For those who have never worked in the catering business, the idea of serving 1,000 people delicious, warm, innovative food at the same time would seem daunting and intimidating. I will not lie, it is. Gaining experience and learning the "tricks of the trade" will provide an invaluable idea of what large-scale catering events entail.
Cusine: The food remains the most important aspect of any catering event. If the food does not exceed the expectations of the guests–and remember there are 1,000 of them at once–then the experience can be disastrous. Every part of the meal, from the soup or salad course to the entree and dessert, must be delicious and at the proper temperature. Buying the best fresh and local ingredients will put any event on the path to success. Here are some cooking tricks of the catering trade:
- Salads for dozens, fast: Whack the bottom of a head of lettuce with a knife so the leaves separate, fill a basin with cold water, dump in a few heads and swish them around to rinse. Spin them dry in the largest batch possible, or put then in a large plastic bag with a couple of kitchen towels and swing them. (Caterers don't use plastic bags, they use spinners, but this works well and saves the cost of restaurant equipment you might not use more than once a year). When the leaves are dry, stack them up on a large cutting board and slice across them at approximately one inch intervals. If you're feeling fancy or have time, you can slice down the length of the leaves too, making more bite-size lettuce pieces.
- Oysters on the half shell: Oysters require extra labor to chuck, but they are currently a popular item. Allow guests to customize by choosing what to add and have a variety of applications and uses for a caterer to show their skills.
- Pour some sugar on me: For any bland tasting food there is one simple and easy cure: sugar. A teaspoon of sugar will enhance almost any dish. Even if your recipe doesn't call for sugar, tossing in a half teaspoon will brighten the flavor while adding negligible calories.
Chef: In reality, a group of talented chefs makes a difference. I have the pleasure and honor of working with some of the most talented, passionate and committed culinary minds at Morrissey Hospitality Companies (MHC). Each one of them makes my job easier and more enjoyable through our collective talents of supporting and growing together to create memorable experiences for our guests.
Chefs need to be creative and have the ability to think outside the box. For large-scale events, this type of thinking and strategizing needs to happen at the beginning of the event planning process and it has to support the host's goals and budget. Great food done well every time is far above exceptional food done well some of the time.
MHC prides itself by working and meeting with a client as often as they would like in order to exceed their expectations for an event. We work alongside the host as a partner, which involves fact finding, tastings and reviews of the schedule.
Concept: Full service catering offers a host and event the services of setting up, executing and cleaning up all parts of an event. MHC strives to provide the complete experience. After spending days, weeks and months planning an event, we want you to enjoy it.
Cleaning up after an event is likely the last part of the event you want to be involved with or think about. For a 1,000-person event, it can take multiple days to clean the thousands of plates, silverware and glassware, as well as the utensils, pots and pans used to cook and prepare the food and beverages.
And what about all of the compost and waste? At the Saint Paul RiverCentre there is nearly a one-to-one ratio of trash to recycling on site. All food waste from kitchens, concession areas and offices are now composted. There are guidelines for purchasing biodegradable and compostable food service ware in many areas of the convention center. Between the waste, recycling and purchasing programs, the RiverCentre has reduced trash by 59 percent and 53 percent since 2009.
Although you may not be inviting 1,000 people to your house anytime soon, there are some tips and tricks you can apply no matter the size of your group. Most of all have fun, and after all of the planning and executing is done, gather feedback from your host and their guests. There is always something to learn and be better at the next time.
Corporate Chef, Morrissey Hospitality Companies, Inc.
[Photos courtesy of Morrissey Hospitality Companies]