Ro Howe is our favorite chef; she has catered scores of parties, formal dinners, and family gatherings for us. (Catered by proxy, that is, through her many luscious article for Women ’s Voices, ranging from “A Savory Mad Men Night Meal” to a four-part series called “Valentine’s Day Enchantment.” Ro is the chef-owner of Barraud Caterers. Ltd., In New York City.
Here, as the third diary in our series “Days of Their Lives”—profiles of accomplished women with unusual jobs—is a peek into the hectic kitchen of a caterer/chef. —Ed.
There is no such thing as a regular, normal day for a chef who is also a caterer. Every day is driven by particular clients and their specific events, so every day is different from every previous day. (There are similarities, though, in the repeated sounds of small appliances whirring.) I kept a diary of the preparations in my kitchen on Thursday, December 6, 2012—a “typical” (but nevertheless unique) day in the life of a caterer/chef.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
The first of three days’ prep for two back-to-back parties
7 a.m. In the kitchen early for a meat delivery from Ottomanelli’s. While I’m waiting for the crew to arrive, I read and respond to e-mails, pay bills, post a daily snippet on Facebook, then check the prep sheet and allocate jobs, writing the initials of which staff will start on which jobs when they arrive.
Sometimes I’m lucky: Two clients may select some of the same items from my menus, so we can prep some recipes for both events at the same time. Alas, not this time: two parties, back to back—long cocktail events for 150 and 100, with no menu overlap. So we’re preparing 30 different recipes in three days.
Here are the menus, to provide you with a map of the various activities.
For 150 guests in a large penthouse apartment in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on December 8
Middle Eastern lamb “piggies” with fruit and mustard yogurt
Seafood corn dogs with red pepper mayonnaise
Harissa macaroni and cheese with herb crumbs—ramekin with demi spoon
Red Thai shrimp bisque with sweet pea–cilantro ice cream—demi cup
Roast duck, black bean and Mahón cheese quesadilla with poblano-corn salsa
Spiced foie gras crème brûlée with candied nuts and fruit—ramekin with demi spoon
Pork and shrimp pot stickers
Roasted pepper bruschetta with sherry-garlic butter and preserved lemon
Buttermilk pea mousse with prosciutto crisps—Chinese spoon
Vegetable and herb summer roll—with sriracha mayonnaise
Peanut butter shortbread with chocolate-peanut butter mousse and roasted popcorn ice cream
Sticky toffee banana bread pudding with Bourbon crème fraîche—ramekin with demi spoon
For 100 guests, in a large private home on Park Avenue, December 9
Mushroom broth ravioli—spoon
Soy and fruit-braised beef short ribs with pickled carrots and mustard seeds—spoon
Asparagus, morel polpettone with Madeira crème fraîche
Maple-bacon glazed scallops on butternut squash risotto pancakes—frisée, mushroom salad
Thai chicken curry in mango toast tartlets
Oysters with cucumber martini sorbet and white balsamic drizzle—martini glass & spoon
Melon gazpacho with chili oil Alaskan crab—shot glass
Citrus, honey, and herb-marinated lobster with mango and avocado—spoon
Masala-coffee spiced duck salad with cranberry vinaigrette in endive spear
Snow pea, rice vermicelli, and mint with spicy balsamic-citrus syrup, cashew dressing—spoon
Spicy tuna with yuzu-apple mayonnaise and wasabi pea sprinkle in nori cups
Chilled coconut soup with poached pineapple, mango tapioca, and spicy lime syrup—shot glass
Carrot cake with cardamom cream cheese frosting and cinnamon ice cream—spoon
Saint-Marcellin crème brûlée with roasted pear—ramekin & demitasse spoon
Chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream—ramekin with demitasse spoon
Hot spiced apple toddy
9 a.m. Crew of five arrives, along with the produce delivery. Ben helps me check in the order. Cilantro goes back—yellowing and lacks flavor. Georgie is re-packing items into assigned storage areas: herbs released from their rubber bands, beets and potatoes in the root bin, etc. After I’ve signed for the order I get to assignments.
“Ben—you’re on custard and caramel sauce for the chocolate bread puddings and sweet pea-cilantro for the ice cream.
“Christa—prep all the meat marinades: for the pork belly, duck, beef short ribs.
