it. If I had my way I’d serve that in a booth at Cater Source next year come winter. It looked THAT good. The Saltim Bocca bites were a bit of let down. To be honest, I left it to the end, and as I had to get the fish fresh off the truck (moar on that later) I was running out of time and told Nick to just deal with it. Something I’ve been burned on in the past, but to be fair, I can’t exactly expect perfect results when I don’t make it clear what those results should be.

Another odd habit of mine, when ever we put on an event for general populace consumption instead of say for a specific client’s family or organization we always choose things that are untested or worse experimental. I’m only now realizing the problem with this, as menus that have been unbroken and run wild are wont to throw you for unexpected loops. Case and point the Saltim Boccas. For starters, they were too dense. The mixture of egg and panko that made the for lack of a better term “meat ball” wasn’t in proper proportion to the chopped raw chicken. This also cut down on the chicken flavor that was really necessary to pull the dish off. I’ll definitely up the ration to 4 to 1 and mix some fresher cheeses like Gouda, brie, or even mozzarella to balance the dry sharpness of the parm.

But what the bites lacked in flavor they made up for in style. They had the shape of what would happen if you mixed a corn dog bit with a bacon wrapped scallop. The prosciutto wrap shrunk down in the fryer and hugged the meat ball tightly, whilst the fresh sage leaf between the two poked out from the sides still green and flavorful. They came out a little dark, but reducing the size and par frying them before finishing them in the oven will really perfect this dish.

The passed appetizer was a Green Gazpacho with Crab shooter. I was most leery of this dish because I had only made gazpacho once, eaten it thrice, and liked none of them. The mixture of raw ingredients just didn’t call out to me and while a tomato is a great food, I can find better applications for it elsewhere. But this green variety, partially altered for catering uses from the Herb farm book was perfect to round out the appetizer trio. It was cool, refreshing, had a good chomp too it with out being overly rich like the other two. And best of all, easy to serve and bright green. Call me juvenile but I’ve always had an appreciation for bright colors in my food.

The salad course was a new twist on an old favorite. I’ve been making Caprese salads for years, and they never piqued my interest one bit. To me a salad composed of three items is a sign insufficient ingredient, not avant garde cookery. And to be fair, this one had five, but the five impressed even Moe, our resident sales manager and avid salad consumer. The base was a series of heirloom tomato slices; I tried to make it so every one got a piece of each type. (Heirlooms being strange in that they come in different shapes, colors and sizes despite the singular name.) The rich purple almost brown mixed with the summery yellow. Paired with the smooth almost beef steak slices to rival the wavy odd ball ones that came from some long lost aberration of evolution. To which a faint sprinkling of CAPS (Colin’s All Purpose Seasoning, yes we have a bucket of it in the kitchen labeled as such and no you can’t have the recipe.) Followed by extra virgin olive oil, the pure and expensive stuff. Not that watered down pomace crap. The real deal. Cap that with a couple of breaded and pan fried goat cheese slices for flavor, texture, and FAT. To which we finish the dish with some chiffonade basil and balsamic reduction. (The tangy sweet sauce that the staff lovingly refer to as motor oil.)

Served with this was a house made Pesto Spiral Loaf with Smoked Shallot Butter. Sadly, the dish just didn’t come out how I wanted. If I were to do it again I would make a thinner pesto, almost a paste and wring all the moisture out of it. That way there’s less weight when the bread goes through its second rise. As it was, the final product was some what flat and the rings of bright green pesto not as prevalent as one would hope. By it’s self it was average at best. But slather on some of that “I will take the recipe with me to the grave” shallot butter and the dish came alive. I guess there is just no separating bread and butter.

The main course, served in the largest bowl I’ve ever seen on a plated meal, came the thyme infused cous cous with Romesco Halibut. It could be my upbringing, or my training, or perhaps my job experience but I’ve never really had a lot of call or use for cous cous. It’s certainly a cheap pasta, easy to cook and maintain. And it’s striking me more and more as an invaluable staple for the aspiring chef. (Not that I qualify, but all the same.) This held flavor and heat well with out getting tacky like rice or over cooked orzo. The halibut was perfect, could not complain in any way. And coming from the eternal pessimist that’s saying something. I literally watched them butcher the fish and back the sides in ice that morning when I picked it up from Northern Fish off of 56th. If you’re a lover of anything that swims or crawls in the sea stop on by and check out their retail outlet there or down on Ruston Way. They do fast, inexpensive and best of all, high quality work. Followed by a traditional Romesco style sauce, it was the perfect accompaniment to the fish and the cous cous. Mike from the Landmark was so impressed he poked his head in the kitchen and thanked me personally. And considering the size and volume they do DAILY over there, that’s a compliment.

This was all well and good so far, folks had enjoyed the informative speaker and were enjoying their second round of drinks when Monica and Monique made their way to the front and had a small stage show to explain the dessert. They had chosen a flambé, bravely enough, because if I had to stand in front of my peers wearing clothing that isn’t strictly flame retardant like my coat you’d have to herd me toward the stage with a whip in one hand an my paycheck in the other. Could be my paranoia, but the concept of lighting things on fire in a place not designed for it harbors all kinds of problems but the ladies went on ahead undaunted so far be it from me to hinder them. I went through it with them once and was fine, dusting off that old knowledge imparted into my by Professor Mac Cabe from SSCC (Now retired and living in France with his boyfriend I believe) as he was the front of the house instructor. I was surprised, I didn’t even light the airy lace overlay the table was decked out with on fire. Then Monique gave it a shot, a little clunky but not bad for some one who doesn’t sling pans for a living. The main stage show was only interrupted when it became evident that when Monica came back for the dishes base I didn’t give her the finishing sauce so they had to call back to the kitchen for it.

The dish it’s self, was triple berry stuffed crepes with Chambord sauce, white chocolate drizzle, and chocolate covered strawberry for garnish. They, like much of the meal, were a hit and the staff in particular was quite voracious when it came to devouring them. In the beginning I was worried the crepes wouldn’t hold up long enough in the oven with the macerated berries inside as they were purging their juices long before they made it to the plate but the crepes were of excellent quality and soaked it all up after the initial purge. The only thing I would have done differently is display it on a larger plate, but that had precious little to do with the food quality it’s self and after seeing how much stuff was on the table they needed all the space they could get.

So all in all, a job well done. Many thanks were given and I’d like to think I accepted them all graciously. I look forward to next year when we don’t just have health to worry about. Now give me something like cheese to work with and I can pull all kinds of tricks that would impress even the most jaded member of my industries heart.

Kitchen’s Closed.



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