‘She’ll Be Alright, Mate:’ Catering Lessons from Heather and Izzy Part 1/2

It occurs to me that I shouldn’t let even one more blog post go by without introducing you to Heather Bickford, the Chef of Ratho Farm and one of the most delightful and food-knowledgeable people I’ve ever encountered. She’s charming, eccentric, has a beautiful family and has forgotten more about catering than you or I will ever know. Without her, the food for weddings and corporate events at Ratho Farm would not offer nearly so much panache.

More to the point of this blog, it was Heather who repeatedly saved my greenhorn “arse,” as she would say it, during my first two pop-up dinners of American Southern food here, alongside her daughter and cheer-leader-in-chief, Isabelle. What’s more, they executed those saves so well and so quickly that, even during the most disorganized of my events, the Mardi Gras Dinner, I am told the guests hardly noticed that we in the kitchen had descended to the third level of chaos on at least four separate occasions.

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The Ratho Farm Kitchen & Catering Dream Team: Margaux, Heather and Izzy

I will relate the lessons of that night for you here and now, and not just because in retrospect they are pretty funny, but because the whole Mardi Gras service was genuinely instructive for anyone trying to scale up, as i was doing, from cooking dinner parties for 25 friends who are grateful for all the free food to multi-course meals for 40-plus paying customers. As Heather and I sat drinking cheap New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc together after the revelers went home, we dissected the various bumps and near-disasters of the night and she gave me some valuable advice.

1. A Strong Cocktail Will Cover a Multitude of Sins

Okay, this advice was not actually from Heather, but something I already knew from swank dinner parties I’d thrown in a previous incarnation as a faculty wife. But without a doubt offering  New Orleans-inspired Hurricane Punch for $5 AU/ $3.75 US was a clutch move the night of the Mardi Gras Dinner.  The price JUST covered costs, given Tasmania’s exorbitant liquor prices ($80 AU/$60 US for the 750ml of Baccardi we pay $15 US for in Chicago.) But its potency surely made our subsequent mishaps less noticeable and/or more easily forgiven.

Yoran, who both made and served the Hurricanes, followed this Food Network recipe, which, fair warning, seemed to be of Category 6 strength. Even though the guests were all outside, I distinctly remember the party’s decibel level climbing throughout the cocktail hour, as I first helped pass big silver trays of Boudin Balls with Creole Mustard,

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Over my right shoulder is the dad of this young gentleman, Harry, whose love of the lamb offal-laced Boudin Balls flabbergasted his mom. (Harry’s dad is either on his first or second Hurricane.) Over my left shoulder is the popular urn of punch both made and served by Yoran, in the blue T-shirt, as Margaux, in the red shorts-jumper, keeps him company.

then Southern-Style Deviled Eggs and finally, Fried Green Tomato And Okra Fritters with Red Pepper Jelly. One very VIP guest inquired as to how many Hurricanes he ought to drink and I advised that, since I knew his wife was driving, as many as he liked.

The revelry actually got so boisterous that, not long after the party migrated inside for our entrée course of Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, one woman fled the glass-walled atrium dining room for her cottage because her inner ear was hurting from all the noise.

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Me with birthday boy and friends in Ratho Farm’s glass-walled atrium.

(Her husband was having so much fun that he stayed behind and brought her dinner to their room later in a box.) TLDR: Mistakes are more likely to be overlooked/forgiven if your diners are partially/completely in the bag.

To be Continued….

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