Being a Caterer: A Case Study
Craig McAlpine is the chef director of HOME CUISINE, a bespoke in-house catering and personal chef service, based in Edinburgh, but offering a nationwide service. The company also runs a gourmet food delivery service, and the team caters for almost any event where food is needed.
Craig is also involved in teaching, demonstrations, consultancy, writing, reviewing and television work. He told us more about the work of a professional caterer.
Typical Clients“We deal with a complete range of people: from time-poor professionals, those that don't have the knowledge or inclination to cook, particularly for numbers or to entertain, those that are daunted at the prospect of cooking for more than four, wealthy individuals who entertain regularly, those celebrating who particularly want to go to a restaurant, single professionals who don't much care for cooking for themselves, and don't want to have the same boring take away food.
“We've had all sorts of things for the delivery service: an intimate dinner for two, a celebratory party for the mother or father's 50th or 60th, Christmas Day lunch, entertaining friends, freezer stocking, and one of our most regular clients just orders every other week because she is ferociously busy.”
Thinking Ahead When Hiring a CatererCraig recommends that if you are looking for a caterer, you need to plan ahead and think about the number of guests, the sort of service (buffet, canapés, sit down) you would like to have, and the kind of food, “although, more often than not, we recommend the sort of food, as most people are happy to be led on this.”
The other things to bear in mind when hiring a caterer are whether you need staff, drinks, crockery and cutlery, additional equipment, and then any unusual things that relate to the event.
“After an initial chat with the client, I pretty much lead in all the other aspects – as long as she can tell me the date, number of guests we're catering for, the venue, and what style of service she has in mind, we build everything around that.”
Catering For EveryoneCraig often has to deal with specific requests about the menu, too.
“I would say about one in 50 guests will have a food issue, other than vegetarianism. It is never a problem, as I understand the importance of maintaining the correct diet, and to not be catered for at a function (particularly when you are starving)! I am Coeliac, so know exactly what it is like, and as such, have a good understanding of a range of dietary needs.”
“While catering food for a party of a good client of ours, one of the guests turned out to be a Coeliac, unbeknownst to us, but fortunately the chocolate cake was completely flourless, and therefore suitable for him. He was able to have almost everything on offer, simply because I naturally don't cook with a lot of flour or bread, and if there are components, keeping them separate if possible – if making a fish pie, for example, we might make the pie lids separately, with the filling completely edible for pescitarians, Coeliacs, wheat-intolerant and other people.”
All In A Day's WorkVariety is also a major part of the catering trade.
“We have catered for charity events on the top of a hill, providing hot food and drink (no mean feat in the middle of December), roasted whole pigs on a spit, catered a BBQ on the beach, cooked large cuts of meat on an open BBQ at the side of a polo field for a international polo tournament, cooked game birds in a field right after they have been shot, even provided a lavish seafood buffet for 60 people out of a small trailer on the quayside for the round the world yacht race.”
“I love my job - I wouldn't be doing it otherwise; I love running my own company, and I love meeting my clients, establishing rapport, and putting on a great event for them, which their guests are still talking about days later. I love that I am always at someone's party, and I love coming back again, knowing exactly what the client wants and likes, and knowing the kitchen. Plus I get to see inside so many beautiful great houses, and to travel to all sorts of interesting places off the beaten track; places one would never normally see.
I like that I get to visit interesting little villages and regions, and find great produce, producers, retailers and suppliers; that I often get to cook with very local food: game from the estate, cheese and butter from the island, apples from the orchard, seafood landed by the local guy that day! It doesn't get better than that. Many of our landed clients have wonderful kitchen gardens with a bounty of produce.”