Category Archives: private catering

The wonderful world of wedding catering…behind the scenes at our latest gig

If you’d said to me when I started running my little supper club back in 2009 that in three years time I would be catering for two hundred people at a wedding I’d have laughed. Now, as the weddings get bigger, more intricate, stylish, particular in their tastes, its hard to see life without such full on, demanding and monumentally satisfying jobs. These days cooking for twelve at supper club is like making an intimate family evening meal, all be it an experimental and slightly exotic one.

The one down side of it is that it takes up so much of my head space; planning, prepping and cooking become my life while writing and everything else gets pushed to one side. I’m only so good at multi-tasking and I get to the point where even family shopping is beyond me. The kids rifle through the ‘home’ fridge asking if there is anything to eat while the ‘work’ fridge overflows with cheese, salmon and pate and stacks of cakes line the counter of my prep room.

This weekends wedding was the biggest i’ve ever catered for. A sit down meal for two hundred. Starters served family style, hot buffet and plate served desserts. Rules learned from earlier jobs helped make it work….

1. Employ a good team that you trust

2. Over estimate the food and not under as big eaters will always want a bit of everything

3. Big flavours always hit the spot

…But there are always lessons learned from every job.

Considering the numbers the kitchen ran pretty smoothly. No real stress and only when the salads started to run short ( a surprise as there was a lot of salad!) did we feel rather pressured.

Offering a choice of desserts proved our downfall making service slow and I guess that is the main lesson for next time….don’t offer a choice of desserts (or at least get people to choose in advance if you do)…All in all the best reference of the day was this email received from the mother of the bride..

What can l say! You did great and given the numbers involved that was a pretty big great! Thank you so much. The food was lovely and it all passed beautifully despite the fact that it must have been an enormous piece of work for you to organise and complete on.

 Thank you Denise and team for helping to give Nonn and Chris and all their family and friends a day to remember with so much pleasure for years to come.

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View from the venue

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Working the young chefs hard….while my second chef drinks coffee!!

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staff dinner break

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Boxes of chocolate torte…we made fifteen in total

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always bad when the waiters and waitresses get hold of the camera….

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…don’t ya just love them 🙂

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the bride’s mum just heading off for the service

and last but not least…..the beautiful bride Nonn…before the ceremony

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….and later during the evening with Chris

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Filed under British food, event catering, photography, private catering, Wedding catering, Welsh food

Four weddings and a festival (part two – wedding number four)

Plas Gwynfryn, Harlech

And so we progress to our fourth and final wedding. This was the biggest and most elaborate of all. A barbecue menu, table service, tapas, all in a big marquee. Not only was I preparing a three course dinner, but for some reason I thought it would be a great idea to say yes to making a cupcake wedding cake as well!

This time we were keeping our fingers crossed for sunny weather and for a while things did seem to improve. A few warm and bright days made us all hope for the best, until we saw the weather forecast. Rain and high winds. Great. Just what we needed catering in a marquee.

I’d also lost two helpers so spent the beginning of the week stressing over staff. I contacted a couple of people who had emailed me at the beginning of May and eventually met up with Ursula. She was my fab front of house organiser for the day, which was just what I needed, someone to take the strain off me and let me get on with cooking and be able to organise and manage my two waitresses Rosie and Amber. I also found Jacky, an experienced local chef (runs The Bistro in Caernarfon) who was an absolute god send. I could never have managed three barbeques on my own and plated and prepped salads and tapas dishes.

I knew the event would be a challenge. I’ve worked in the odd field kitchen but never had to cook and prep like this so I was very nervous. I wanted to do a good job (obviously) but it did feel like everything was against us.

I’d initially planned to finish prepping and packing the van by two on Thursday. It’s a long way to Plas Gwynfryn in Harlech, nearly an hour and a half drive and further than my usual range. It’s also a long way to come back if anything crucial is forgotten. We rammed everything into my little van adding more and more as we went on. Vintage china, tapas dishes, trays, tongs, knives, bowls, jugs….on and on I went but I still didn’t feel ready. I realised early on that I’d not fit everything plus an extra waitress in the back, but Rosie ever the optimist kept saying “don’t worry Mum it’ll be fine”. She kept saying this until we shoved the last box in and it dawned on her that actually it wasn’t fine. We’d run out of room.

