Last year around this time, I was asked to cook at the silent auction fundraiser for my kids’ elementary school. The event, a 1970s-themed soiree at a local venue, the 1909, was a huge success and the food — including pizzas and huge paleolithic ribeye steaks emerging from a wood-fired oven — was the star.
So when it came around time for the 2015 fundraiser — with an 80s theme — I was again asked. Again, I accepted.
The party would take place this year at Froggy’s, a local restaurant that had been shuttered and put up for sale — which I briefly considered buying before regaining my common sense — and then, upon failing to find a buyer, reopened.
I enjoy doing large events. It forces me to alter my approach to cooking and plating, to reimagine my aesthetic — which, as those of you who know me know, tends toward small artfully composed plates of interesting color, taste and textural combinations. In other words, at large events, I can’t be quite so fussy.
Much of the secret of a successful food event, whether it is a dinner party or a 150-person party, is your pre-preparation. In both cases, I like to have almost everything done before I even begin. So in the case of the this year’s auction, I spent the week before the event zeroing in on the final menu, and then slow-smoking brisket, roasting peppers, reducing pork shoulders into piles of sugary Thai shreds, sourcing ahi and cod…
The menu was as follows:
• Spicy tuna sushi crisps with seaweed & pea sprout salad
• Thai pork tacos with spicy slaw
• Southern fried chicken with truffle mashed potato
• Butter-roasted cod with Spanish garlic cous cous
• Texas-style smoked brisket with roast pepper puree & onion rings
Dessert was donut holes with powdered sugar “blow” in a nod to a staple of 1980s decadence. (We tried to serve the sugar on mirrors with rolled up dollar bills, but were denied by the school administrators.)
A neighbor of mine is Colin Hay, singer and songwriter of the 1980s band, Men At Work. In a nod to him, I closed the menu with a song lyric: “He just smiled, and gave me a vegemite sandwich.”
Although I’m sure to most folks, serving a five-course dinner of plated food to 150 people may seem daunting. But it’s amazing what you can do with a little pre-prep and a few good men (and women). I reassembled most of my crew from last year — friends Peri, Don, Curtis, Ernie, Katy, Amy and Brooks — and my own load, while formidable leading up to the event, was light.
Food service was done by 8:30, and we were able to join the dancing. Someone handed me a blue cocktail with marshmallows floating on the top, and things went south. I have vague memories of “Boys Don’t Cry,” a red headed woman in a green dress, talking about favorite sauces with a Hell’s Angel, and slumping in the back seat of my friend Heather’s car bound for espressos at the Schneiders house when all I really wanted to do was go home and go to bed.
The morning’s hangover was combated with a 5-mile run in the state park. And then it began all over again, as I started preparation for a wedding the Sunday of Memorial weekend at the 1909. (And in a nice closing of the loop, the bride-to-be contacted me after finding last year’s silent auction post online when she googled “1909”.)
Some fabulously favorite 1980s–ish friends and loved ones the night of the event:
I wonder if next year’s auction will be 1990s-themed — men with long, greasy hair in flannel shirts, women in overalls and brown lipstick? What a decade that was…