Secrets of an A-list Caterer

A top pro reveals her insider tips

Today, Abigail Kirsch Culinary Productions, a prestigious catering company, is getting ready for the wedding of a lively, upbeat, informal couple who has asked for help creating a wedding with an intimate feeling. They have chosen an exquisite, unique venue—the Pratt Mansions across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It's a staid girls' school during the week, but on weekends is reborn for parties and weddings, via a handful of subtle makeover tricks.

Tip #1

When comparing costs at on-premise and off-premise venues, ask about add-ons, such as chair-and-table rentals or even air-conditioning, as they can alter your budget estimates enormously.

It All Begins With the Tasting
In the dining room at Tappan Hill, Janet MacEachen, the president of the off-premise division, is conducting a tasting—the yummiest part of being an engaged couple. At an impeccably set table, a waiter serves various choices for each course, as well as complementary wine possibilities. Janet is busy pointing out the design of each plate, because food must be eaten with the eyes first. She steers the clients toward items that work best together, gently shows them how to properly hold a wine glass by the stem (so as not to change the wine's temperature), listens to their comments, and takes copious notes.

The couple whose wedding I am following today was here several months ago for a similar tasting. After sampling a myriad of dishes, the couple decided that a buffet menu, simple flowers, partial seating, and lots of dancing was exactly what they both had in mind.

Putting the Pieces Together
I arrive at the Pratt Mansion as the trucks are being unloaded and two kitchens are being set up. Hors d'oeuvres will be served from a downstairs kitchen, and the dinner food will come from a kitchen set up in a classroom that's adjacent to the ballroom, three flights up. The cooks check in their supplies, including props, baskets, and custom trays, and the headwaiters check in all the rentals: linens, tableware, chafing dishes, serving utensils, tables, chairs, glasses, and so on. There are bits and pieces of the wedding everywhere, yet in no time at all it will magically come together.

Chinese dumplings, for the in-vogue Asian buffet stations, are steamed (with water that has been brought to a boil in coffee urns) in small batches over lettuce leaves on-site, so they are not gummy, and blowtorches are used to brown foods where there are no ovens.

Alison Awerbuch, executive chef and partner with the Kirsch family, spends a great deal of her time creating and testing recipes for the two-tier cooking process that off-premise catering requires. Ali and I have been friends for quite some time (we're both Culinary Institute of America graduates), and she can definitely put her whisk where her mouth is. After months of trial and error, for example, Alison has finally developed a risotto for large-party consumption that she deems creamy enough to serve to patrons.

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