"I tried being a mechanic and I tried catering, but I realized I had even less aptitude for semi-skilled labour than for academic work."
I’ve been staring at a blank legal pad for the past twenty minutes, with the words “Catering Event” hastily scribbled on top. Within a maze of crooked lines and tree diagrams on the previous page are ideas for menu items that don’t satisfy a never ending list of criteria: does it fit within the client’s budget? Can it also do double duty for a vegetarian? Will it actually taste good? Is it easy to prep for? Will it make me go insane?
I mean, at this point I’m already deranged - I’m quickly discovering that off-site catering, while a good revenue generator, is a f*cking pain in the ass, especially if you’re the one in charge of it all. I’m at this point wondering if I can go back twelve hours and warn myself not to say yes when The Chef asked if I wanted to do this last minute catering gig. Meanwhile, it’s a typical weekend service: servers are hustling returning dirty plates to the dishpit, while Joey is somewhat panicking at how the cornichon on his charcuterie boards aren’t staying in place. Hoping for inspiration, I keep shuffling back and forth into the kitchen, probably getting in everyone’s way while eyeing how Jose, the stage from a few weeks ago, is working the pantry station.
I get a voicemail from the client: “You know, there’s already a lot of pork on the menu- can we change that last item? How about a baked pasta or something? Or some sort of casserole?”
Reading the word casserole sends an involuntarily shudder through my spine. After consulting with The Chef, we compromise by replacing pork shoulder with beef, eliminating the redundancy in hog, and thankfully the chances of me spending hours rolling out pasta dough. I draw back to my now abandoned business degree and open up a spreadsheet. On it I create a tab for the prep list, spanning 10 columns for each dish, breaking down every single step. A second tab includes a painstaking packing list of everything we could possibly need from serving utensils to rock salt to perch oysters on, and a third tab details whether Bigwood, Cheyenne, or myself will be responsible for firing each dish. Like a virtual dose of Valium, I’m suddenly more at peace in the presence of Excel, even if it is just a temporary remedy.
But yet, as I was falling asleep that night, I could have sworn the Coldplay album I was listening to wasn’t about a divorce from Gwyneth Paltrow, but of four Englishmen singing about everything that can go wrong during a catering event.
The day of the event included an enormous prep list: searing and braising chuck, making mignonette, reducing braising liquids, slicing octopus, and pre-prepping every single item we could, including having the token Asian (read: me) start rolling dozens of spring rolls with compressed & charred tofu as the vegetarian option. I quickly learned that if one is to succeed at catering, one must triple the time you think you need to do everything. Uncertainty is a fickle ingredient to work with, causing you to triple check everything you've done and making you wonder if you really need that extra quart of picked cilantro. We spend over two hours simply checking off from the persnickety list on the iPad that everything is packed before I declared we are ready.
“The oysters are in the cooler as well?” reminds Bigwood. I run to the walk in to get the half size pan full of local oysters before then declaring everything ready to move into the cars.
MY LITTLE CATERING JOB
- Get to the event.
- Examine how mediocre the kitchen and workspace are.
- Somehow manage to find space to fit all the shit you brought with you.
- Begin prepping with people on top of each other.
- Start panicking because the event time is approaching like the Death Star, ready to kill us all with its superlaser.
- Take time to admire how hipster the space is (I mean it's in a god damn barn! There's a vintage truck outside!)
- Find a way to fire 10 different dishes at exactly the same time.
- Get hit by an onslaught of hungry people.
- Realize only 35 out of the 60 people showed up.
- See that they're already full after 30 minutes.
- See that there's an open bar and mostly everyone is too inebriated to remember the food anyway.
Despite the nightmarish disasters I was dreaming of and anticipating, everything was fine. We were overprepped, and the client was happy, if not a little sloshed. But like many who try something for the first time only to discover that never will they ever do it again (getting back together with an ex, being vegan, etc.), I have come to the firm conclusion that off-site catering is my version of hell on earth.