The van now contained one hundred cupcakes, trays of part-roasted chicken, freezer boxes of salmon and minute steaks, a ton of salad and fruit, boxes of meringues (all hand-made), a tray of bread (half of which was hand-made) plus half the contents of my kitchen. But just as we were ready to go drama struck. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a little pressure in my life (otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this job) but really I wish it would give me a break sometimes. We discovered that our hens who had sat on eggs for 21 days without result now had two little chicks.

one of our little chicks

They flapped about the garden in a panic while Steve the cat watched, licking his lips. This led to emergency action one of the day. Phone Len. “Help” we cried. Len arrived with a wheelbarrow full of wood, wire and tools and restored calm. He put together a chicken run, added a base to the house, chucked in straw and various other bits and bobs to secure our little babies. Safe in the knowledge that we’d protected our babies we left for Harlech, an hour late. We still had to take a detour via Bangor station to put a parking ticket on Sean’s car (he hadn’t had time that morning before he left for another mates wedding in London) and collect waitress number two, who squeezed into the front seat with Ro in a highly illegal manoeuvre (don’t tell the cops!!).

The journey was slow and I was nervous of every bump, hill and bend. When we arrived at Plas Gwynfryn preparation was well under way in the main marquee, but my gazebo looked a touch flimsy. I’d had a call that morning to say the earlier one had blown down in the night so this was a replacement, but now the wind was picking up and I wasn’t convinced it would withstand a gale. Having unpacked the contents of my kitchen, the girls and I moved in to our over night caravan at the neighbouring Plas Gwynfryn Farm cottages.

The girls were as excited as two nine-year olds on their first camping holiday until they realised that Rosie’s idea of packing food for our tea consisted of a tin of tomatoes, some tomato puree, a pot of chopped fruit and the end of a loaf of bread plus the three remaining cupcakes. In the worsening rain I headed back to the venue, minus a raincoat which I forgot to pack, to fetch provisions that would make us a dinner. An hour later we made what Rosie christened “French bread pizza slices”…this consisted of a quickly rustled up tomato and herb sauce, some basil leaves, a few slices of mozzarella and a small salad of cherry tomatoes and red peppers.We didn’t starve at least.

As the wind picked up and the rain increased in intensity I popped back again to check on the gazebo. It was just as well that I did because it flapped about, minus tent pegs and with one guy rope snapped. I guessed it wouldn’t be long before this one took off as well. Fearing the safety of my vintage china and all the food we made an executive decision to dismantle it. At ten O’Clock at night emergency action number two took place. A small team of helpers moved all the food, china and equipment into the neighbouring barn (including a full and heavy fridge) and I returned to the caravan wet and tired, poured a large glass of wine and shortly after headed to bed to shiver and listen to the pelting rain on the roof.

Five AM the next morning and I was wide awake listening to the quiet. The wind had mercifully died down during the night and it even looked quite bright. By about eight the gazebo and kitchen had been reinstated and by the time I arrived at 8.30 everything was back in place, albeit in need of a good clean.

From then on in it was full steam ahead. Jacky, Ursula and I got to work on the salads, ceviche, and halloumi kebabs. We stuffed the peppers (with the filling I’d made the earlier…in the caravan!) and assembled the dishes for the tapas starters. With the rain lashing it was hard to open the sides of the gazebo for ventilation so once all the barbecues were lit it became really hot and smoky. Our eyes watered and we had to keep going outside to cool down.

My main aim was to make sure everything was perfect inside the marquee, whatever was going on outside. Caroline and her team from Plas Gwynfryn, plus the bridesmaids and best man took responsibility for setting up and decorating the tables and marquee. We took charge of the food, with Ursula out front ensuring it all ran smoothly and that Rosie and Amber knew what they were doing and felt supported and confident. Caroline’s team cleared the tables, while my girls served. There was a gelling of both teams and at the end of the day I think we achieved this.

Tapas starters on the table

The buffet table for the main course

Cupcake wedding cake

If you are wondering about the bat theme…Sam, the groom is an ecologist specialising in bat services.

Pudding was a choice of Eton mess (home-made meringue naturally) or fresh fruit salad. The Eton mess was most popular, waitress served, which left no time for photographs sadly.

