AT FIRST, the guest of honor didn't even want a birthday party. But that sentiment didn't last long.
A loving daughter contacted Syd Sexton, president of Alex Brooks Fine Catering of Lakewood, Colo., to stage the "birthday party of a lifetime" for her father's 90th birthday. The event was originally planned for 40 guests. But as the details came together and the invitations were addressed, "the guest of honor really got into it," Sexton says. "The honoree had lived in Denver all his life and everywhere he went, he knew people, and they were invited." The honoree invited so many people that the guest list jumped to 175 only four days before the event.
To accommodate the overgrown guest list, Sexton changed the venue from inside a historic local mansion to the mansion grounds. She installed a tent so that the family could show a video of the honoree's life. Valet parking and many additional rentals were added at the last minute "and, just to make things interesting, Denver had one of the warmest weeks in years," Sexton notes. "So we had a luncheon at high noon for 175 guests, average age 75, average temperature 102 degrees-with no air conditioning."
Sexton adapted by adding ceiling fans in the tent, offering plenty of raspberry iced tea and mineral water, and running out to a nearby supermarket for ice when the ice company postponed its scheduled delivery one hour before the event's start. "It's all part of the business, right?" Sexton says.
The menu featured hors d'oeuvre, passed on antique-style wood platters, that included honey-smoked salmon, California rolls, and crepes with sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. The honoree is an amateur jazz musician, so Sexton commissioned an ice carving shaped like a saxophone, which held shrimp and crab claws.
The buffet was dressed in Copperfield linens and featured a huge rusted urn overflowing with summer wildflowers and grapevines. Copper, pewter and marble serving pieces offered warm phyllo bundles of herbed chevre; pan-fried veal piccata; "airline" chicken breast (a semi-boneless chicken breast with the upper wing section removed and lower wing joint pointing up) stuffed with prosciutto, fontina and mushrooms; crawfish tomato etouffee in a pastry shell; red wine shiitake risotto; and potato napoleons. Fresh haricot vert with baby carrots were served on a heated stone, while an old grapevine bread basket overflowed with Alex Brooks' custom breads. The food budget for the event was $35 per person. Wally Richardson of Denver-based Nuances created the decor and floral design; Denver-based Lendable Linens provided the linens.
The birthday cake-white chocolate with raspberry filling and yellow buttercream frosting-was also shaped like a saxophone. It was presented on plates painted with creme anglaise and decorated with raspberries. "We didn't include candles," Sexton says. The cake was created by Brian Madison of Denver.
In contrast to many events where part of the excitement is rapid-fire activity, this 90th birthday party owed much of its success to its gentle pace. "Our guests liked the fact that we had so much food and so many choices, yet there were never long lines at the buffets," Sexton notes. "They had plenty of time to sit and enjoy their hors d'oeuvre, and we called them to the buffet one table at a time. It was a delicious meal on a beautiful day."
But not too gentle. At one point during the festivities, the honoree stepped out to show everyone at his party how to jitterbug.