I catered a wedding reception for 50 on Saturday. Fifty doesn’t seem like a large number, I know. But if you’ve never been paid to provide food for someone, fifty seems like 5,000. Even if you’re the fat girl at a pool party, you always want to get asked back. So here’s what I learned.
1. Repeated repetition of mindless activity is not all it’s cracked up to be. Oh, those first 50 cheese wafers seemed like a good idea, but when you are now approaching 200, well, not so much fun. But I can now say I can match my benne wafer skills with anyone from the Junior League of Charleston.
2. Toting. I completely under-estimated the amount of toting that has to be done. Make light food. Chicken salad, as it turns out, is not light.
3. Be prepared. Actually, I did pretty good at this. I remembered to bring my own sharp knives, my own vegetable peeler and slicer and my own cutting boards. Addendum: Make sure your mother-in-law’s house is two blocks from the event. What I forgot: sponge and dish soap to clean the aforementioned implements, kitchen towels, and serrated knife to cut the 150 mini biscuits in half (which I should have done before the event).
Extraneous tip: If you are serving a wedge of blue cheese on a board of assorted cheeses (and you should), top it with walnuts and a goodly amount of honey. Even people who maintain they don’t like blue cheese gobble this up.
4. Ask for help. I got help from my sainted 20-year-old son, Noah, who prepped the mini ham biscuits and cucumber sandwiches and whose young legs prevented me from having to help unload seven cocktail tables, three long presentation tables and about two tons of linens from the party store. I’m sure when Wolfgang Puck caters the Oscar after-party he has minions to do this sort of thing, but I had only a rising junior at the University of Tennessee.
5. Ask for help #2. If you know an actual professional chef, take advantage of it. I know a private chef in New York City who offered me advice on garnishing. I do not garnish. But, thankfully, I know someone who does. This is where those unexpected connections come in. Because I blog for Char-Broil I met Christo Gonzales. Because I met Christo Gonzales, I now have rudimentary garnishing skills.
Extraneous tip #2: If it is an afternoon reception and you live in the South, always serve cucumber sandwiches. They are the first to go. Here’s the recipe:
1 large cucumber
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1 small onion, grated, or 2 tablespoons dried onion
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Additional Japanese cucumber for slicing
Peel cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds with a spoon. Grate cucumber and place in a clean tea towel. Squeeze until all moisture is removed. Combine cucumber with remaining ingredients. Spread on white bread circles (cut three or four out of a slice of bread).
Peel Japanese cucumber and slice into thin slices. Place slices between paper towels to absorb excess moisture. Top each sandwich with a thin cucumber slice. Garnish with dried dill.
Store in layers between Saran Wrap in an airtight container.
6. Never panic. This is a corollary to the time-worn advice offered to professional women in the workplace, which is “never let them see you cry.”
The wedding cake arrived about two hours before the reception, undecorated because the florist was to provide flowers for the top and sides of the cake. The florist does not arrive. Call is made to florist shop. Baker is told flowers have already been delivered. No, not at all. It is 20 minutes before the reception. The baker high tails it to Food City and buys a bouquet of grocery store flowers, and not only decorates the cake but makes two additional flower arrangements and never breaks a sweat. By the way, the florist arrived as the first guests were coming through the front door and was greeted with a withering stare from the poor baker.
At the end of the day, the reception went great. The bridge and groom never knew there were any problems because of the cardinal rule of everything: Whatever the endeavor, nobody cares how hard it is. The only thing that counts is that it came out right. And it did. Mr. and Mrs. Eli Blattner seemed to have a good time. And the cake was really tasty.