AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: Schieffelin & Somerset’s Whiskey Ball at the New York Public Library for 1,500; Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) benefits; Martha Stewart Living’s office events.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Co-owner Carla Ruben worked as an account exec at Burson-Marsteller. In 1989, she partnered up with Bob Spiegel, a former sous-chef at Glorious Food. “Unlike some other, more established caterers, they’re a little fresher in terms of ideas,” says publicist Elizabeth Harrison.
TRAY CHIC: Cuisine veers toward New American multiculti. A signature is hors d’oeuvre – bites of Maine lobster with artichokes and lemon aïoli, or seared cubed foie gras with balsamic-glazed Granny Smith apples – on individual silver spoons. For a client’s 40th-birthday party, CE filled her claw-foot bathtub with Beluga caviar. A waiter stood by and scooped it onto toast points. Hooked over the tub’s side were silver bowls containing capers, onion, and chopped egg.
AT YOUR SERVICE: Would-be waiters take a four-hour training course that includes a mock party, where potential hires had better know how to unwrap spoons without leaving any fingerprints.
THE DISH: CE handled fourteen parties associated with the papal visit three years ago. Cocktails for 5,000 on the Great Lawn were followed by a three-in-the-morning choir breakfast. “While he was in New York, the pope only ate chocolates and cheese,” Ruben notes. “I was like, ‘Can’t we interest you in anything? We’ve been slaving away cooking for you!’ “
THE TAB: Cocktails from $18 to $30 per person; three-course dinners from $55. Minimum food cost, $800; dinner parties from 10 to 5,000 persons, and cocktails to 5,000 plus.
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: the bam gala honoring Robert Wilson and Philip Glass at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; Cindy Sherman’s Christmas party; company parties for Tommy Hilfiger and parties at his Connecticut home. On one night in December, Taste organized cocktail parties for Asprey, Fendi, Verdura, and Bergdorf Goodman, stores all within a block and a half of one another.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Seattle-born Jon Gilman studied to be a chef at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco in the early eighties, when nouvelle cuisine was booming. He launched Taste in 1985. Beth Rudin DeWoody has worked with Taste for years. “I’m always impressed when John does the Winter Antiques Show at the Armory,” says DeWoody. “It’s not that kind of fussy little French hors d’oeuvre that look nice but don’t taste so good; it’s the kind of stuff that if you weren’t going out to dinner, you could stand there and really enjoy yourself.”
TRAY CHIC: For the opening of the Italian-tile showroom Bisazza Mosaico, Taste displayed all hors d’oeuvre in grids so they looked like tiles; figs stuffed with mascarpone riding kumquat halves and stacks of grilled-vegetable focaccias were arrayed with a striking precision. Also: chilled cappuccino soufflés served in espresso cups with white-chocolate and macadamia-nut biscotti.
THE DISH: When Gilman first moved to New York, within a week an actor-chef pal told him, “You seem like such a nice guy – don’t get into catering.” But Gilman says he likes the drama that comes with pulling off a huge job he was crazy to take on in the first place.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $18 per person; three-course dinners from $75. Minimum food cost, $800; dinners from 10 to 1,200 persons; cocktails for 2,500 plus.
Susan Holland & Company
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: For a Francesco Scavullo book party at Denise Rich’s Fifth Avenue penthouse, Holland decorated the place with feathers. Forty female waitresses in cocktail dresses wore shocking-pink and orange wigs “to amplify the décor,” says Holland, who took a magenta feathered boa the length of a city block and lined Rich’s balcony with it. But that’s nothing compared with what Holland pulled off at Rich’s Christmas party two years ago, when she installed an ice rink on Rich’s terrace.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Susan Holland used to teach contemporary art history at the Smithsonian. “I come to this as an artist,” she says. Holland creates chuppas, does all flower arrangements, even designed 240 Brancusi-inspired fiberglass birds as props for one Rich party.
