Debra Lykkemark, president and CEO of Culinary Capers in Vancouver, British Columbia, describes a caterer's nightmare: “Food gets cold, sauces coagulate, and dinner guests wait.” To avoid this, fundraising dinners require caterers to show foresight and finesse, not to mention a sharp eye on the bottom line. These food-savvy pros share how to pull off masterful menus where the food stays warm, the sauces remain smooth, and the dinner guests have a ball.
For a 40-guest dinner in October for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, New York-based Shiraz NYC needed a menu that “appealed to a broad range of palates, was simple to prepare and serve, and lent an element of sophistication to the evening,” notes president Shai Tertner. Lucky for Tertner, money wasn't an issue for this three-course dinner plus hors d'oeuvre because the client himself was willing to offset costs. Yet, Tertner has helpful tips for keeping costs down, including serving a salad as a first course and dishing out the meal family-style.
All in all, “There are not set rules when it come to planning an event like this,” Tertner says, “so long as you have ample alcohol on hand and plenty of food.” Specifically, signature cocktails and “plenty of champagne” are nice touches. As for food, Tertner says beef and white flaky fish are fundraising favorites, but he avoids offering shellfish, veal and pork unless specially requested because those three foods “seem to stir up the most controversy,” he notes. And when it comes to dessert, he adds, “You can never go wrong with chocolate.”
COOK TO TASTE
To cut down on costs, a South Florida charity skipped the traditional sit-down gala and opted for a series of smaller dinners hosted at private homes. This allowed Miami-based 2Taste Catering to bypass a cookie-cutter approach in favor of a labor-intensive seven-course tasting menu with a different white wine-pairing for each course. The event raised 10 times the usual amount for that fundraiser.
President of the PETA-recommended catering company, John Rosetti caters to the South Florida palate with heavy-protein, low-carb menus and international flavors. But catering success is not easy these days. Caterers “are now competing against celebrity chefs and their restaurants or TV shows to capture the crowd,” Rosetti says.
A CERTAIN JE NE SAIS QUOI
The Francophile got a little slice of French heaven with the menu at October's Joie de Vivre Inspiration Fashion Gala benefiting the BC Cancer Foundation. The team at Culinary Capers Catering went all out with their typical multi-tasking menu. Vegetarian items were suitable for both vegans and lactose-intolerant guests. The team also created shellfish dishes where the shellfish could be easily omitted, in case a diner had allergies or religious objections. For example, Culinary Capers' sweet corn souffle “was lovely with or without the addition of the Dungeness crab meat,” Lykkemark notes.
Lykkemark has plenty of high-volume tricks too. She suggests sablefish over halibut because “sablefish is much more forgiving and stays moist even if a little overcooked.” To speed up plating, potatoes appear as potato cakes and rice as risotto cakes. And for visual impact, vegetables are bound together, such as carrots, asparagus and red pepper wedges tied to-gether with a chive strand.
Culinary Capers Catering
SHIRAZ NYC'S WISH-FULFILLING MENU
Cocktail Hors d'oeuvre
Fig and Goat Cheese Phyllo Pockets
Smoked Duck Pizzettas
Tuna and Avocado Tartare on Black Sesame-crusted Won Tons
Tea-smoked Duck Napoleon with Layered Sweet Potato
Duck and Braised Cabbage with a Mache Salad
Horseradish-crusted Grilled Sirloin with Red Cabbage Braised in Merlot
Seared Halibut seasoned with Cumin, Turmeric and Coriander served with Indian Ratatouille
Quince and Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Candied Mint
SEVEN TASTES FROM 2TASTE
Cauliflower Timbale and Brunoise of Tomato on a Tomato Gelee
Sherry-essenced Lobster Bisque Soup with Creme Fraiche
Crab Cake atop Frisee with Remoulade Vinaigrette
Sea Scallop atop Wilted Spinach with Braised Endive
Bass a L'orange with Leek Chiffonade and Chive-essenced Couscous
New York Sirloin with a Mushroom and Port-infused Demi-glace and Spaetzle
CULINARY CAPERS' HAUTE CUISINE
Passed Hors d'oeuvre
Ultra-rare Tuna Skewers with Micro Niçoise Salad
Chanterelle Souffle with Sweet Corn and Crab
Beef Tenderloin with Chestnut Celery Root Sauce served with Fondant Yukon Gold Potatoes and Autumn Vegetable Jewels
White Bean, Roasted Pumpkin and Sage Parcel with Roasted Hazelnut Sauce
Sablefish with Fennel Pollen served with a Green Apple Beurre Blanc
Chocolate Caramel Terrine