Larry Craig can take or leave the current catering trends. The owner of New York-based Laurence Craig Distinctive Celebrations has seen his share. After starting off with a specialty business packaging and delivering low-fat meals to families 11 years ago, Craig now caters more than 350 events a year with guest counts ranging from 10 to 2,000. He has a full-time staff of 20, an on-call waitstaff of 100 and a client roster that includes Louis Vuitton, Vogue and Jaguar, to name just a few. Here he talks food, presentation and Martha Stewart.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What catering trends are on the horizon, and what's passe?
LARRY CRAIG: I think the trend that I am fostering is the “anti-trend.” I am finding that when people come to these events, they want creative, delicious food that is uniquely presented but recognizable. A social event is not really the time for people to experiment with eyedroppers of sauce, hydrogen-frozen demi-glace ice cubes or freeze-dried tomato dust. I think that if the cuisine takes too much thought, it takes the energy and flow out of the party. I prefer to surprise and delight guests with our design and presentation aesthetic. We employ our signature tablescape designs to integrate our menu into the host's decor or theme concept.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Tell me about your tablescapes.
CRAIG: We work very closely with the event designers and decorators to ensure a seamless look for the event. Designers really enjoy working with us because we take their vision and translate it into the foodservice, which is not always [their expertise]. If you want to see an upset designer, let a caterer come in with a bunch of wicker baskets and stainless steel cake stands to use on a buffet for a “Great Gatsby” party! We own a huge inventory of props, platters, risers and assorted display pieces to suit any feel, vision or theme. If we don't have it, we will get it or make it. An African safari party gets wood and clay items from Africa; an Asian party gets bamboo and porcelain.
We can create a very clean aesthetic if that's what the clients want, but my reputation was built on abundance and opulence. The tablescapes are a kind of fantasy that people would never create for themselves on their own.
SPECIAL EVENTS: How has the catering business changed since you've been in it?
CRAIG: I always laugh when I think back to the '80s and remember those huge crudite displays with multitiered baskets overflowing onto the table and hollowed-out cabbages for dip. I think that many caterers have become very sophisticated and realize that their clientele are design-savvy. The perfect example is to look at Martha Stewart's first book. It will immediately enlighten you to how far we have come.
Today we need to compete with the food that is served in the finest restaurants. Many marquee chefs and restaurants are developing an off-premise catering division. In the old days it was considered tacky for a famous chef to cater away from the restaurant. Thank-fully, off-premise catering is a very different skill than restaurant cooking.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Describe an event that stands out in your mind.
CRAIG: Last summer we did a party for a famous rock star in the Hamptons [New York]. The party culminated with an impromptu concert of a band comprised of five legendary music performers, including a Beatle!
The menu was a modern twist on summer comfort classics: lobster and fennel slaw, Reubens, smoked hangar steak with Saga blue mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese fritters with caramelized shallots, cornmeal snapper fish and chips with malt aioli, miniature blueberry milkshakes with tangerine creme fraiche, and strawberry rhubarb spring rolls with lemon curd.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What do you know now that you wish you knew earlier?
CRAIG: Not to take everything so seriously. I remember in my first several years of business I was obsessed with the perfection of every single detail. Nine and three-fourths out of 10 clients will not realize that the dye lot of the napkin that arrived is a tiny shade off the one they picked four months ago or that the asparagus is thin instead of pencil-thin.
Laurence Craig Distinctive Celebrations 529 W. 42nd St. 2G, New York, NY 10036; 973/761-0190; www.laurencecraigcatering.com