Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Innovative Catering Concepts, cookin' at The Barnes

ICC's truck unloading under the Barnes' iconic overhang
About a month or so ago, my good friend Tia Triplett asked me to coordinate vendors for interesting food booths on the terrace at the new Barnes museum on their free ticket Memorial day weekend. Tia is the on-site GM for 1st & Fresh Catering the food service provider for the museum. Due to the extremely heavy load of catered events and opening their restaurant and coffee bar, they needed some relief for their staff and that is why they decided to subcontract this project. Tia chose me to do this because of my museum experience and my knowledge of what the best vendor solution would be to make it special for the guests. My immediate thought was to involve all my catering clients, but since only one of them has an ongoing vending component to their business model, I decided to work on this with Rocco Gallelli, Joe Divon and Steve Mastero, owners of Innovative Catering Concepts.

Field kitchen and grill station
Rocco and I developed the menu with Tia's guidance and we decided to go with three different food stations. One station I dubbed "Rocco's Grill" which featured huge burgers with gruyere and caramelized onions, 1/4 lb. all beef dogs with great toppings and lots of deep fried goodies. The Sampan Restaurant station had edamame wasabi  and pork gyoza dumplings along with chicken and beef satays. The third station had an excellent mezze platter from Bitar's (Philly's best Middle Eastern fare), veggie crudite and wraps. Rocco also brought in a water ice and pretzel vendor. It was a very enjoyable weekend, although very hot, and it was great to see the new museum inside and out. The staff for 1st & Fresh and the museum were great to work with, and provided us with everything we needed to do our work with graciousness and the hospitality attitude. They even had an air conditioned service kitchen just to the left of where I took the above picture that was ours for the weekend, in addition we had use of a large mobile kitchen they had been lent by the Toby Keith Tour.
Jules and Liz, serving lemonade and mezze

Jack & Jerry, cheffin' up some dumplings.
Jack put his hat back on after the picture.
I had recruited a few of my daughter's friends to work the event and they did a great job. Rocco called them "The Jonas Brothers" and Katie and their other friends got a pretty big laugh out of that.
Bar inside the Barnes run by 1st & Fresh Catering
Since I like to think of myself as a student as well as a consultant in the catering industry, I was very curious to see up close how 1st & Fresh is doing so far at The Barnes. A major opening like they had with huge high budget/profile events every day in a new building is extremely difficult, I know from my experience at The National Constitution Center. From every thing I have seen and heard from 1st & Fresh employees that I know from other catering companies, museum employees that I knew previously and others in the industry they are succeeding and doing a great job. The management is smart enough to bring in help when needed and I thought it was very astute to bring in Great Performances from Manhattan to staff most of the two opening galas. GP is known as having some of the best, well trained staff in the business, and to utilize them rather than one of the Philly based temp companies on a very busy catering weekend gave them much better staff than any other option available. 
View of Barnes terrace, our food booths are left, right and straight ahead
The Barnes has great event spaces, I think my favorite is this terrace. With the overhang it is protected from the weather and has great views of the Parkway. I think the capacity is about 600 for a cocktail party.

It was a great weekend for me, experiencing a new treasure for Philadelphia and learning more about the interesting world of food vending from true masters of this branch of catering, Innovative Catering Concepts. ICC is also excellent at full service and other types of catering, but whenever you may need an expert solution for your street fair, carnival or festival they should be your first call. And don't forget the Jonas Brothers too.

As always thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Six days on the road...

Charlotte NC Skyline 
One of my favorite songs is the Taj Mahal version of this classic road song. I listened to it about three or four times on my recent trip to Charlotte NC and Tampa FL. It's on one of my i-pod play lists that I named "Kind of Country" It was just a coincidence that I was on the road from last Wednesday to this Tuesday. Six days on the road.
Center of Charlotte. Tryon and Trade Streets.
Two blocks from Time Warner Cable Arena where the DNC will be held

Bechtler Museum and Knight Theater in the "CLT"
I went on this journey to scout venues and catering options for the upcoming political conventions. When I get to a new town I usually start to walk all over, and talk to as many people as possible. Get my bearings, learn about what I may not have picked up in my readings before getting there, and most important, find venues that I might not have found without happening upon them. I fell in love with Charlotte. I spent time in NC as a teenager and I remembered the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people. There is lots of corporate investment in Charlotte and besides the natives there are many transplants who all seem to have melded nicely into the culture and ways of the south. Charlotte is quite compact and there are great event spaces both in the heart of the city and in the two hip neighborhoods I explored, the South Park and NoDa areas. My new friend Jeff Conway who owns four Ruth's Chris Steakhouses in NC and SC showed me around and helped guide me in my "Venuepalooza" whirlwind of site inspections. I went to a really well produced Green Festival on Saturday morning, and when I left later that day I felt very confident that the venues I had found would fit into the plan I was developing for my clients. On to the Tampa Bay Area.

Beautiful shot in downtown Tampa
After arriving I met Warren Dietl, owner of Puff 'n Stuff Catering for lunch at a great restaurant in Winter Park Florida (near Orlando) called Prato. After lunch and a few very nice cocktails, Warren took me on a tour of his operation nearby, very impressive. He is the largest upscale caterer in Central Florida and I am very lucky to be affiliated with such a forward thinking owner. After departing Orlando I stopped briefly in Downtown Tampa for my city immersion than bee lined for the beaches, about 45 minutes away.
Madiera Beach between Clearwater and St. Pete beaches

After I shot the sunset, I turned around and shot my shadow!
I'm a beach and sunset lover, and I couldn't resist a swim and a nice hang on the beach. Rented a cheap ass motel room and crashed heavily in preparation for the continuation of Venuepalooza, Tampa edition. Drove back to Tampa very early Monday morning to miss the traffic and had two full days of scouting. I found many great options including the Yankees and Phillies Spring Training facilities, beautiful theaters, warehouses and museums, but as I left I did not feel near the sense of satisfaction as I did in Charlotte. Long story on why and much of it is confidential. I will perhaps share this at a later date.

Cool event space contained in this impressive structure
Headed home and am now digesting, organizing and writing up recommndations. Six days on the road and I finally made it home last night. Enjoy: Click for Taj's SDOTR!


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Favorite Cooking Shows

I love to watch cooking shows. I started with Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet s a child, and instantly fell in love with the Food Network when it started. I got to collaborate on some Book & The Cook events (remember that?) with The Two Hot Tamales when I was at Arroyo Grille in the late 90's, and in the kitchen at the time was a budding new talented chef by the name of Jennifer Carroll.

These days my favorite show is Rick Bayless's Mexico, one plate at a time, and I really like the competition shows, Top Chef, Next Iron Chef, and Chopped.

Here are two lesser known cooking shows I hope you enjoy as much as I do.

Okay, next blog post will be back to covering catering world. There is lots to cover including the opening of the Barnes Museum and a new Facebook group, Philly Catering Stars. Also, I am compiling my thoughts for  chapter two of "Do the Right Thing", so today let's all do some good.