Monday, May 14, 2007

Catered Brunch

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

Strawberry Trifle


Kevin said...

A delicious menu. I have a suggestion for a variation on the salmon that you may object to as heresy. But given that you already consider me a heretic, what have I got to lose?

Dill is the ordained herb partner for salmon, and it's certainly a good match, but try sorrel sometime. I've made sorrel mayonnaise, sorrel pesto, and a sorrel sauce for salmon at various times and sorrel's fresh grassy tartness is a wonderful complement to the sweet oiliness of salmon.

Ed Bruske said...

Kevin, you crazy ole heretic, the sorrel sauce is a great idea. Not only is this high season for sorrel, but I have two big sorrel plants in my front yard. So you just opened my eyes to something that was staring me in the face.