“Tim and Pitita—divvy up all the dipping and drizzling site sauces, candied fruit for the foie crèmes, sherry-garlic butter for the bruschetta, sriracha mayonnaise for the summer roll, lemongrass-ginger syrup for the pork belly, pickled carrots for the short ribs, maple bacon glaze for the scallops, Madeira crème fraîche for the asparagus polpettone, cashew dressing and white balsamic drizzle for the snow pea salad, cranberry vinaigrette for the duck, yuzu-apple mayonnaise and wasabi pea sprinkle for the tuna tartare, spicy lime syrup for the coconut soup.”
That’ll keep them all busy until the meat arrives!
10:20 a.m. Call from Client One: the numbers have gone up by 20. Food’s fine, but I need to increase the rentals.
Call the rental company. “Diane, can we increase AP glassware by 40 and martini and champagne glasses by 20 each? Also we’ll need another coat rack with wooden hangers. Also—don’t forget—for entry to that building you need to present an insurance certificate and all the delivery guys need photo ID. Great! Thanks!”
Call the ice company. “Mike—increase my order for Columbus Circle from four to five tins—just to be safe. Your guys need photo ID . . . I’d prefer not to send a staff member down to the loading dock to pick up the ice tubs like last year.”
Call captain and waiters to establish arrival times and dress for both events. Leaving messages—“Call back to confirm, repeating details please folks?”
11 a.m. Checking on everyone’s process, progress, and labeling. Whether the dish is good, delicious, or delectable—correct labeling is THE most important system in catering! No matter how much effort you put into a task, if it doesn’t arrive at the site, ALL is/was/will be in vain. AMEN!
Christa joins Ben & Pitita to finish the site sauces.
Noon. Call Vananda transport to verify pickup time for both events.
12:05 p.m. Ottomanelli’s butcher delivery arrives.
“Georgie—please collect the meat bins?”
Checking in the ground lamb, Muscovy duck breast, B grade foie lobe, ground pork, prosciutto sliced nice and thin. Please check? Pork belly, center cut only, beef short ribs, Korean cut across the bone only; smoked bacon, chicken thighs—stored separately, lunch sausage.
12:20 p.m.: “Ben—you’re on lunch: sausage, pasta, salad, for 1:30 please?”
12:30 p.m. I start the butchering, calling for the marinades to be added to each piece of meat as it’s completed, set up a bain-marie for baking foie for the custard.
1:30 p.m. Butchery completed. “Lunch, Ben?” Tasty, healthy lunch: protein, carbs, and lots of salad.
Checking on the morning’s batch of emails: inquiries from two brides; send first response with Press Kit and menus; a regular corporate client wants to reschedule holiday party to mid-January. Great idea! Bookkeeper looking for last month’s deposit slips. (Drat!) Three waiters looking to join my team. Thank them and forward two résumés to Todd, my GM.
2 p.m. Round two! “Georgie, churn all the ice creams and freeze.”
“Christa and Georgie, you’re on puff pastry for the piggies, prosciutto crisps for the pea mousse, peanut butter shortbreads, sticky toffee banana bread pudding, mango toast tartlets, carrot cake, cream cheese mousse, Bourbon crème fraîche, complete chocolate bread pudding—bake in bain marie.”
That’ll keep the oven going until after teatime (4 p.m. most days).
“Tim and Pitita, you’re on stovetop work: flame-roasting peppers for the bruschetta, mac and cheese, quesadilla filling, pea mousse, mushroom broth for ravioli, asparagus gnocchi for the polpettone, butternut squash risotto pancakes, St. Marcellin crème for the brûlée.”
4 p.m. I’m the tea lady. We’re all still heads-down, deep in prep. It’s going to be a long day. The first of three. Tomorrow more of the same, plus the fish will get delivered so we have to prepare for immediate action on blanching lobsters, cleaning and prepping oysters and shrimp—all work done on ice.
4:30 p.m. Baking finished. Oven turned over to the meat braising. All finished items packed, labeled, checked twice, and prep list–checked.
6:30 p.m. Surfaces cleaned and sanitized, floors swept, scrubbed and mopped, stovetop washed. Racks set up for cooling braises.
7 p.m. Dismiss staff. First batch of kitchen laundry in.
Check emails. Staff allocation for prep tomorrow. Braises out on racks to cool. Check the sauce concentration and flavor profile of all.
8 p.m. Kitchen closed. Both party days start at 9 o’clock, as usual, and keep going until after midnight. Then it’s back to the kitchen, unload, pre-wash ready. for full wash in the morning—mind still working.