For the better part of March, I had food on my mind. Food enough for 200 people.
A few weeks ago, an old classmate emailed me out of the blue, asking if I catered (I didn't) and would be interested in cooking for her 25th birthday bash. Chalking it up to ignorance (as they say, ignorance is bliss), I replied immediately and told her while I had never catered, I was up to give it a try. Little did I know how much work and planning goes into it all, yet how rewarding the experience would be.
Scene 1: A Week Before the Party aka Assembling the Team
The success of the project would ultimately fall upon the team cause god knows I can't do it on my own (as I've learned how much work goes into cooking for a crowd from the Panini-Off) so I started approaching my fellow foodie friends. With a tight budget, it fell upon food lovers who would be into the experience rather than the (non-existent) monetary incentive. I was incredible lucky to have Yulree as my partner-in-crime—she is as cool as a cucumber in times of stress and an awesome cook. Allen and Hannah, also friends of discriminating tastes, were also invaluable as our helpers and kept the team pumped up!
Scene 2: The Menu
Ellen was the ideal client as she left the creation of the menu entirely up to me. I believe the only guidelines was for the food to be "portable and delicious." Score. Keeping the budget in mind, I started out with what I wanted to try out (I found out later it's a cardinal rule not to try new recipes for a catering project, but again, ignorance is bliss!), which was David Chang's pork buns. Tried one of those heavenly morsels during a recent NY trip and couldn't stop pining for it. So yes, I must admit that this project quickly became the vehicle for what I wanted to eat/make. Slowly the concept became clear, the menu was going to be comfort food with a twist.
Brainstorming with Yulree, we settled on five dishes:
1. Popcorn a la Cafe Habana
A play on Mexican grilled corn, we made buttered popcorn and tossed it with cayenne, limon and queso cotija for a street-food inspired snack.
2. Pao de Queijo:
This was our take on grill cheese with tomato soup. Garlic and Parmesan are the stars here in the Brazilian cheese bread with a fiery Arabiatta dipping sauce.
3. Pork sliders a la Momofuku
Armed with photos from my meal at Momofuku and Chang's cookbook, we recreated signature his buns to the best of our abilities. Happy to report we did a pretty competent job at that.
4. Saute Miso Butter Veggies
Ramenya and Momofuku inspired, we created a quick stir-fry of baby carrots, haricot verts and asparagus seasoned with butter, shio miso, lots of garlic and Togarashi.
5. Fully loaded Potato shooter
The taste of a twice baked potato in soup form. Of course, we souped it up (pun fully intended) with a chicken and bacon broth base to make it even more irresistible.
Scene 3: The Day of Prep and Pork Nipples
The day before the party, I took a day off work to begin prepping. At precisely 8 am and armed with my trusty red Coleman cooler, I went and bought out my town's supply of pork bellies—all 50 lbs of it. With 16 slabs of those bad boys I begin to work on cleaning them and brining them with a dry rub. It was then where I found out pigs were blessed (or cursed) with an overabundance of pork nipples. Ewww.
After marinating them in my cooler for 6 hours, I began roasting them in my family's oven, 4 of them at a time. Soon my house was enveloped in the distinctive Asian BBQ smell. Yulree came over soon after and we set off in a record-setting speed shopping marathon to get the rest of our ingredients, tools and serving supplies.
With our groceries in tow, we came back to beauteous display of finished porcine roasts. I couldn't help myself from sampling some crunchy chicharons—the spoils of war. I popped in the next batch and we got started on the potato soup and the bread dough.
By 11pm, the soup base and the dough was done, so I helped Yulree pack up and we said our goodbyes. At this point, I've still got one more batch to go and thus I continue roasting. The home stretch was toughest since by then, I couldn't bear the smell of pork. And it was fully permeated into my clothes and home. I also ODed on sampling the crispy skins. When the bellies were all roasted, wrapped and packed into my fridge, I scrubbed myself clean (think Gattaca style) and hit my pillow at 1:30 am before passing out.
Scene 4: The Big Debut
Woke up at 9 am and got back into prepping, this time for the miso butter—it was a true workout to mix cold butter. After one last shopping trip to get the rest of the perishable ingredients, I sped on over to Solar Studios in Glendale. A studio used for filming and photoshoots, it was a beautiful cavernous space. Equipped with a full kitchen but without an oven, we made do with 3 separate toaster ovens set in different rooms to bake our cheese bread.
Joined by Allen and Hannah, we got back into prepping and setting up our picnic spread. Note, I even tried to coordinate with my dress—yes, I'm a geek!
At 8 pm, we stated plating, slowly at first as to keep our display in stock. But then 11p came and we had only served 70 out of 200. That was when we went into robot-assembly-line mode and plated the rest in record time. I think we even surprised ourselves at the speed we were working in. It got a little intense, but we rode it out and finished! We high-fived each other as hard as we could on a job well-done.
2 am: Mission Accomplished!
Scene 5: Gratitude
A colossal thank you to Yulree, Hannah and Allen, without you all, this would have never happened. And to Ellen, for giving me a chance and the opportunity to fulfill my dreams of catering. Also, to PJ of Chatchada for documenting my journey—your photos made the food look like miniatures work of art!
Until the next time...