Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Catered Affair

Some years ago, I wrote a Missive about a chocolate party and was chastised by an art dealer friend that this was not about art.  Maybe, because I am both a gourmet and a gourmand I begged to disagree.  Once upon a time I cooked regularly and in my library was “The Art of French Cooking”, the book by the iconic chef, Julia Child.  Of course, today you can find pages on line about the art of cooking.  Chefs, very much like all artists, try many experiments with food adding and subtracting ingredients until they find the formula that works the best.

To create a good dinner party you need to mix the food with the right ingredients to make it a success and the most important ingredient is the guests who need to be able to discover common interests.  To state the obvious, you might not wish to invite people who speak about sports all the times and others who are only interested in opera and classical music.

Usually We have dinner parties with another couple or two where my wife grills on our barbeque and I assist with setup and service.  It is probably the best way to entertain friends and people you want to get to know better.  The problem is, when one of us is up working on dinner we miss out on conversation.  Of course, if you have only one other couple inevitably they will be up trying to help which is not ideal either.   If there are two other couples at least they can speak with each other while we are up and about.

Recently, we decided that we had a guest from out of town and we wanted him to meet several people. We are limited by our table size which seats a maximum of 8 but still that is a lot of people to serve at a sit down dinner.  Mind you we have had close to 100 friends in the house, but they were grazing and it was most definitely buffet style.

In this country and abroad I have been served by staff but that is rare among our friends here.  We had catered meals when we lived on Park Avenue in New York but that was de facto formal and usually clients were involved.  In Santa Fe everything is much less formal.  Our caterer for the few formal meals we did in New York was actually the chef and owner of an excellent local French restaurant a block away from us.  We learned later that she hit one of our guests for a loan that she never repaid!

Santa Fe has several caterers. There is, of course, the one that “everyone uses”, but then you might find that you are serving the same meal people have recently had elsewhere.

We had learned that a local not for profit which I have mentioned before, Youth Works, had a culinary arts training component.  Chef Carmen Rodriguez, who was chef at a major restaurant in town and a former New Mexico Chef of the Year, with his wife Penny, started their own catering company and kitchen.  Youth Works was looking for a kitchen and so the Rodriguezes began a program training young folk on the art of cooking and serving.

Chef Carmen Rodriguez and his wife Penny far right

We had sampled their handiwork both at a luncheon the Mayor gave and at  a party at the Spanish Colonial museum. Everyone said that they were easy and pleasant to work with. So we figured if we could do a good dinner party that was both of a formal nature with full service and have pleasant people to work and help out and with a “not for profit”, to boot, it was definitely a win, win situation!

We were not disappointed.  It could not have worked out better.   Our guests, who actually all arrived on time, seemed to enjoy each other’s company and the dinner flowed along as if it was no work at all.  Chef Carmen and Penny brought two students along teaching them as they went how to prepare the meal, set a table and serve.  The guests saw none of this, even though we have an open kitchen/dining room set up so everyone was visible to all.

Chef Carmen choreographed the meal in what he terms “Global Latin” cuisine and acted as Master of Ceremonies as well.  Before the first course was served he told the guests briefly about Youth Work and their role there.  He then explained each course as it was being served speaking of the natural foods and the farm in Santa Fe that their supplies come from.  The Chef’s use of Tequila as an ingredient seemed to particularly interest our guests and they acted disappointed when they learned that they would neither get high nor actually taste the tequila.  Before the meal Chef Carmen had told me a secret that, while for sipping one bought the best tequila one could afford, as a cooking tool one should find the cheapest available.

By now you might be thinking what about the cost of this extravagance?  We figured it out later and realized that while this methodology of having guests was not inexpensive it was still less than if we had taken all out to dinner in a restaurant.

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