One of our best friends is the dean of a very progressive law school here in the District of Columbia and each year my wife and I try to do our part for the cause by donating a catered event to the annual school auction.
More specifically, we donate our time preparing and serving dinner for eight. The auction winner pays for groceries and beverages.
In the past, the high bidder has been another friend who knows he can torment us by stretching the meaning of "dinner for eight" into a fabulous feast for a house full of his other friends.
Last year the winners of the auction item were a couple very prominent in the law school community. And I would be speaking of this particular meal in the past tense (since the auction was held more than a year ago) except that mostly what we've done with this couple for the past 14 months is exchange a lot of phone messages.
In fact, this particular donation has dragged on for so long that we stipulated in this year's auction that the offer of our services is valid for no more than one year. How else to keep these donated events from hanging over our heads like a death sentence?
This particular auctioned dinner has turned into a Sunday brunch for eight and it looks as though it actually will take place this week. So I thought I would share the menu, just to give an idea how a small-scale caterer approaches a seasonal Sunday brunch for a fairly intimate group.
I have many objections to the way catering menus are designed, some of which I may get into another time. Mostly, caterers pay no attention to the seasons and are simply trying to impress with culinary pyrotechnics. Trendiness drowns out all sense of functionality. The menus look like something straight out of a wet dream at Bon Appetit magazine, with simplicity, seasonality and good taste thrown by the wayside.
I look at menu designing as an opportunity to fit the food to the season, the client and the occasion. Also you have to consider the portability of the food, whether it will stand up to re-heating or requires cooking a la minute (hopefully not). Ease of handling and predictability of the end result are equally important factors.
Then you have to add all the knowns about what foods work with crowds. For instance, not everyone likes lamb--too gamy (shocking, I know). Some people will not eat chicken thighs (even though all the flavor is in the thighs). And you have to watch the heat factor in "spicy" foods (not something we need concern ourselves with when cooking for our own friends).
An artful caterer will manage to put all this together and still come out with a menu that looks just right for the time, the place and the client. It might not be what I would serve in my own home. Then again, I'd wager that most caterers rarely if ever cook in their own home.
So I unveil this brunch menu intended for a lovely Spring Sunday near the Chesapeake Bay. And while you are looking it over, I will be dialing up some lovely Spring weather to go with it....
Champagne, Mimosas and Fresh Orange Juice
Poached Salmon Steaks w/ Dill Sauce
Local Asparagus w/ Chive Vinaigrette
Celery Root Remoulade
Quinoa Pilaf w/ Peas & Fava Beans
Salad from Our Garden w/ Shaved Fennel & Fresh Goat Cheese