Event chefs: Ringmasters of the culinary circus

It is 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon, and the entire private-events sales team, the private-event chef and yours truly, the executive chef, are sitting down to discuss the upcoming week’s private parties.

These parties range in size from 13 to 175 people, but all require the same methodical attention to detail.

What is discussed is the same for every party: the size, the date, the event space, the entire menu (including any special request), the staffing, whether the party is a plated function or an attendant function (carving and pasta), the entire beverage menu, linens, flowers, name cards, display tables and service staff. All these points are discussed for every party.

Now throw five functions, all going at once and all very important to each client. No issue is too small. Sometimes it makes you feel like the ringmaster at a great culinary circus, but once you get started you need to be prepared — two days in advance. Not the food but the mental mise en place, although there are elements that can be prepared ahead and should, such as the lamb sauce.

Here is how I go about it, starting from the time the culinary team gets up from the special-events meeting.

First, the private-event chef and I coordinate for the week and set schedules. For a party of 75 here is a sample menu:

First course
Sweet potato and farmhouse cider soup with applejack cream
Field-green salad, endive, cherry tomato and a blood-orange-and-honey vinaigrette

Second course
Pan-roasted halibut with truffled grits and grapes
Caramelized rib-eye with salsify, asparagus and bleu-cheese froth

Chocolate fudge cake with espresso ice cream
Trio of sorbets with almond cookie

One day prior, I will bring in the steak and butcher it to specification.

A restaurant is a business and needs to be run effectively. As a chef I can bring in enough steak for all 75 people, but not using it on any of my other menus would leave me with too much and nowhere specific to use it, so I must make smart decisions.

I am estimating that two-thirds of the guests will order the steak, so a rib-eye portion is 10 ounces. For ordering purposes I know a rib has a 65 percent fabricated yield, so my equation is 50 people times 10 ounces equals 500 ounces, divided by 16 ounces to a pound equals 31 pounds of steak.

Each rib averages about 15 pounds, so I would order three to come in one day before the event.

For fish a similar equation: halibut portions are 7 ounces. For ordering purposes, 25 people times 7 ounces equals 175 ounces, divided by 16 equals 11 pounds of fish.

Halibut on the bone will have a 55 percent yield, so for 11 pounds of fillet I will order a 20-pound fish to be delivered the day of the party.

With the main components ordered, similar equations apply for the starters. I will estimate a close-to-even split. Forty orders of salad and 35 soup. Each case of greens yields 25 portions, so I will order 5 pounds of lettuce to come in the day of. Here we have some wiggle room because greens are used in the � la carte menu as well.

Each portion of soup is 8 ounces, and we will need 35 portions. Thirty-five times 8 ounces equals 280 ounces, or 2 gallons and 1 quart.

Now just as my sauce work for the main dishes is done one day prior, so too is the soup. One case of sweet potatoes would be scheduled to arrive one day before the event, and the soup will be prepared that day. The vinaigrette will also be prepared a day ahead.

The day of the event the private event kitchen staff will:

• Make the applejack cream.
• Wash greens.
•Cut tomatoes.
•Cook grits.
•Cut grapes.
• Cook salsify and asparagus.
•Make the bleu-cheese sauce

And pastries are always made the day of the event!

Simple isn’t it? Now let’s talk about the 10 unexpected guests who show up for the event; I build in a 10 percent safety margin.

It works, and we have had so many great parties, but all would not be possible if not for a great team and a lot of communication before and during the events.

The captain of each party is always in communication with the director and the kitchen. Without it we would not be able to throw such great events. Just call me P.T. Barnum — or Chef.

Morales is the executive chef at Zola, which prepares food for five private dining rooms and event spaces, including those it shares with the International Spy Museum in the same building.