Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Big Night II- Prepping for the Meal

As I noted at the outset of my 60th birthday dinner project, there is no way I can cook for 60 plus people, so I needed to recruit help from among those who would be at the dinner. This proved to be easy: nearly all the first people I mentioned the party to volunteered to help. So a band of eight people worked for six hours the day before the party and six worked for three hours on the day of the event itself.

While it was definitely work, it was also really fun. Essentially we got nine hours of hands-on cooking lessons from our designated chef, Brendan McDermott, his principal assistants Sue, James and Bianca and a host of other helpers from ICE. Brendan is a masterful chef and he and his team could not have been more accommodating and helpful; a huge plus is that they actually enjoy teaching.

Looks Like Fun, Doesn't It?

Cooking for 60 is not like cooking for four, six or eight in many ways. First, there is just more of everything. But things also respond differently when made in larger quantities, so my recipes had to be altered. Finally, you have to make a lot of the food a day in advance, and it is important to know which things can and which cannot be stored for 24 hours. To read and see what happened, click on "More" below.


We accomplished an enormous amount on the first day. We made the cold corn soup, made and formed 240 crab cakes and made the relish and vinaigrette that would be used for final assembly, made an astonishing amount of risotto to be chilled overnight before, sauteeing at the last minute, we smoked and grilled the pork tenderloin, we made the purée for the fish dish, we made the ice cream, we made the mini-madeleines and attempted the macarons (more on this later) and we made the shells for the blueberry almond tarts. Left for the day of the event were the appetizer tomato salad, the main courses (fish or duck) and accompanying vegetables and one of the purées, the filling and baking of the blueberry almond tart and the chocolates. Piglet and I had worked with chef Brendan earlier in the week to make the foie gras, which needs five days or so to come to its full glory.

Chef Brendan and the Corn Soup Team

Although the orange lavender buttercream for the macarons was perfect, the shells were not, and had to be redone by me at home that night. Fortunately, I have done this often so, apart from the fact that I was pretty tired from the day's prepping, I had little problem knocking off ten trays of macaron shells, and the assembly was quickly accomplished the next day.

Assembling Macarons

On Sunday we gathered to finish up. Making chocolate seems pretty easy, but making five pounds of it at one go is not. It takes nearly an hour to melt it over a bain marie, and tempering it by cooling and reheating to precise temperatures also takes a huge amount of time. And then you have to work with it pretty quickly or it starts to set. So this occupied a lot of time for the chocolate team. The results were great, however.

Making Chocolates

One of the highlights was making mozzarella for the tomato salad. Melting the curds (firm, roughly 2-inch cubes), then stretching them, tearing off bits and forming balls, always as gently as possible.

The Chocolate Team Switches to Mozzarella

I had made the blueberry almond tart numerous times, so was confident that it would come out well. But it is not prepossessing while being made and at least one of the members of the tart team had grave doubts. But they came out beautifully.

Making Blueberry Almond Tarts

The team also made the Moroccan vegetables for the fish dish and the root vegetable plum sauce to accompany the duck.

As the start of the event neared, crab cakes were sauteed and sauced, foie gras was cut into rounds and put onto brioche bread, smoked pork tenderloin was put on croutons (over a quickly improvised creamy lime sauce), corn soup went into little glasses, risotto cakes were sauteed and shrimp were embedded into kadaifa nests and deep fried. This was all done by ICE chefs and sous-chefs, as I and my team were off dressing for the party.

As the guests arrived and were devouring the hors d'oeuvres and champagne, the ICE team worked tirelessly to make and plate the main dishes.

Our guests started arriving at Bobby Jay's at 7:00, but more of that in the next and final post on this event.

Bobby Jay

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