“My employees almost blew up a wedding.”
That was my response when someone asked me about my brief stint in the catering business.
I’m not talking about “blew up” in the sense that we almost “blew it” by losing a layer off of the groom’s cake. No. We almost annihilated the entire house and the people who were in the house. We were minutes away from turning the wedding reception into the set of a John McTiernan movie.
Part-time Catering is a challenge for a full-time restaurateur because you’re out of your safe and comfortable kitchen and in the war zone of someone else’s home. All sorts of things can go wrong.
Several years ago, my staff and I were catering a large wedding reception at a very beautiful and expansive house in my hometown of Hattiesburg. We were using the garage as a makeshift kitchen. Not having a designated catering van or truck at the time, we loaded food, ice chests, cooking equipment, and serving pieces into employee’s cars and trucks. For efficiency’s sake we stored loose items inside every available container that we were transporting.
The event was beautiful. Food was everywhere. We set up several cooking stations throughout the home where our chefs were preparing items a’ la minute. The dining room table was filled with savory items, the marble island in the kitchen held the sweets, and servers were passing trays of hors d’oeuvres that were being baked in the garage.
The entire house was filled with the aroma of flowers and food. It was a great event, and people were eating as fast as we could prep.
I was in the garage with a few of my chefs, baking and replenishing trays. Midway through the reception, I began to smell something that wasn’t flowers or food. It was faint at first and, through the bustle of the event, I didn’t pay attention. In the back of my mind I probably assumed someone must have burned a tray of something and had thrown it into the trash.
Yet the smell kept getting stronger. Before long I started to ask my fellow chefs, “Do you smell that?” Soon we began a search for the origin of the acrid, metallic, chemical-like smell.
As the smell got stronger, the impending sense of danger grew. Before long every employee was frantically searching the garage for the source of the odor.
“Here it is,” a chef yelled as he peeked through the glass door of an oven. The oven was a secondary portable unit that we brought with us. An hour earlier we had turned it on to bake additional passed hors d’oeuvres. Unfortunately, someone had stored aerosol cans filled with butane inside the 400-degree oven during the load-in, and they were probably seconds away from exploding.
In a dramatic move that would have made Bruce Willis proud, Chef Jeremy Nofkee unplugged the oven, grabbed it, and ran through the yard parting groups of puzzled wedding guests. When he was far away from the house, threw it into the grass. The butane cans rolled down a hill towards the lake.
The day was saved. The house didn’t blow up, and the wedding guests were out of harm’s way— though probably a little puzzled as to why a chef almost knocked them down while running through the yard holding an oven.
Catering is like working at the Department of Motor Vehicles— you are dealing with people at their worst. Most people don’t entertain very often, so when they do, they’re extremely nervous and uptight. They want to impress their guests, and rightfully so. Then again, maybe there’s a reason they are nervous, someone might be trying to blow up their house.
Mushroom Stuffed Pastry
2 Tbl butter
1 /2 pound fresh mushrooms- button, portobello and shitake recommended
1 /2 cup onion, minced
1 /4 cup shallot, minced
1 tsp Garlic, minced
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 /2 tsp salt
1 /8 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 /2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 /4 cup port wine
1 /4 cup goat cheese
1 Tbl fresh parsley, chopped
1 recipe cream cheese pastry (below)
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Sauté mushrooms, onion, shallot, garlic, poultry seasoning and salt for six to seven minutes. Add black pepper, thyme, rosemary and port wine cooking until all liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and blend in goat cheese and parsley. Cool mixture completely.
Roll out the prepared pastry to 1/8-inch thickness.
Using a round cookie cutter, cut dough into 2 1 /2-inch circles. Place 1-1 1/ 2 teaspoon of filling onto center of the dough circle. Using fingers, pinch the edges in an upward direction, forming a small, half-moon shaped tartlet. Place on baking sheet and freeze (These must be cooked from a frozen state).
If preparing well in advance, the pastries can be placed in a Zip-loc bag after frozen and held for 1-2 months in the freezer.
To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until pastry is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield 30-35 pastries
Cream Cheese Pastry
1 cup softened butter
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 /2 tsp salt
2 cups flour
By hand, or using a paddle attachment on an electric mixer, combine all ingredients to form a soft dough. Do not overmix.
Wrap the dough well and refrigerate 10-12 hours before using.
When ready to use, remove dough from refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature 10-15 minutes before using.
Yield: 35-40 small pastries, or 2 pie crusts (top and bottom)