TRAY CHIC: “We try to get away from a big, jumbled, cornucopia look,” says Holland, who dispatches things like Maryland crab cakes, pomegranate chicken with walnut chutney, and minted-lamb shu mai with tsatsiki on a big collection of modern Gaetano Pesce trays and resin slabs.
AT YOUR SERVICE: Waiters wear tuxes; waitresses sometimes wear discreet cocktail dresses with a crisscross back modeled on a Rudi Gernreich design. “We don’t need to submerge our female identities to be treated equally,” says Holland.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $20 per person; three-course dinners from $70. Minimum food cost, $2,000; dinner for 20 to 2,500 persons; cocktails for 50 up to 5,000.
David Ziff Cooking
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: Private parties for Howard Stringer; all parties for the New York City Opera; Wendy Wasserstein’s Hanukkah get-togethers. Tom Wolfe is a fifteen-year client.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: David Ziff does the cooking, along with three other chefs, and attends many of his parties. Ziff and partner Alan Bell (the business guy) are celebrating the company’s twentieth anniversary this year. Ziff says he doesn’t do contracts: “I shake hands with people, and that’s it. You just have to trust the relationship.”
Last year, Ziff did a dinner for Steve Rattner and Maureen White, but they got stuck in Washington, D.C., because the weather turned nasty. Maureen called Ziff and asked him to play host. “Everybody had a ball,” he says.
TRAY CHIC: Ziff’s innovative menus run the gamut from Mexican to Caribbean to southwestern to Chinese. “I’ve had people ask me to do things I refuse to do,” he says. “The twelve-foot-hero people. You tap the phone and say, ‘I think you’ve got a wrong number.’ ” Ziff likes to roll seared tuna in tortillas (with wasabi mayo) and stand them on end, like totem poles, on a tray. At a fund-raiser where pictures were to be auctioned, Ziff used framed pictures as trays. When one couple had a “burn the prenup” party, Ziff hauled in a Duraflame log to do the honors. As for the menu, “we did a lot of grilled stuff,” Ziff says, laughing.
THE DISH: “I don’t think anybody in New York City makes better hors d’oeuvre than David Ziff does,” says food guru Eli Zabar, of the Vinegar Factory and Eli’s. “My mother loves him,” says Wendy Wasserstein. “That’s a great little latke he’s got going.”
THE TAB: Cocktails average $25 per person; three-course dinners start at $75. Minimum food cost, $1,200; dinners from 16 to 1,000 persons; cocktails to 2,500 plus. And Ziff never goes over budget.
The Upper Crust
AFFAIR TO REMEMBER: CS First Boston’s real-estate cowboy Andy Stone threw a Christmas party at the Time Is Always Now gallery featuring a sword swallower, a fire eater, a belly dancer, and a traditional meze table with mint-zucchini fritters, marinated olives, spreads, and flatbreads.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Dan Fehlig was an architect involved in the renovation of Ellis Island. Today he is the owner of Upper Crust – not the chef, he’s careful to note. “I don’t believe you can do larger events and be the chef-owner. You need to be standing right next to the client, dealing with their concerns,” says Fehlig. “You can’t make that judgment on top of the saucepan in the back.” Fehlig captained at the ‘21’ Club and the River Café and was trained to manage at the Four Seasons.
TRAY CHIC: Fehlig collects antique copper trays from travels to places like Istanbul and Athens that are then coordinated with the food. Yellowfin-tuna tartare atop very thin, crisp lotus-root chips echoes the pattern in the Byzantine platters.
THE DISH: For a bank’s Christmas party, Fehlig dredged up a Dominican pro to hand-roll cigars for the guests.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $18 per person; three-course dinners from $55. Minimum food cost, $750; dinner parties from 8 to 1,200 persons; cocktails for 3,000 plus.
The Cleaver Company
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: Lunch for the Dalai Lama at Tibet House; parties at Agnes Gund’s and Tina Brown and Harry Evans’s apartment.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Mary Cleaver – a Bennington art major who was a corporate chef in the eighties – owns a retail store in the Chelsea Market. Cooking chores have now fallen to Chanterelle vet Marcellus Holton and pastry chef Elizabeth Abraham.
