Amateur gourmet: first catering gig.

Vanessa from the group Amateur Gourmet asked me to cater a dinner for her foodie group… I almost said ‘no’ because I’m really not at that level. But she was quite nice and persistent and so I relented and agreed to make a Southern menu.And kicked the prep off by ordering Potts Design Smart Conversation menu cards from minted.

Starting with Mint Juleps (left) and Sweet Tea Vodka (right).

You can tell I’m quite sweaty!! The hardest part was running the food down from our apartment in a taxi and then running it all the way up to the group’s space… and then I had some oven challenge as the oven is an Asian sized oven and wasn’t big enough to fit all that it needed to: crabcakes chicken pot pie, ham, potatoes…

In hindsight, with only a mini-oven and just with regards to the size of people’s stomachs, the menu over-reached. I would definitely do less courses next time. And having menu cards is awesome, but means you can’t drop an item if you’re behind schedule… so that makes things tough, too.

But luckily it was such a nice group and they were all very understanding. It’s so fun in these types of situations to see how 8 people who all know no more than one person attending get along.

My personal highlight from the menu was the broccoli salad — the recipe is from my friends John & Nancy. It’s awesome so I uploaded it here. I think the guest’s highlight were the cheddar and chive biscuits, although they did finish all of their chicken pot pies (below).

The difficult part of an event like this is that you’re not the host, but also not just hired help… and the kitchen was part of the dining room so there was no where to hide or to sneak a bite to make sure something was edible before it went out…

I was quite pleased with how Nigella’s coca cola ham turned out… I modified it slightly and used whole cherries in the glaze.

So all is going pretty well at this point… not every dish was exceptional, but I was relieved that most of it was being eaten and people were enjoying themselves… and then I got out my coconut cream pie. And went to cut it. And it was a pile of mush. Apparently in the rush to get it all done (including two separate crust attempts–the first failing because I had converted the butter wrong) and then the rush down the hill (riding on my lap circling about the Peak in a taxi (below) along with 12 other dishes, pitchers of cocktails, steaming cabbage, etc.) it had not set properly… and there was nothing that could be done. Talk about wanting to stab a fork in your eye!!! I have made this pie several times and every other time people literally RAVED about it. And now it had let me down. Or rather I had pushed it’s limits…. really, I had no one to blame but myself. I had considered making it the night before but was worried that then the crust would be soggy… and then really didn’t start it early enough. Whenever making any complicated dessert you really need to leave time for mishaps…. It’s so painful to end on not a positive note! I always think that if the dessert is good, no matter what the guests will think the food was good. But what could I do? You can’t end a Southern feast with no dessert. So I served it up calling it a “hot mess of coconut” and dug deep for a big smile. I SO wish I were serving friends and not paying guests at this point and swore in my head that I would NEVER do anything like this again.

I’ve now had two days to “recover” from the trauma and am starting to “see the positive.” The truth is that this really put me WAY outside of my comfort zone and if I were to do something like this on a regular basis I would become a much better hostess and cook. It’s good to really push yourself, but you need to realize your own limits, keep things as simple as possible, and stick close to tried and true dishes when working in a new environment. AND I will never ever, mark my words, make a dessert day-of again. Lesson learned. I also have so much more respect for wedding caterers… it is SO hard to cook not in your own kitchen!!

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9 responses to “Amateur gourmet: first catering gig.

  1. Wow, this looks incredible! Do not worry for a second about the pie–looks like this job was way more than one person and a tiny Asian kitchen could possibly handle, and I’m sure everyone loved it. Wish I could have been a guest at this party!

  2. I am so impressed! That was a huge amount of work (and pressure) to take on. I can’t imagine transporting all that food via cab and putting it together in a mini-kitchen like that.
    I agree with Gina – I would’ve loved to eat that dinner… including the coconut mess! (I often repeat what my mom always told us: “Your tummy will fix it!”)
    Also, I have a secret passion for broccoli salad. Yours looks delicious.

  3. Sweet Georgia this looks amazing! Is that an Anthro deviled egg plate I spy? I like your style. You put on an amazing feast AND looked fabulous doing it. Bravo!

  4. Natasha, thanks again for agreeing to do this for the group. It was a fun night! The crab cakes were so good we had to stop ourselves from eating so many we wouldn’t have space for anything else. The mint juleps were so refreshing! The ham so juicy! The menus were adorable! And the coconut cream was a delicious hot coconut mess 🙂 I hope you decide to do something for the group again, maybe a brunch? 🙂 We really appreciated it and we are a nice group so we hope to see you again!

  5. Natasha, yes thanks for the fantastic dinner!! It was yummy and the work you put in to it was evident by the delicious and creative spread!

  6. I’d say for your first gig, it was quite a success despite the pie glitch! Bravo, Natasha! I’m so glad you shared with us and I can’t believe all that you did. Of course, the menus were divine, too! 🙂

  7. Congrats, Natasha! Can’t believe you did this – you are awesome!

  8. This makes me laugh, I was literally chuckling at my desk, because the pictures look so gorgeous and because you are SO hard on yourself! It brought me right back to burning cookies while drinking wine at Bulla…I’m so glad to read that you did this because you are definitely capable of this and more! And you’re your own worst critic. Natasha’s coconut pie “mishap” is still every guest’s dream! Yum, would love to try all of the above sometime!

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