Essex Room Party Planning

Party Planning


Throwing a party, with Chef Ned from the Essex Room.

Katlyn: Hello, I’m Katlyn Graham. I’m joined today by the new Executive Chef at Woodman’s event venue, the Essex Room. Chef Ned has more than 20 years of culinary experience. He has received three first place awards in national chowder competitions. Now, he will lend his expertise to events at the Essex Room.

Today, he has agreed to share some of his professional tips on party planning. Now, Chef Ned, what is the most important thing to do when you’re throwing a party?

Ned: If you’re throwing a party, like a wedding, you would probably want to contact us at least six months in advance. It’s important to book the venue, that is, the place where you wish to do the event. Whether it’s at our Essex room or we are staging the event at your private home.

You want to do that first. You need to lock that up. Once you have your caterer in place, you’re set. Then you can bide time for other things. The timeline is interesting, though. That’s one thing that has to be considered by everybody.

You want to know what your menu’s going to be probably two months out. You need to send your invitations out for people at least six weeks, but everybody posts on Facebook that they’re already engaged. They’re tweeting things out here and there.

Everybody’s pretty much going to ask you when are you going to do this? From our perspective, we need to know when you want to do this as well.

Katlyn: What are some other tips for making sure everything runs smoothly?

Ned: Being organized, but also being able to bend like a reed in the wind. If you think that something doesn’t happen any given event, you’re seriously mistaken. There’s always something that you have to be concerned about.

Say it ends up being a day that’s 110 degrees outside, and they decided not to have a tent over their ceremony out on the grass lawn. You need to have that, not just from the rain, but also from the extreme heat. People will sit out there for 45 minutes in 110 degrees. Somebody’s going to get heat prostration.

Katlyn: Oh, definitely. Being flexible and aware of things that can happen.

Ned: Especially if you’re going to be inside and outside. Weather’s always a concern that has to be taken into perspective. At least with us at the Essex Room, where we can comfortably seat up to 300‑325 people, we can move from outside to inside if we had inclement weather.

Once you’ve started your wedding process or planned your event and a lot of people are coming from out of town, it isn’t like you can postpone it and do it the next day.

Katlyn: Right. Are there any rules to make sure you don’t run out of food?

Ned: Yes, there are. From my perspective, when I’m preparing all this food, if we’re doing 100 people, you make 10 more of each item if you have three different selections. Whatever I’m preparing, I’m not just doing 100, I’m probably doing 130 portions if it’s a three selection. If there’s sirloin steak, baked stuffed haddock, or chicken francaise. I would make an extra 10 of each. People will change their minds, even when they walk through the door, so you hope that you have just enough. Then, actually what you have, what’s leftover, we always provide it to our service staff so they can have something lovely to eat when they’re done with their service.

Katlyn: Oh, nice. Do you have any other tips for reducing stress at the party?

Ned: I don’t let it bother me at that stage of the game. I mean, I am 99 percent ready the day before. Being a caterer, you just have to prepare in advance. I’m not doing everything that morning. I’m not showing up at 3:00 in the morning to get it all done. I’ll show up at 3:00 in the morning three days before to make sure that I can ensure the best quality, service and event in culinary arts.

I don’t really get stressed out, to be quite honest with you. Once you get to be really good at something that you do, I don’t care if you’re an attorney, I don’t care if you’re a doctor, you just get it. You know what? Check your ego at the door, like I did 15 years ago, and you will be more successful than you can ever possibly imagine.

Katlyn: Great. It sounds like you’re really planning ahead.

Ned: Yes. You have to. Once I know the menu has been determined, if the wedding’s on a Saturday, on Wednesday, I will order all the dry goods that will come in. On Thursday, all the proteins that will come in, like your meat and your fish and your chicken. I butcher all those things, and I make my sauces. On Friday, all the produce comes in and is processed so it’s all ready to go.

To be a really excellent caterer, a lot of it is actually learning how to reheat things really well. I can’t be cooking for 275 people and blanching string beans and trying to make them in a nice little straight row, tying them with chives, and serve them in under 19 minutes. Certain things have to be done in advance, and then you just reheat slowly so it works to your convenience.

Katlyn: Great. Any other tips you have for people? What’s the most important thing, number one tip you have for people throwing a party?

Ned: Hire me. I’ll make sure it goes flawlessly.

Katlyn: [laughs] There you go. Well, thanks so much, Chef Ned, for joining us today and offering your expertise. I appreciate it.

Ned: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me here.

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