JUST BECAUSE AN event has a long guest list doesn't mean there is any need to sacrifice quality or taste on the food front, caterers say.
Laurence Whiting, director of marketing and media at San Francisco-based Global Gourmet Catering, says that he's seeing an upswing in the number of big events his company is catering. “Large events definitely seem to be coming back,” he says, citing upcoming events for 7,500 and 10,000 guests.
In June, Global designed a menu for 3,500 guests for a corporate client. The event's “Continents” theme lent itself well to an array of menu items, with each continent represented by stations serving that area's local cuisine. In “South America,” tropical flower arrangements and brightly hued linen dressed up stations serving chicken mole with black beans and white rice, Pacific snapper tacos with pineapple salsa and lime cream, and wild mushroom and pepper Jack cheese empanadas. Safari-themed “Africa” stations offered Moroccan beef tagine, herbed rice with tomatoes, onions, peppers and thyme, and Tunisian green beans with coriander and garlic.
A chocolate dessert station — complete with cocoa- and cream-colored linen and edible candy “tree” centerpieces — added a sweet finish to the multinational cuisine theme. A bittersweet chocolate fondue sauce accompanied by fresh fruit and cake for dipping and a selection of house-made truffles and almond biscotti made for a stylish display.
All told, Global prepared 10,500 pounds of food and used 30,000 pieces of china and silverware. “Eight times out of 10, events of this size are not going to be seated events — these events are usually about networking,” Whiting notes. “From the standpoint of the guests, it's much more fun for them to walk through various environments, to mingle and experience the different decor and food.”
PLAN IT OUT
When catering a large-scale event, planning, organization and communication are the keys to well-fed guests.
At Arlington, Va.-based Design Cuisine, front work paid off for a sit-down dinner for 1,000 guests, says company partner Bill Homan. “We do a lot of large seated dinners, and they can be just as easy to do as a hors d'oeuvre reception or cocktail buffet,” he explains. “We split up the event so it runs like two or three separate parties, which makes it easier for the kitchen [staff] to serve.”
For the spring event, the labor-intensive menu — prepared by 30 chefs — featured a first course of asparagus and white truffle vichyssoise served in an ice bowl, which was placed on a square patch of turf and presented on a square plate. The colorful starter was followed by a main course of pomegranate-glazed duckling with white and green asparagus; miniature cakes in five different pastel-hued floral designs made an elegant dessert.
In addition to spending time on the logistics of the menu, it's important to “bring in your staff with enough time to educate them properly, with the proper worksheets and waiter meetings,” Homan says. “Give them a copy of the menu, of what everything is served in — that way, when someone gives them a blue plate by mistake and it's supposed to be black, you have another set of eyes watching. If you give them as much information as you can, then it works.”
WORLD OF TASTE
An event of colossal proportions, the Olympic Games in Athens kicking off this month will be catered by Philadelphia-based Aramark, which has joined forces with Greek company Daskalantonakis Group to form Aramark Dasko.
The enormous menu, sourced from local suppliers, will take into account the varied nationalities and nutritional needs of the athletes, says Aramark Dasko senior executive chef Michael Crane. He estimates that over a two-month period, his team will serve 60,000 meals day to athletes, coaches and Village staff in the 6,500-seat Olympic Village dining room — all served buffet-style by a kitchen staff that will number 300 at any one time. “Logistically, when you do a large menu, it gets very challenging to plan your production effectively and make sure that you're maximizing the use of your product,” Crane says. “You've got to get enough product out, and maintain the variety without running out or overproducing.”
Some 1,200 menu items, including regional dishes from all over the world, will be available, but the menu will emphasize Greek cuisine. “It's so important to highlight that as an experience for an event in another country,” Crane explains. Dishes will include pastitsio, a casserole of pasta, ground beef, tomatoes and white sauce; veal stew finished with avgolemono (egg and lemon) sauce; imam bayaldi, baked eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and cheese; and a wide variety of seafood and pastas. Greek desserts such as bougatsa — phyllo-wrapped cream cheese pie — will also be served.
While the scale of the Olympics requires a wide array of food choices, a huge menu can be overwhelming to guests, Crane says. “The athletes tend to go to what they see as their comfort food,” he explains. “When you offer any customer that much variety, people tend to go to what is familiar to them first.”
Aramark, 800/272-6275; Design Cuisine, 703/979-9400; Global Gourmet Catering, 415/701-0001