An Intimate Dinner for 60

Who would’ve guessed finding a good loaf of pumpernickel could be such a challenge!

I do a number of fundraising dinners, usually for my kids’ schools. It’s something I’m good at that I can contribute, the dinners bring in a lot of money for the schools, and they make a lot of people happy. But I had never done one quite this large before.

Heirloom tomatoes for gazpacho and green zebra risotto

Heirloom tomatoes for gazpacho and green zebra risotto

Let me establish one thing: I am not a caterer. I don’t have all that caterer stuff, I dislike buffets, I don’t like not having creative control over every single dish. I typically do fancy dinners for anywhere from four to 16 or 18 people. Though I have been pressed at times into cooking for larger events, it’s usually been as a favor at the prodding of a dear friend (read: couldn’t say no)… Yes, Tracy, I’m looking at you! So when the idea of doing a pop-up restaurant fundraiser for the school came up, I was initially hesitant. But I’m also that kid who when the other kid says, “Bet you can’t jump over that gorge,” I say, “Oh yeah!??? Watch this…”

So I agreed. And set about the challenges of pulling of a successful event.

The dinner would be held at the Trust Ranch, the home of friends Martin and Sue Schmitt. The ranch sits atop what is locally known as “The Mesa,” the flat top of a mountain that is home to horse ranches, cowboys, rattlesnakes and the artist Chris Burden (the guy who had himself shot as performance art back in the 70s). In their dining room, kitchen and various romantic patios, we would create a one-night restaurant. The date was set: Friday, August 30. Tomorrow night.

The menu came about in a piecemeal fashion. I considered the season — late summer: tomatoes, cool or room-temperature dishes (we were expecting 100 degrees for that day on the Mesa), salmon, corn, blackberries. I brought back variations on a couple of my standards, including the ever popular “Fish & Flowers” (sashimi on Vietnamese pancakes sprinkled with herb flowers), an ode to pork and my “Caspian Still Life” — vodka-cured salmon, pumpernickel and caviar with assorted sauces and accent notes.

Steelhead trout, curing

Steelhead trout, curing

The sourcing would take place over the month or so before, when I found inspiration or had room in my freezer — the former commonplace, the latter not so much. I found beautiful marbled short ribs and braised them well ahead of time, making and freezing ravioli. Likewise a slab of pork country ribs on sale would do well for my pork dish. Polenta cubes and Italian cornmeal sabbiosa cake would freeze well, but the seafoods and tomatoes and farmer’s market produce I would buy the day before the event.

I found the pumpernickel at last — a dense, grainy number — at the German deli near the auto body shop where I was picking up my car. The lady behind the counter greeted me cheerfully and asked how I was. I said I was doing well, thank you, and the white-haired 84-year-old gal named Rose in front of me said, “Of course he’s doing well. He’s young. What does he have to worry about.”

Feeding 60 people?

Stay tuned for a review of my own restaurant. (Will that cause a tear in the fabric of the universe?) I’ll try to be objective. Let the feast begin.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle
    Aug 30, 2013 @ 02:32:58

    What are you doing writing this blog post? You need to be cooking!! Looking very forward to the post-mortem.


  2. Mom
    Aug 30, 2013 @ 03:30:35

    interesting that an 84 year old person said what does a 40 ish person have to worry about, I found so much more to worry about at 40 than I do in my advanced 70’s.


  3. JC Williams
    Aug 30, 2013 @ 04:24:50

    Yes, Rose is right.

    Saturday Afternoon, June 22. Once you were daring and on top of your game / Before the ravages of time / Took your teeth / And the ability to use your legs / Or, even a spoon.

    A kind-hearted woman in your employ / Spoons lentils from a Whole Foods carton into your mouth / Your speech garbled like my late grandmother’s / I wonder about you, about myself / Will I someday sit near a 40-something woman pondering her fate, while my fate has been decided?

    Go Sean Go!


  4. Trackback: KING of the Food Snobs | Rachel's Table

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