About Chef Danny

Danny de la Cuesta’s creative and artistic career spans three decades of prolific output in design, training and consultancy. He graduated in the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication majoring in Broadcast Communications. He pursued his Second degree in Business Management with concentration in Fashion Marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York University, USA. He has been designing fashion since the late 70’s, with rich local and international exposures through retail, export and fashion shows. In 1994, he opted to broaden his horizon by extending his artistic calling by means of embarking into a career in Culinary Design. He became the first National Champion of the San Miguel Culinary Cookfest which paved him to pursue a Diploma in Culinary Arts at the Le Cordon Bleu Escole di Cuisine, London Campus, England under the tutelage of Chef Michel Boucheret. He was the past Editor in Chief of Cook Magazine and an active member of The Creative Media Professionals Guild of the Asia and the Pacific.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Work with a Good Caterer

 Throwing a dinner party is truly one of life’s most delightful luxuries to enjoy. Whether it is a romantic fare on an apartment table for two or a grand outlay in a sprawling garden for two hundred, there is something special about the combination of delicious food, friendly dinner companions, and a beautifully set table. Fortunately, everyone can enjoy this luxury. Do not be intimidated by the thought of throwing a dinner party. With a little planning and preparation, you can create a meal that will impress your guests and make you an enviable host.
When planning a party a well balanced ingredient for a successful night of entertaining are the three aspects: food, beverage and how they are served. If you get these three things right, you are on the right road to a happy crowd. Sounds simple right? Well, it’s not quite that straightforward so I thought I’d jot down a few tips for choosing the right service provider, how to make that relationship work and enjoy doing business with him for decades. Although you may have gotten a caterer’s name from your most trusted friend, still doesn’t guarantee successful working relationship. Catering in private homes is a highly personal service consisting of much more than the exchange of food and money. Over the years, I’ve learned to determine during the first few minutes meeting with a new caterer whether we’ll be able to gel together by using the same criteria I do in evaluating any relationship: common goals and mutual attraction. I suggest you do the same. Hire someone who shares your views about hosting, someone you like, and then follow these guidelines:
Assess Your Needs.

Home entertaining is highly individualistic and any caterer worth keeping knows how to make room for your personal touches which is important. The first stage is to ponder with a pen and paper in hand. Jot down ideas as they come to you. Know what party format you want. Is this a cocktail party, a business meeting, a wedding, a homecoming affair or something just for fun? It’s important to pair the food served with the format of the event.

What date will you select?
How many people do you want to invite?
How many people can your table accommodate?

Brainstorm and get you ideas and thoughts out on paper. Once you have
 done that, look at what you have written and create a summary of your event that requires accommodations for the meal and setting. The point of brainstorming and making a summary is to focus and organize your thoughts. 

For example, during a cocktail party it’s important to servebite-sized appetizers that can easily be popped in to one’s mouth with one hand while the other hand is holding a glass of drink. It’s surprising how many times I still find myself at an event needing to put down a glass of martini in order to eat a large portioned messy appetizer – it’s awkward but can easily be avoided. Similar rules apply for other types of events and obviously sit down dinners are a whole other set of rules.
Visit venue of your chosen caterer.
Recall the catering services that you've attended in the last few months. Did any of their services standout or served amazing food? Ask your friends of top-notch services they have used. If you're using a florist for your event, they will probably be happy to help.
Consider hiring a chef to your party. Two of my favorite Chefs to work with when I do events are Gaita Fores of Cibo or Katrina khun of Culliere (pronounced kuyer.) They understand proper quantities, service standards and their preparation can make all the difference. They got what it takes to make hosting a lot easier and produce food which is totally a work of art. I visit their offices; check the esthetic considerations that include preferred colors, the level of formality and the general style.  I also want to see the caterer’s tableware, so I can design the menu with the plate size and the pattern in mind. Their choices of
materials reflect their taste and if you think it matches yours, sign up!
Determine your timelines. Create your timelines that details the services caterer will provide from preparation to clean-up. Draw up a contract; if you don't like the basic contract that you're handed, insist on your changes that will ensure that you're accommodated and protected.
Your contract should specify your exact name, the location, date, time and duration of your party, the number of guests, price per plate and overall price. Details, such as when the food will be served and how long the bar will be open should be stipulated in the agreement.

This is the time to discuss billing procedures and other money matters. Each catering resource has a different formula of reservation fees, deposits and full payment of balance. Cut clear on the deposit amount and what circumstances necessitate a partial or full refund. If you cancel, will the caterer return your money? What happens if they cancel on you? If everything is clear and amenable to both of you, sign the contract and pay your deposit.
Expect your caterer to make ocular inspections. It is essential that a caterer meet with a new client in the venue where party takes place before the event. For me, the initial visit addresses practical concerns- the kitchen size, layout and the limitations in cooking and the possibility of using other equipments like grillers or barbeque pits.

