Feeding the Unwashed Masses

I am not a caterer.

Caterers have large refrigerators and big stainless steel warming trays and things like that. I’m a chef. I have knives. And I like to see the looks on people’s faces when they taste something good that I have made. It’s hard to do that when you’ve laid out a buffet for 200 people.

The menu

The menu

So, I approached the silent auction I was cooking for as if it was just a big dinner I was doing for 200 of my friends. (Which is essentially what it was anyway.)

The evening began with small bags of porkcorn (which survived an Argentine ant attack earlier in the day) set about the property for folks to snack on. I had my pal Ernie cut five three-foot pieces of 1″ x 10″ pine, which we stained with soy sauce and brushed with canola oil, for serving platters. Most of the food was done by the time I got there around 3 that afternoon, since the venue has no stove. Of course, we figured the pizza oven would be the main attraction anyway. So everything before that was either cold or warmed lightly in the convection oven.

Polenta squares with braised beet greens and asiago cheese

Polenta squares with braised beet greens and asiago cheese

I came a little unglued when I saw the plates. I had had several discussions with my friend, Mariam, who was running the event, about what kind of plates we would use. I liked square bamboo plates she had shown me. Turns out those were too expensive, so she was going with the round bamboo, which was not ideal but okay. The bamboo shipment apparently didn’t arrive, and moments before the first dish was to be served, I was presented with thin flimsy paper plates from Smart & Final. I was not a happy chef. (“They’re only plates, Sean,” I told myself, “Nobody cares but you.”) But we sent another friend back to Smart & Final to try to do better, she did, and things were underway.

I was four beers in by the time the first course — potato batons topped with cured Spanish tuna and salmorejo tomato sauce — emerged from the kitchen. (That and several bottles of very fine wine — thank you Katy! — later would explain why I needed to be reminded the next day of several conversations I hadn’t even known I’d had.) Next came gazpacho with Iberico grilled cheese sandwiches, followed by polenta squares with braised beet greens and asiago cheese.

Don Schneider with a wood plank full of gazpachos

Don Schneider with a wood plank full of gazpachos

We brought roasted beet and carrot chopped salads served in romaine leaves down to the oven with us so we could start our work. My pal James had fired the oven up to nearly 1,000 degrees, and the first matter of business was pizzas.

I brought along 30 pizza doughs, and we began constructing three different types of pizzas — wild mushroom with cream sauce, classic margherita and carne with smoked speck and Parisian ham. (There was to be a fourth — spicy calamari — but the calamari got left at home to become a crispy calamari dish the next night as we nursed hangovers at our friends, the Schneiders.) The scent from the oven and the success of the pizzas (“That’s the best pizza I’ve ever tasted,” said one convert) meant difficulty for the folks trying to run the live auction a hundred feet away.

The oven menu

The oven menu

We shooed everyone away to the auction while we prepared the next course — bocadillo: smoked pork shoulder shredded from the bone and served with spicy cole slaw and Iberico cheese on King’s Hawaiian Bread.

At the same time the bocadillo sandwiches began emerging, the live auction ended — an hour behind schedule — and the crowds returned. We had intended to have dinner finished before sunset, to plate things and place them on a long plank table nearby. But now it was dark, the people were hungry, and they would have none of it. They stood before us with empty plates in hand and anxious looks on their faces.

Kitchen staff under the continuing duress of alcohol at the wood oven

Kitchen staff under the continuing duress of alcohol at the wood oven

Fortunately, we had plenty of food — and as sandwiches continued to roll off the assembly line, we began heat blasting nine very large, very thick dry-aged rib eyes to be cut up with extra virgin olive oil, meyer lemon juice and Maldon salt and served atop beds of arugula.

Soon dinner was done, the hungry revelers had gone either home or upstairs to dance. We cleaned up, I sent out a couple people with planks of dessert — Smores, chile pecan butter toffee, dark chocolate cookies and madeleines — although it seemed most people were already beyond that. The coffee never even got brewed.

A late night shot. I have no idea what it is.

A late night shot. I have no idea what it is.

I was loading the car with pans and leftovers — several people went home with gazpacho — when my wife pulled up. She had left an hour or so before and was back!

“Whatcha doing, babe?” I said.

“Taking you home,” she replied.

“But I’m fine!” I declared.

I lost that argument.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Greggie
    May 10, 2014 @ 00:17:12

    Hooray for Leslie to your rescue even if you didn’t feel the need to be rescued. I was concerned when I read that the coffee remained unbrewed and everyone left for those twisty darkened roads of the canyon. Congrats on your intimate dinner for 200. Sure everyone was appreciative of your success.


  2. Jessamine in PDX
    May 10, 2014 @ 06:10:31

    Yay! Glad to see the follow up. I had no doubts of the success — especially with 9 dry aged ribeyes to serve up. (I’m wrestling with some jealousy over here.) Happy to know you officially broken in the pizza oven too! Those pies sound delicious.


  3. Michelle
    May 11, 2014 @ 12:44:09

    And a grand time was had by all…


  4. pal-O
    May 12, 2014 @ 22:05:02

    I saw it all from 3,000 miles away. I knew it would be fine and also glad to see Leslie as a bit of a sobering Clara Barton to Chef Seamus. I think that photo of the bright light is you turning back just in the nick of time as God was probably hoping to get you to cater one of his events beyond this veil.


  5. Trackback: In Praise of the Unpasteurized | skinny girls & mayonnaise
  6. Trackback: Feeding the Masses, Again | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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