Catering Stories: Two For One-Part 1

Sunday February 5, 2012

January 1988 started what was to be a good year for catering. It was an election year and Reaganomics had the country in the lull between Iran-Contra and the end of the Cold War. People were entertaining at home nonstop.  I had a lot of private parties scheduled way into the summer.  January is a great month to entertain since people are looking for some excitement in the dreary cold month following the Christmas holidays.

I got a call from an acquaintance named Nicole who lived in San Francisco.  I had done her best friend’s wedding at the Faye Mansion Inn the year before. I had even had danced at the wedding with her husband, who was a dead ringer for David Bowie, willowy tall, blonde, and debonair. Nicole (who was quite his opposite in being dark, exotic, aloof, and temperamental) and the faux David Bowie had decided to have a brunch to celebrate the opening of his new one-man accounting business.  The party would be in the top floor office of a converted Noe Street Victorian home on a Sunday morning (street parking would not be a problem then) and she wanted a lavish but casual, impressive brunch.  She wanted people to really feel satisfied by being able to come back as many times as they wanted for food and drink. In short, lots of everything.

Nicole was very particular, even nervous, about every single detail being in place, which was no problem for me since reassuring hostesses is one of my strong points.  It is not unusual for anyone who does not entertain very often to get the jitters when they do since it is way bigger a responsibility in reality than when you are in the planning stages.

The most compelling detail of this party was that Nicole had planned everything according to astrological projections–the day, time, even right down to when the perfunctory formal announcement lauding the opening of the business would be made to the guests.

Nicole was a professional astrologer. Unbeknownst to me and most of the world, she was working with Joan Quigley, the astrologer who gained front page notoriety when Donald Regan’s book about his experiences as the Chief of Staff in the Reagan White House was published. The fact that Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer to co-ordinate her husband’s calendar for personal safety and to set dates for global conferences really hit a scandalous note for most of America. Joan Quigley took all of the heat and never revealed to the public that she was working in tandem with Nicole, who was doing the mathematical calculations for Joan’s thriving business.  Of course, I was reassured when I found out since Nicole was smart, technical, scientific, and very competent.  She was highly trained and did a lot of published writing on the subject, as well as having a large client base of her own.  In my opinion, the country was in good hands and I was able to put in perspective the giggly remarks I had heard in my circle of friends that Nancy Reagan had her own “kitchen cabinet.” Nicole had her computer setup and worked out of her kitchen.

The menu had to be completely prepared beforehand since there was really no kitchen in the building, just a sink and microwave installed in a narrow walk in hall linen closet.  We would cut the fruit and breads in there, along with arranging the platters.  The upstairs rooms, accessed by a steep banistered staircase, were smallish and rather dark, reminding me of my grandmother’s 1920s house in New Jersey. There was  a turn-of-the-century fireplace in the main office that was once the living room of the rental flat/master bedroom of the original family house, with double glass doors leading to adjacent rooms.

I would set the serving tables up in that L-shaped room, looking out the front window. The room, probably once a child’s bedroom or dressing room, was small enough just to allow for an even flow in from the hall and around the front of the L and then head them out to the office area. My servers could stand behind the tables, one for the food, the other for the juice, champagne, and coffee, without being in the way of the guests at all.

view from the end of the catering table to the two bonsai I borrowed from a friend's collection that added height to the table

While the menu looked deceptively simple, it created a lovely bountiful table.  You can serve a very simple array of foods, but end up with a stunning meal the way they are balanced flavor and appearance wise, then push the whole look a up a notch by having a great presentation.  Notice I don’t say elaborate here.

As long as you have real glasses for the drinks and real flatware, you can have a lovely brunch with stylish paper or plastic plates and over sized paper napkins reflecting the colors chosen by the hostess.  You can have all the same color or mix and match complementary colors.  You want whatever the guests touch to feel good to encourage the mood of satisfaction and stability; stainless forks and nice glassware achieves that.

Since the guests would be eating standing up, that meant there would be a balancing act–plate in one hand, fork or glass in the other.  All foods had to be able to be eaten with just a fork or your fingers, and not be messy at all.  I went for sturdy black plastic, dinner plate size, to avoid food dumped on the floor as guests tried to get a forkful, yet have room for generous portions of all the foods including the breads.

Auspicious Business Debut

Buffet Brunch in the Victorian Office

Noe Street

San Francisco, California

Sunday, January 31, 1988

Lox, Natural Cream Cheese and Miniature Bagels

capers and wedges of lemon

Fresh Vegetable and Cream Quiche

Fresh Pineapple Slices and Melon Wedges


A Variety of Homemade Nut Breads

pumpkin, poppyseed, sour cream cashew, carrot, and apricot

Piper-Sonoma Brut

fresh squeezed orange juice                                 cafe

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2012

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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