Overall the day went without major mishap, although we learned many lessons from the small cock-ups along the way…

  • I couldn’t find kebab skewers for love or money and had to get the groom to phone a friend to bring them
  • The tablecloths (that I commissioned) arrived late and were not right. The couple ended up having to hire eight extra round cloths from the venue. I was rather mortified as I hadn’t checked them when they were delivered to my house.
  • Small items were forgotten…the blades for the hand whisk, a lemon squeezer…just little things
  • We had no waste water bucket for the out-pipe of the sink (I’m afraid we left a rather waterlogged lawn for Caroline) but when I asked what other caterers did she told me that no one else had ever ordered a sink unit. I asked her what they did then for washing up, hand washing etc? She didn’t know but stated that the food was already prepared when it arrived on site. I felt rather proud of our little team and the fact that everything was freshly made.
  • I think also I would need to check that I am in a professional catering marquee. Some of the stress came from not knowing whether I would have anywhere to cook in the morning.
  • Caroline will hate me because I forgot to take our bin bags home with us
  • And finally there was the coffee debacle. Our waitresses, plus Caroline’s must have toured the marquee pot in hand a dozen times. Still people came out saying they’d had no coffee. The problem was the sun came out briefly so people disappeared from the tables. We made tea and coffee until the boiler ran out of water and STILL people said they’d not had coffee! We could have stayed serving and making coffee all night but at 7pm the hog roast man arrived to set up for the evening so we had to call it a day and finish packing up.

Bev looked radiant and her day was (I hope) perfect…except the damn rain which we couldn’t have predicted. At the end she hugged me and said “oh Denise, thank you”….which meant the world to me.We arrived home at about 9pm. Too wired to sleep we ordered pizza (which we sat eating at 11pm with a couple of glasses of wine) before collapsing into bed after midnight slughtly drunk, very tired but happy we’d done a good job.

Its been a crazy month, but totally worth it. I love this job 🙂

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Something for the weekend?…Lamb Merguez stew for the boys

Sorry to have abandoned you all for a couple of weeks, life has been pretty busy on the cooking and teaching front, which of course is very good, but sadly it leaves less time for writing and blogging. Over the past three weeks I have taught year 10’s doing GCSE home economics how to make pizza from scratch and Danish Pastry; I’ve trained with Dynamo role models and cooked for talented local musicians performing at  Cho Coppock Whittle’s benefit gig (raising money for leukemia research). More on that in a subsequent post.

This week was just as busy as I’d been booked as a private chef by Outreach Rescue to cook for one of their groups for four days, to help out their resident chef Chris. Based in a lovely holiday cottage (Yr Hen Weithdy) in the village of Llanllechid I cooked a three course evening meal for nine fit fireman / search and rescue chaps!…I know, it’s a hard life this catering lark…but someones gotta do it!!

View from one of the windows

Good hearty home cooking was the order of the day as these guys were out on the chilly Menai Straights training from early in the morning. The weather was sunny, but bitingly cold so I opted to make them hot soup, cheesy frittata, spinach and ricotta crepes, which made great starters; followed by big, slow cooked one pot stews and finally hefty man-size portions of cake. Cooking once again on a four ring electric oven (all my ‘Green Man’ demons came back to haunt me!!) where cakes burn in seconds, pots never boil and everything sticks to the bottom, was the only down side.

As the week progressed there were lots of questions…”how did you make that chocolate cake so light”? “What did you do to that meat to make it so tender”?…and comments “I never thought I liked couscous til last night”….”nice baps” and plenty of wind-ups and mickey taking…”yes, it was very average”, “you’re not using a recipe book are you? That’s cheating”!Plus the inevitable…”Britain’s Best Dish…where’s the trifle then?”

I ended up feeling like the wife of nine…especially when one called “Hi darling, I’m home!” as he walked in the door one evening.

Everyone had their favourite dishes, but the undisputed hit of the week was the lamb Merguez stew which I cooked for them on Tuesday. I think it was Si that said “do you give out your recipes?” and I told him I’d just made it up…but here, just for the boys, is the recipe (as I remember it. Sorry if it’s not exactly the same…I didn’t write what I put in and I was too busy to take any pictures!)….

Lamb Merguez stew to feed nine hungry firemen:

2-3 lamb Merguez sausages per person (I got mine at Williams & Sons butchers in Bangor or Johnny 6 as most people know them) cut in half.

