True Tales of a Caterer

continued (page 2 of 3)

The first night I slept there, I awoke to such a loud ratatatatatata-tat that I thought I had a woodpecker in my bedroom. It turned out to be just the staccato chopping of my kitchen guys, who were in early prepping for a big job. It was 4 a.m., and the irresistible rhythms of Marc Anthony floated up through the floor to the skylight. I got up and looked out the window to see a trickle of men leaving the Lure, the gay bar across the street. It was closing time for clubs and bars across the city, but we were already up and running.

My morning routine in those days was that once awake, I’d go straight down to the kitchen, no matter the time. There would be hot muffins and a pot of freshly brewed coffee to help start the day. Maybe there’d be inquiries on the answering machine about organizing a glamorous event or two. By this time, I had so much more experience that while I listened, I would mentally address the potential pitfalls of a rooftop dinner or a clambake in the Hamptons. But to be honest, until everyone else came in, I truly preferred to be in the kitchen cooking.

One time, we were engaged to cater a famous fashion designer’s Christmas party for 400 guests. “Don’t worry,” we were told. “The doors will close when we reach 400.” Well, guess what? The doors didn’t close. So when the clicker wielded by our intern neared 700, I knew we had a situation. We dashed off to the local liquor store only to get a metronomic finger indicating that they were closed. But thanks to our theatrical thumping on the window (think Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate) coupled with our professed readiness to strip to the waist—plus my creative promise of entrée to the party—the shop staff reconsidered and reopened. 700. 702. What’s the difference? I thought.

The Unexpected Client

I was working late one night when the phone rang.
“Yes?” I said, expecting a friend.
“I’m calling from the Office of the Vice President.”
“Vice president of what?” I asked distractedly.

Well, that got my attention! Planning a campaign dinner for vice president and then presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000 was mind-boggling in its complexity and bureaucracy. We were sucked into a maelstrom of code names, security clearances, and a multitude of documents with a lot of fine print that needed signing. And there were certain situations that we thought were terribly funny—like changing the direction of traffic on a street in the West Village and not being able to hear orders due to the four helicopters chopping away in the sky above us—but were unsmilingly advised by Gore’s security detail that they were not. Yet if there’s one thing to be said about working for politicians themselves, it’s that they are unfailingly charming and so grateful for good food.

The Show Must Go On

One night while catering a huge fund-raising concert for a major foundation, my staff and I found ourselves in a tricky spot: While our side of things was running as smooth as silk, the same could not be said for everything else. In particular, the foundation’s event planner was hysterical, having lost control of the talent. One performer was locked in his dressing room, refusing to come out until he’d finished his yoga routine; another was in the kitchen with an arm around one of my best-looking waiters, whispering plans for later; a third was in the corridor yelling over the phone to his soon-to-be-ex-wife about exactly how much of his money she would be getting (none). And the headliner? He had disappeared altogether.

Everyone was frantically rushing around looking for the star of the show when Genaro, my sous-chef, took me aside and reported that there was a man asleep in our van, and that the vehicle reeked of Scotch. In Genaro’s opinion, the man didn’t look like he would be getting up anytime soon. I headed outside, but not before grabbing a pitcher of ice water. I flicked some water onto the man’s blotto face. Nada. I trickled some onto his head. Nothing. I sloshed half the pitcher on him. He opened his eyes, smiled, and said, “Thanks, darlin’, I needed that.” And off he went. Full-service catering to the rescue.

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