TRAY CHIC: Seared tuna on jícama and tea-smoked shrimp wrapped in sisho leaves are displayed on glass-bottomed trays – underneath are still lifes using flowers, herbs, or other themed material. Because she was once a pastry chef, Cleaver pays special attention to desserts like maple-blueberry bread pudding. Whenever possible, she buys produce from organic farmers and hormone-free dairies – even though it costs more – because she wants to improve the quality of the food chain, she says.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $18.50 per person; three-course dinners from $40. Minimum food cost, $500. Dinner parties from 12 to 1,000 people; cocktails to 3,000.
Mood Food Ltd.
AFFAIR TO REMEMBER: At the launch of the Christian Dior fragrance Hypnotic Poison, guests made their grand entrances through a beaded curtain and sat down to dinner on cushions at low-slung Moroccan-style tables. The menu incorporated purported aphrodisiacs like figs, caviar, and oysters. A red passion-fruit elixir was served in martini glasses. Guests nibbled on zucchini blossoms stuffed with truffles and wild mushrooms.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Tinker Boe, a self-trained chef, made shrimp scampi on a hot plate in college. “My mother used to send me cookbooks,” she says. She freelanced as a private chef and launched Mood Food in 1985. These days, she runs the company and is more of a party planner.
TRAY CHIC: The “walking crudité” was invented for an MTV blowout – a waiter wears a black jacket made out of place-mat material, studded with vegetables on short metal skewers. He carries a bowl filled with dip. Food stations like a make-your-own-Philadelphia-cheese-steak stand with truffle mayo and grilled porcini-and-onion confit condiments also figure into the fun.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $20 per person; three-course dinners from $70. Minimum food cost, $2,000; dinners from 25 to 3,000 persons; cocktails to 5,000.
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: Parties for Mary McFadden, Chanel, and Larry Gagosian. At Susan and Alan Patricof’s $25,000-a-plate dinner for Bill Clinton last January, the president liked owner Pamela Morgan’s ginger snaps so much, he took a doggie bag back with him on Air Force One. Not long after, Morgan met Hillary at a luncheon and mentioned the Patricof dinner. “Are you the one who gave him the cookies to bring home?’ ” said the woman who has hinted she’s not the cookie-baking type.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Pamela Morgan was a dancer in the national touring company of A Chorus Line but worked as a freelance caterer on the side. She started Flavors seventeen years ago; some complain that Morgan mingles like she’s a guest at parties she’s catering.
TRAY CHIC: Bronzed, gilded, and silvered tile trays; black lacquered trays trimmed with fruit, flowers, rocks, or moss are shuttled around the room bearing “kisses” (puckered phyllo pouches with curried lamb or smoked chicken and feta inside) and duck-confit empanadas. Wild-mushroom risotto with truffle oil is served in individual Chinese porcelain spoons.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $22 to $32 per person; three-course dinners from $55 to $70. Minimum food cost, $1,000; dinner parties for 10 to 1,000 persons, cocktails up to 2,000.
AFFAIR TO REMEMBER: A post-premiere cocktail party for Velvet Goldmine to benefit the Council of Fashion Designers of America Foundation at the Bowery Ballroom; waiters dressed seventies and wore Bowie-ish glitter.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Gregory Barreta was in his second year at Boston University’s med school when he decided he wasn’t cut out for duodenal-ulcer research. After cooking school in Paris and a series of European apprenticeships, Barreta landed at Adrienne in the Peninsula hotel. He opened Fletcher Morgan in 1994, and Cape Town native Michael Kashtan joined him as partner in 1996. Kashtan is now the executive chef; Barreta, the front man.
TRAY CHIC: Barreta likes to think his style is “sophisticated but bam! in-your-face at the same time.” For the Seton Smith opening at the Whitney, stainless-steel light boxes doubled as trays; Barreta coordinates the color of the lights inside with the flowers or the company logo. Sit-down dinners include such main courses as pan-seared sesame-crusted salmon with a roasted-red-pepper emulsion.
