The catering team at The Essex Room will match a menu to your specific Massachusetts catering event. In this podcast, interviewer Katlyn Graham talks with The Essex Room’s Chef Ned about how to decide what to serve to your special guests. The culinary choices at The Essex Room are different and much more diverse than those at our associated restaurant, Woodman’s of Essex.
Katlyn Graham: Hello, I’m Katlyn Graham. I’m joined today by the new corporate 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. Now, Chef Ned, the Essex Room hosts a wide variety of events, from barbeques to graduation parties to corporate events. I know you’re a professional, but for the regular person, how do they decide what to serve at your party?
Chef Ned Grieg: Good question. Lots of times, when everybody, when they come through to view the Essex Room, in order to plan an event, they don’t even know what they want. They have been able to get an idea of what we represent and what we can provide by visiting our website, which is not the same thing as Woodman’s, the restaurant.
The Essex Room is its own identity. We are a proud member of the Woodman family, but we represent a different type of culinary offerings than the restaurant does.
When they come through, I can pretty much, given the opportunity, I can get them to try just about anything. Then, once they will try something on a second meeting, then I get a better idea what their likes and dislikes are. That’s how we start the process.
Katlyn: Now, are there any rules that apply to all catering events? You must have an entree, or anything like that?
Chef Ned: No. There are no rules. Though people do have set ideas about how…the word “cater,” if you look at it in the dictionary, is those that provide services for entertainment that’ll involve the culinary arts as well as service, as well as a bar‑tending needs, as a rule.
But it is, it can be anything you want it to be. If you wanted to have, we’ve had weddings where people don’t serve any liquor, they just want bottled water. Or corporate events during the midday, you certainly don’t want people having a glass of wine with their lunch.
There are rules, but they’re common sense. It’d be the same thing you were going to do if you were going to entertain people at your home, but just on a larger scale.
Katlyn: OK. Let’s say I’m hosting a kids’ birthday party. What should I do? What would you suggest for food and presentation?
Chef Ned: First of all, one thing that I like to do is I will take a Disney theme, like Cinderella or Peter Pan, if it’s a boy. You start with a theme like that.
We actually did a child’s cooking class at the Essex Room last summer. What we did was all the children came and decorated their own birthday cakes. I made up 34 eight‑inch round cakes with white frosting. We had six different‑colored decorating frostings all in these pastry bags.
It was really quite cute. Then everybody got to squirt and decorate their own cake and take it home. That was fun. Another thing you can do with children…of course, they like sweets. Also, we’ve done brownie pizzas, where you make the pizza out of a brownie, and you use the licorice to make it look like it’s peppers and things of that nature.
There are different things you can do that’ll make the children be more entertained. After they have that little fun spurt, then you actually sit them down, and they have a proper little luncheon or dinner, things that they would like to have.
Katlyn: Interact with the kids. Get them doing something. Good idea.
Chef Ned: Oh, yes, yes. As an adult, our attention span is probably only 45 minutes. As a child, it’s more like 10. You really have to keep them moving on from one step to another when you’re dealing with a child’s event.
Katlyn: How would that compare to a formal dinner party?
Chef Ned: Formal dinner, OK. It’s similar to any high‑end, catered event where people are going to gather and greet. There’s usually libations that are served and/or passed to them. Lots of times, we’ll do signature cocktails, which are interesting.
We will pass hors d’oeuvres, as opposed to making them stationary. If it’s a stationary fruit and cheese presentation, as glorious and wonderful as it can be, lots of people don’t want to have crumbs on their lapels and things of this nature.
The reason why you pass hors d’oeuvres is it should truly just be one‑bite‑size. This lady named Jane Pinkus in Cleveland Heights, Ohio says, “Ned, if I have to eat another hors d’oeuvre from you where it takes my lipstick off, and I have to go into the powder room and can’t talk to my girlfriends, I’m not going to hire you again.”
Hors d’oeuvres and canapes, they’re one bite‑size piece, which is really convenient. You’re able to take it in your hand while you’re holding your drink, whether it’s alcoholic or non‑alcoholic, without having to put it down and lose it.
Katlyn: Very good tips. Thank you so much, Chef Ned. You’ve been very helpful with all this planning your menu for all these different events, I appreciate it. Thanks for joining us today.
Chef Ned: You’re welcome.