Napkins ‘n’ Stuff

By Beacon Staff

I will be as kind as I possibly can be, as I am going to write about culinary students who’ve gone into business prematurely.

Some friends invited us for dinner last week and I was somewhat taken aback to find two young women in the kitchen, dressed in their culinary school uniforms working away at our dinner.

That part was OK. I’ve often said that my favorite thing is when someone else cooks for me. And I mean it.

But if you’re going to represent yourself to prospective clients as a caterer, then there are probably a few things you ought to consider.

For instance, when you serve hors d’oeuvres, it’s always a good thing to provide, at the very least, a napkin. And if those hors d’oeuvres include, say, olives that still have pits in them, maybe you should consider having a vessel where the guests can dispose of said pits.

The bread you baked was absolutely beautiful and it tasted wonderful. But again, you put out one large dinner knife to spread butter. And the slices were more than eight inches wide, so they probably should have been cut in half to make them manageably held.

Even without their uniforms, I can always tell when I’m in the presence of culinary students. They like to show off their knife collection. These two had an array that made the kitchen look more like a knife store. I don’t think I’ve seen that many knives in one spot. For most catering jobs, I use a maximum of three knives.

Let’s move on. After serving the first course, it’s just not cool to say to the dinner guests: “Save your knife and fork.” For goodness sake, clear those, too. And if your client doesn’t have enough for a second round, then remove them anyway; wash them and re-set each place. This is especially true if the first course includes a dark and syrupy liquid and there are cloth placemats. Messy, messy, messy. And sticky, too.

When catering a dinner party, especially a small dinner party when there are fewer than eight guests (we were six), it’s especially important to present the main course hot. That’s frequently a challenge for any caterer, because the time you planned on serving is rarely the time you end up serving. That’s because stuff happens. For instance, guests are really enjoying their drinks and chatting with each other and they’re just not ready to sit down.

You’ll learn, with experience, to delay cooking (the meat, especially), because this is the signature of your meal. If the meat is overcooked, it doesn’t matter how good the sides are. And by the way, your sides were also very good. But they weren’t warm either.

Finally, when you choose to serve dessert in a martini glass, you probably ought to serve the glass on a small plate. When I finished it, my spoon kept falling out of the glass. Of course, I should have put it on the cloth placemat, too. After all, it already had a dark syrupy liquid on it from the first course, so what’s another stain?

If I were your instructor, you would have received a C+ for this meal for all of the foregoing reasons. I’m guessing it was one of your first catering jobs, if not your actual first. And you’ll learn with time and experience.

But since it’s September, it means that you’ve only recently started your culinary education. By the looks of your chef coats, I’d say that this might even be your first year and you have so much to learn.

Take it from someone who’s been catering private dinner parties for a long time: There’s more to catering than knowing how to cook.

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