THE DISH: FM catered a voodoo wedding at Chelsea Market; everyone joined hands and formed a circle, a Haitian priest performed the ceremony, and a reggae band performed a Rasta rendition of “Ave Maria.”
THE TAB: Cocktails from $15 per person; dinners from $45 to $60. Minimum food cost, $1,000; seated dinners from 10 to 300 persons, cocktails to 1,200.
Food in Motion
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: Party at Carolina Herrera’s townhouse; the opening party for 1,000 at the Gap flagship store on Fifth Avenue; a book party for 1,000 at Barneys for Simon Doonan’s Confessions of a Window Dresser.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Lloyd Zimet and Michelle Lovelace are husband-and-wife co-owners. Zimet once worked on Wall Street as a bond broker; Lovelace has a master’s in psychiatric social work. The two started Food in Motion in 1986.
TRAY CHIC: For a Comme des Garçons fragrance launch at Barneys, Food in Motion created pale-orange cocktails with floating rose petals that mimicked the notes in the fragrance. At one Isaac Mizrahi showroom party, the food – slow-roasted tomatoes on crostini and salmon rillettes – matched his new line of red clothes. In the summer, Food in Motion makes one-bite ice-cream cones that are whisked around the room in custom-drilled Lucite trays.
AT YOUR SERVICE: Waiters wear white Nehru jackets. “Our clients usually want really good-looking waiters, because so many are in the fashion industry,” says Zimet, who keeps head shots on file.
THE DISH: For a Chanel party at Barneys (“before they went bankrupt,” Zimet is careful to note), he was asked to make 300 Chanel lipsticks out of Valrhona chocolate.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $20 per person; three-course dinners from $65. Minimum food cost, $1,000; dinner parties from 10 up to 1,000 persons, cocktails to 2,000.
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: Parties for interior designer Victoria Hagan; a party at the Whitney celebrating the opening of the new Leonard and Evelyn Lauder wing. For the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia christmas party at Day for Night Studios, chef-owner Daniel Mattrocce created a baked-potato station, a fondue station, a turkey station, and a dessert station.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Daniel Mattrocce studied in Paris at Les Grands Moulins. Then it was on to Demel’s in Vienna, where he learned about pastry, and Lucerne, where he was schooled in chocolate and sugar. Mattrocce incorporated DM Cuisine in 1992. You’ll find Mattrocce in the kitchen wearing whites and a bow tie at the high-profile shindigs.
TRAY CHIC: Because Mattrocce has this kind of background in desserts, his trademark is four- or five-foot-tall gold-dusted croquembouches. He loves doing them, even if he ends up with “a lot of burned fingers.” Mattrocce can also do a memorable wedding cake, wrapped with ribbons or festooned with roses. When he’s not in full Wonka mode, he’s cooking up things like smoked-salmon-and-dill crêpes and miniature red-snapper cakes with a lime-mint sauce.
THE DISH: Recently did a Petrossian-caviar birthday party for 100 with “Cristal and kilos and kilos and kilos of caviar and lobster.” The cost? A mere $750 a head.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $20 per person; three-course dinners from $100. Minimum food cost, $1,000; dinner parties from 10 to 1,000 persons, cocktails from 50 to 2,000.
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: The party celebrating the reopening of the New York Public Library’s Main Reading Room; an Asia Society luncheon celebrating the handover of Hong Kong. A buffet dinner for 1,500 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the School of Visual Arts was a Mardi Gras extravaganza with stations serving food from Rio, New Orleans, and Venice.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: After waitering her way through New York, Judy Hundley launched Gracious Thyme with her chef husband, Mark Cummings, in 1986. Cummings apprenticed at Le Cygne and was a chef at Le Bernardin. He has a strong classical French background, “which is why our food doesn’t stray too much,” Hundley says. An older group of customers, “55 and up, has been with Glorious since the beginning of the canapé,” says Hundley. It’s the younger group that calls her: “They’re not their mothers,” she says. But they do live on Park Avenue, and entertain in an elegant way.
