Dinner Party Post Mortem.
As a small personal services business, sometimes we will do things to “show off” so to speak. This last Friday I had the occasion to put on a show off event for some of my close friends and foodies.
I had a dinner party that consisted of a 5 course tasting menu with wine pairings.
The menu read as follows:
Fresh Gulf oysters lightly broiled with herb casino butter and hickory smoked bacon.
Chilled Avocado and cucumber soup
Lightly chilled soup with hints of citrus garnished with fresh cilantro and cucumber
Tournedos Rossini with Sauce Périgueux served with lobster potato foam and seared garlic broccolini
Seared medallions of beef tenderloin served with seared fois gras and a shaved black truffle demi glaze. Served over warm potato foam made with lobster stock. With broccolini seared with garlic.
Triple cream fromage St. André on a baguette crostini with quince paste and balsamic reduction
Triple cream St. Andre cheese served warm with quince paste on a toasted baguette crostini over a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
Bitter sweet chocolate ravioli with sweet ricotta filling served with amaretto crème anglaise
Fresh made bitter sweet chocolate ravioli with almond and ricotta filling served with a warm amaretto cream custard sauce
I figure, if you are gonna go for it, go BIG right?
What goes into such an undertaking? Just like with any menu, planning, planning, and oh, more planning. Mise ‘en place is HUGE in doing something like this. For the last 3 weeks, the prep for this event has been in the works. We started with the menu and worked from there.
What comes after the menu? Logistics. Can it be done in the space allotted? Sure, but only for 8 people, that means that we have to limit the guest list. It went from up to 15 down to 8. Next part of planning something like this is making sure your guests are firm and confirmed. It would be a big problem to set a purchasing list and not have the right numbers of confirmed guests show.
Next step in logistics? Making sure you have the flatware, china and glassware needed to pull this off. Want to be washing dishes between service courses? Not so much. I set this menu up in with the idea of single cook execution and simplified plating execution. Small plates with simple garniture. We purchased a new set of plates for each of the courses. Good thing is that they can all be used again.
Next stop? Shopping lists! You have to know where to source items, where to purchase for the bang to buck ratios, best quality etc. Experience doing catering and event as well as private client work comes in handy for this step. How does one set up shopping for an event of this style? Run down your mise en place list. Go line by line with each step. Compile your needs and check your existing inventory.
Hard part about an event like this is that running single cook means all the pressure is on me to perform. I spent the event day doing all of the shopping, and prep. That meant that the menu had to be set up with items that were not too heavily needed for ala minute cooking (at the time needed). I set my menu with the only prep at time item being the primary plating items.
The break down course by course:
Oysters Casino. I added an item to this course. It went from a strict hot item to an oysters 2 ways set up. I purchased wild caught Gulf oysters for the casino and good quality Bluepoint oysters for the cold course.
The oysters fought with me, as would be expected when the pressure is on, but the quality was top notch from Central Market, and the course executed very well. Nice opening item.
Chilled Avocado and Cucumber soup.
Moved from a hot to a cold item. Traditionally a pallet cleanser from the strong flavor Amuse course. There was a slight hint of spice from the jalapeno but nothing overwhelming because of the base of Greek yogurt. It was a very nice addition to the menu. Very popular item.
Tournedos Rossini with Lobster Potato Foam and Garlic Seared Brocolinni.
The only course that was ala minute. The tenderloin was butchered ahead to allow the tournedos to come to room temperature. The potato foam was based on a recipe from el Bulli. I should have stuck with the original recipe without too much derivation, as the foam base was a little too thick and did not stand up too well. The lobster flavor from the stock came through and the texture was nice as an accompaniment to the truffle based demi glaze but I was a little disappointed at the lack of lift. The brocolinni turned out to be broccoli rabe as Central Market was out of the other. No big deal. Same prep, just blanche and toss in to sear briefly with roasted garlic. The flavor balance was spot on, and for the most part, the steaks were done just right. I made sure to give myself the least appealing set up with the most overdone steak. No need to give a guest an overcooked piece of meat.
St. Andre cheese with Quince and Crostini:
Simple and creamy. I miss planned my plating diagram and had to make quick changes based on my purchases, but no big deal, just compress down. The crostini was a bit on the tough side, but live and learn. The cheese with the whipped quince and balsamic glaze was a very nice balance.
Chocolate Ravioli with Ricotta and Almond Filling:
Not being mister pastry, this was the course that caused me the most pre event distress. I have made pasta before, I have cooked with chocolate before. I have yet to do the two together. Thanks to Chef Michelle Brown at Collin College for the advice regarding the 00 flour. The texture difference with the super fine cocoa powder made a difference. The pasta was a bit stickier that other pasta that I worked with in the past, but the smell of chocolate filled the house when I was rolling it out! The filling was fantastic, a perfect nuttiness and creaminess with the cheese and almond paste. The crème anglaise was just the right note to finish with. For my own purposes? I will cook the pasta a bit longer or crank down the roller to a slightly thinner setting, as the pasta cooked a bit tough for my tastes.
All in all, my guests were VERY pleased with the results. I cannot complain.