So here's the setup on this gig. I did this group's event last year and got burned. Its an adult ed group for affluent retirees who want hobby classes. Twice a year they hold registration events, and last year when they asked me to cater, they bid 75 people, I prepared for 75+10%, but 150 showed. I caught a lot of flack for not serving enough food - I was pissed and said I would never work with them again. Well, here we are a year later and they didn't even go out to bid this time - they are begging me to do it. Their budget is right within my limits. And this year, instead of tray pass, they want buffet for 100.
Okay fine. I can take back my promise to never do it again. But, I really shy away from buffets - just not my style. But, this is a group of the influentials in our town, so I really should do the gig. If you were going to eGulletize a buffet for a bunch of 60 year old hipsters, what would you want to serve? BTW, the event is one hour, standing-while-eating, no facilities for hots or last second prep. My facility is only 5 minutes away however.
Any killer, impress-the-hell-outa them buffet foods?
I am not a chef, nor do I run a business, but I do a lot of cooking for mostly older (read:demanding) "multitudes" in my church. I do have killer recipes, but most are not doable in large amounts with little or no help. Last week I prepared food for a funeral reception - lunch for 200. I will post pictures if you tell me how, I am a total computer idiot.
After years of trial and error this is how I do it: I set up a long table (4-5 tables put together end to end) I mentally divide the table in half, each half has identical food in the same order. People approach from four ends and keep moving. No one starts from the middle of the table because plates & napkins are at table ends. (Separate stations are great when you have a waiter per station and runners)
Use small, dessert size plates, this way not only you will have no accidents that happen with large, harder to maneuver plates, people won't be able to take too much food at once. I used to use smaller platters and place plate piles around the table, so people could access all foods, regardless where they stood, but I discovered, that once they got there, they did not move, they just stood there refilling their plates. While others hovered behind getting mad at moi.
Now I use the largest possible serving platters and bowls because once the room is filled with people it is very difficult to replace empty platters with the full ones.
I don't do the so called "finger food" because it is time consuming. I do a lot of "fork food."
Last week's menu included requests from the family, that I would have not made otherwise, but here it is, the amounts are for 200 including 20 kids. Most of "my people" are health oriented, they don't eat cheese or fried foods and few use butter on bread. We did not run out of food, but had very few leftovers. For these events I shop mostly at a restaurant supply store. I spent a little over $300.
(Setting up the table - I put the stuff I have most of closest to the plates, and the food I have least of towards the center.)
starting with the plate end of the tables:
SALAD: This time of the year I have been making shredded carrot salad ($12.50 for a 25 lbs bag) with orange chunks, ($8 a case) nuts and dried cranberries, but mesclun looked so good, I bought a case(8.95), added (one of each) large cans of drained and rinsed black beans and garbanzos and dill (because it looked great, and was cheap). Did not have time to make vinaigrette, so I just used lemons, red wine vinegar and a bit of very mild Spanish olive oil.
PORK - brined overnight 40 lbs of pork loin($1.49lbs). I was going to make roulades with dry fruit, but the night before I had an engagement I could not miss, so in the morning I just roasted the pork, sliced it into bite size chunks and sprinkled with chopped dry fruit melange, (I had the fruit already shredded for roulade), and parsley. Never done it that way before, but it was a big hit. The meat was juicy and there was no need for knives.
The family asked for mac & cheese -- I used "Baked pasta with cream and Parmigiano Reggiano" recipe from Johanne Killeen & George Sherman. The reason I chose this recipe: tastes great, but needs less than 10 minutes in the oven. Comes out tasting a bit like fettuccine Alfredo. I used 12 pounds of ziti baked in 3 turkey size roasting pans.
Because about 20 kids were expected, I bought a 20 pound box of the smallest size "Italian" meatballs they had. Defrosted them overnight in the refrigerator and reheated very slowly for a long time over a rack, in order to get rid of as much fat as possible. Served with toothpicks. Had I been making the meatballs for adult taste, I would have added caramelized onions and lingonberries. Adults ate meatballs anyway.
When cooking for crowds I often include stuffed grape-leaves. I buy them by the case at my restaurant supply place. The night before I drain them and marinate in my own concoction of oil / lemons / fresh herbs. I think they are 5 pound cans, I am too lazy to go to the basement to check, and they cost about $6 a piece. (Last year they were $3.) But it is still a good deal. I always have a couple of cans extra in case I start running out of food. (I usually also have a 10 pound box of tortellini in the freezer, which I can cook and serve at a short notice.)
The family asked for asparagus - I bought 4 10lbs cases and roasted them for a few minutes at 450. (Otherwise I would have made roasted cauliflower with capers and kalamata olives. Fine Cooking - Ruth Lively recipe)
I also bought 2 10lbs cases of fresh salmon. Each box had three fillets, I roasted them two at a time at 400 for about 10 minutes in 3/4 sheets. The stove does not take full sheets. (I use parchment paper that I drizzle with oil, I also drizzle oil on top of the salmon. I remove the salmon intact using help of another person and four cake spatulas.
I used to serve salmon with homemade ponzu sauce, but I use grapefruit in it, I discovered that a lot of older people are on medication that does not allow them to have grapefruit. I now use Tom Douglass' Gorgonzola sauce or just lemons on the side.
Bread baskets & butter were spread around the table.
Dessert was three kinds of cakes requested by the family.
I had one helper in the kitchen. We started at 6 am. Service was at noon.
Sorry this is so long....