2 large red onions diced finely

3 cloves garlic crushed or finely chopped

thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated

2 to 3 medium carrots chopped into batons

couple of potatoes, small egg-plant and a medium courgette cut into chunks

large teaspoon turmeric

large teaspoon cumin

large teaspoon paprika

level dessertspoonful Ras al Hanout

a small teaspoon harissa (depending how hot you like it)

1 small stick cinnamon

1 bay leaf

1 tin chopped tomatoes

olive oil

1 tin cannellini beans

plain flour

1 litre (or so) chicken stock

salt and pepper

fresh coriander

Heat olive oil in a large pan and add onion. Cook gently for 5 minutes until beginning to soften then add carrot, garlic, ginger, potato, eggplant and courgette. Stir in the pan and coat with oil and allow to cook gently for another five to ten minutes without colouring. Add spices and a tablespoon plain flour and stir so everything is well coated and the spices begin to release their aroma. Stir in the tin of tomatoes and stock and bring to a gentle simmer. If it looks too thick add some more water or stock. In a separate frying pan heat a little more oil and add sausages to brown. They only need browning so don’t worry about cooking them all the way through. You may need to do this in two batches. When browned add to the gently simmering stew along with the tin of drained beans and continue to cook slowly for a good half an hour although you can leave this really gently simmering for longer.

If the sauce is too thin you can bubble it a little more vigorously (unless you have an electric cooker like me as it will probably stick to the bottom of the pan!!). Season with salt and pepper to taste and a couple of handfuls of chopped fresh coriander. Serve with a lovely lemony, herby couscous.

I have to finish by saying a big thank you to the nine gorgeous guys that left me speechless with their pressies of flowers, chocolates, wine…oh yes and a book!

Cheeky buggers!!! 😉

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Lunch on the farm

Its brilliant being able to work in an area that I love but sometimes working most weekends is hard, especially for my family who do after all live here too. So it was a pleasant change to have a midweek job away from home, this time a business lunch for fifty.

Cake fest

Yummy Moroccan chick pea and spinach soup

This was only the second business lunch that I’d catered for so I was I admit filled with a certain amount of trepidation as well as a lot of excitement. The menu for the North Wales branch of the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens training day was simple and hearty and included lots of things that I love to prepare; seasonal soups made with locally grown vegetables, home-made bread, cheeses, fruit and lots of cakes! Very fitting seeing as some of my suppliers were actually attendees at the event. At the last-minute I discovered there were several gluten-free people and I had to include dishes for vegetarians and vegans…well i’m always happy to accommodate so I tried my best to give everyone something yummy.

I made an unexpectedly gorgeous Moroccan chick pea and spinach soup, intended for the vegans but it became the hit of the day for everyone. I also made a leek and potato soup for the traditionalists, supplied baps from the local bakery as well as some home-made oat and rye bread spread with plenty of Welsh butter. I tried my hand at gluten-free flat breads accompanied by butter bean and rosemary hummus which also appeared to get the thumbs up.

After this guests tucked into a Welsh cheese board (Dragon cheddar, Y Feni, Perl Wen and Perl Las) with oat cakes and my spiced courgette chutney plus a variety of desserts that included lemon drizzle cake, flap jacks, gluten-free chocolate brownies and baked cheese cake all topped off with some blackcurrant compote and double cream. I hoped they would like it and they did. Its lovely getting positive feedback and makes a fun job even more enjoyable.

Among the familiar faces at this North Wales networking event were plenty of people I didn’t know and it was nice to chat to a few of them and find out what they do, as well as getting the chance to take part in one of the organised workshop events..cooking home made pizza in a clay cob oven. The builder,  Rik Midgley is a well-known local ceramicist who also makes cob bread ovens and pottery kilns. Some people might have seen his work at festivals across the country (his dragon a Glastonbury was quite outstanding). On this occasion he made a small single chamber bee-hive shaped oven in which a fire was built, allowed to burn for a couple of hours and then removed to make space for the food to cook. The food bakes in the heat that has built up inside the oven.  The speed with which the pizza cooked was amazing…and it tasted fab too. Not having had any of my lunch I was just ready for a bit of al fresco pizza and a cup of tea made over the camp fire!

Topping the part baked pizza dough

pizza in the cob oven

At this point I had to leave but before I did I promised David Shaw, the Director of Research at the  Sarvari Trust that I would pay a return visit to take a look at his Sarpo blight resistant potatoes as well as the other unusual produce he grows down in the greenhouses at Henfaes. More on that to follow.

If you fancy making a cob oven in your garden, or on your allotment they are surprisingly easy to construct and there are directions on Riks website to help you…just follow the links for making bread ovens.

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