Until March, I was a retail strategist. So for the last ten years, I was either running a retail division of a company, working for a retailer, or at the beck and call of my retail clients. The madness started with the back-to-school season, escalated the week of Thanksgiving, and went into full chaos well into the new year until the last amount of profit was squeezed from the clearance rack. Which is why every year, I’ve taken a long vacation in January.
But this year was going to be different. With no holiday promotion strategies, Black Friday sales numbers, or balance sheets to worry about, I would be able to enjoy the holidays! Well, except for the fact that my new career as a personal chef and caterer to the tech stars meant I would spend the holidays worrying about menus, food prep, staffing, transport, serving pieces, and a different kind of balance sheet! This month was jammed packed with holiday parties, fundraisers, and fancy dinners – none at which I was sloshing back punch with the other guests. There’s no time for sloshing when you’re the help.
Despite my exhaustion, it was a a lot of fun. And even though I don’t 100% know what I’m doing, things went off without a hitch. Well, almost.
There was a point at the Slideluck benefit I thought I was coming face to face with my first public culinary disaster. When I’d agreed to cook for the event, I had only booked one holiday party. By the time the event came, I’d had three that week. So I decided to play it safe and go with what are now old standbys – Portobello Mousse for the appetizer and Blackened Pork Loin, Braised Collards, and Parmesan Cream Grits for the main. They are always fan favorites and easy to serve on site with two induction burners and the counter top roaster.
However, as soon as we started unloading at the venue (aka someone’s office), we were told we couldn’t use the induction burners. After much negotiation, we were granted 20 minutes of burner time which we needed to warm the collards and grits, saute mushrooms for the appetizer, and sear about 40 lbs of pork for roasting.
We used the chaffing dishes to warm the grits and collards, but the pork posed the biggest challenge. Once we seared the meat, we didn’t want the temperature to drop into the bacteria zone and we had three hours before dinner service. So I created a plan B – sear the meat, add it to the roaster with the marinade, braise it for a couple of hours – checking the temperature every 30 minutes after the first hour – and adjust the temperature accordingly.
There’s no such thing as a perfect plan, especially when someone accidentally turns your roaster from 175 to 350 degrees and by the time you notice an hour later $200 worth of fancy pork is now very well done. Time for plan C.
Right before service, I had Amy scoop some of the juices from the roaster into coffee mugs she found in the break room. I brought them to a boil in the microwave and added some random seasonings I’d found in the cupboard, along with spoonfuls of the roasted tomato soup I’d thrown into the catering bag for my lunch.
TA DA! That’s what we call magic – making a pan sauce out of leftovers in the microwave to serve over thinly sliced (and very dry) pork loin on top of creamy grits and spicy collards! We also call that saving your ass from serving cardboard to 200 hungry dinner guests!
It worked. Everyone raved about the dish (especially the collards) and a few people even came back for more meat! It was truly a holiday miracle!