     For clients, the meeting should answer any questions all about a caterer’s service.    Because different clients require different levels of services, a caterer’s challenge is  how to accommodate them individually. Some caterer’s like to do everything from polishing silver to arranging flowers; in other homes host assigns ambiance to a stylist who also provides the centerpieces to setting the place cards.Years ago, one of my regular clients decided to give a party in his new townhouse before its renovation was complete. Though he had a wonderful sense of style, he was completely clueless about kitchens. His stainless sink was installed but water supply had not yet been connected. Your situation may not be as dramatic as this but it’s a good idea to have your caterer inspect of your place to accommodate areas needed for his entire team and cooking requirements to prevent problems that may arise and may hamper him to deliver his best results
during the day of your event.

Demand for an itemized invoice for C.O.D. deliveries. At least two days before their job, draw your checks. Although staffing fees are part of the food bills, gratuities preferably in cash, are given at clients discretion directly to individual waiters and kitchen staff at the end of the party. Choose courses in the menu. Today’s superior food markets feature a vast array of ingredients that can be mixed and matched into exact meal you have in mind. Express your ideal meal -the kind of food and presentation, and the atmosphere you want to create. If caterer proposes a fee structure that you are not prepared to meet, ask him to suggest possible concessions or cuts. Know what you want and how much you are willing to pay.  A good caterer will always have reasonable options to spare; someone without flexibility is not a good resource to work with. Bear in mind that concessions of lowering price by reducing serving portions defeats the purpose of throwing a party and is not a best way to save money.

Arrange for food tastings. Most caterers these days opt to give tastings to clients before they may ask for a deposit. But in most cases it’s understood that in order to  confirm the right caterer one needs to ensure food quality satisfaction. Food tastings  are a great way to test the standards of the catering company and allow a greater  understanding of what you and your guests like and dislike!
Ask your caterer about their quantity of food. It’s important to have a bit more food than you think you need. Running out of food is one of the worst event faux pas. But, you also don’t want to end up with too many leftovers that will eventually be charged for more than what you needed! Ask your caterer for average food quantities from some of their past events – this should give you a good idea to confirm how much to serve for your guests. Ask lots of questions at the tastings – you’re the customer! Agree on methods of Waste Management. Ask your caterer how they manage food waste. Will they allow you to keep non-perishables for your Sunday brunch the next day? Can leftovers be composted? How will they dispose waste? Will you allow dish washing on site? If not, where and how will it be facilitated? How will they clean up? Will these procedures save you money and help the environment?
Do it or delegate it well in advance. Catering is loaded with boring details and trivialities: polishing silver and glassware’s, pressing and folding napkins and linens, laying out guest towels in the powder rooms.
Advise your caterer about matters you don’t opt to do ahead, so he can provide everything. But if you tell him that you or your housekeeper will get these things, they should be ready when he arrives.
The least favorite pre-party scenario of any caterer is taking a staff member away from his assigned duties to run errands which is not part of his planned duty for the day of the set up. Things like this hamper the timelines and may cause some stress to the whole preparation.
Be a goodcommunicator. In the day of the event, after you’ve finished dressing, but before the guest arrives,  meet with the entire staff. Describe how you see the evenin going from where you want to put guests’ presents to how you’ll initiate the surprise toast before dessert. Sometimes parties have a mind of their own. Since you can’t see the dining room while preparing the food in the kitchen, ask head waiter to alert you when changes occur so you can make necessary adjustments. Use
words that are precise and concise so both of you clearly understand each other. Reiterate your message and ask him if your demands are understood to the letter.
 Respect your caterer’s space. Few days before your event, make sure to clear kitchen counters, empty the oven, try to maximize refrigerator space and have different sizes of vases handy for guests inevitable gifts of flowers. It makes caterer uncomfortable to client’s children romping around or friends coming in and out of the kitchen while confiding, “I just love to cook.” Barging in the kitchen is like going backstage at a height of a performance; it’s a privilege but actually distressing for most chefs. Kitchen staff moves in a deceptive casual manner and have the “BODY KNOWLEDGE” of people accustomed to working together in small spaces.  Allowing your foodie-friend from standing dangerously close to a chef beside a stove is allowable but if your place is small it cramps the kitchen area making staff uneasy for free flow.   

Remember, these are just general tips – there are so many ways to be creative with food and food service! As someone who loves to cook, I choose a caterer who can win my confidence and work to pull off my event. But, once you've selected a reliable service provider, your hard work is done. While you'll need to keep in contact with your caterer as the event approaches, you can relax and focus on other aspects of your party.

by: Danny de la Cuesta

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