TRAY CHIC: “We do not overmanipulate food,” says Hundley. “None of our hors d’oeuvre are two and a half inches high with 42 components.” More modest canapés include asparagus-and-Pecorino toast and feta-onion tartlets. Dinner could be rack of lamb with a Dijon-herb crust and butternut-squash purée alongside a two-potato gratin, with an individual pear or apple crisp served with homemade cinnamon ice cream for dessert.
AT YOUR SERVICE: An older, more experienced wait staff (average age between 30 and 50).
THE TAB: Cocktails from $25 to $40 per person; three-course dinner from $115 to $155. Minimum food cost, $1,800; events from 10 to 1,500 persons.
Robert Swingle Distinctive Catering
(353-8848 or 203-629-2939)
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: All Christie’s in-house parties for the past six years; a Sony cocktail party honoring Charlotte Church.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: As a teenager, Robert Swingle came to New York from Ohio to be an actor. “But when you’re six foot three and you have a baby face that photographs like you’re 12, it’s difficult.” He started cater-waitering, and in 1988, just after the stock-market crash, hooked up with a chef and launched his own catering company. Backed by four full-time CIA- and FCI-graduate chefs, Swingle has created a loyal following with the Christie’s and Greenwich crowd, who think he offers great value for the money and like dealing with him directly.
TRAY CHIC: Swingle’s food is upscale-hearty and is served in conventional silver trays or picturesque handmade baskets made of grape vines. Hors d’oeuvre that resemble little works of art include beef-tenderloin tostadas with black-bean-corn relish. Blinis with crème fraîche and chives are dotted with caviar – not a lot of caviar, mind you, but for the $17-per-head budget, it’s amazing it’s there at all.
AT YOUR SERVICE: “I like my wait staff to be friendly,” says Swingle, “but not overly familiar, because no guest wants to chat with the wait staff.” Not usually, anyway. One woman who was throwing a bachelorette party for her friend wanted all the waiters to wear just G-strings. “I think you ought to call an escort service,” he advised her. Celebrated coat-check alumna: Debra Messing, who plays Grace in Will & Grace on NBC.
THE DISH: Swingle’s waiters had just arrived when the hostess, a rich heiress, said, “I just want you to know my parties are very interesting and very wild, but I just want you to relax.” For dessert, she passed shallow bowls of cocaine around the table of 40 guests. “She gave each guest a little snuff box with a little spoon so they could take the leftovers home,” says Swingle.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $17 per person; three-course dinners from $45 to $65. Minimum food cost, $500; dinner parties from 8 to 1,000 persons; cocktails up to 7,500.
Rex Duval Catering
AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER: Roone Arledge’s lunch for Hillary Clinton in ABC’s dining room; Tommy Hilfiger’s Christmas party at Roseland.
WHO RUNS THE SHOW: Rex Duval admits he’s one of the most expensive caterers in the city. His father was the original actor to play Colombian Coffee’s man with a mule, Juan Valdez; his mother danced with Martha Graham. Duval says he learned about fine French service, wines, and food from his party-hearty parents. “If you tell Rex you want a Japanese man who yodels, he’ll scour the earth for him,” says a booker at Bloom Ballroom, a space he works quite a bit. “When somebody comes to me and wants wild game or something exquisite that nobody else has tasted anywhere, I send them to Rex.”
TRAY CHIC: Duval has recently joined forces with Philippe Feret, formerly the executive chef at Windows on the World. Main courses include steamed lobster with warm-leek salad and lemon-and-Beluga-caviar dressing as well as new dishes featuring buffalo and ostrich.
THE DISH: For a few months in the eighties, Duval played a roulette dealer-kidnapper on the soap opera As the World Turns.
THE TAB: Cocktails from $30 per person; buffet dinners from $60; three-course dinners from $80. Minimum food cost $1,500; dinner parties for 12 to 2,500 persons; cocktails to 3,000.