The Dish: Catering Crusaders

Washington’s top caterers reveal their major challenges and what you simply must be serving this season.

An Occasions Catering Company event. (Photo courtesy of Occasions Catering)

, Design Cuisine

What sets you apart from the competition?
Our people. We empower them to take care of the client and never to say “no.”
A signature, can’t-fail-to-please dish for which you are famous?
Our clients always want our wild mushroom or lobster gnocchi because they are so light and airy.
Your most memorable party and what made it so?
The past five Inauguration lunches were amazing and to do Obama’s was quite unbelievable.We participated in an historical event for our first African-American president.
A major challenge and how you managed to overcome it?
A client gave us a guarantee based on the number of invitations accepted, not the number of people who came with guests. We had only half the amount of food and equipment we needed.We delayed cocktails, got equipment from another event that was ending close by, and sent people to several grocery stores.We pulled it off and none of the guests noticed.
What’s hot this season?
Sustainable, fresh, farm-to-table because everyone is trying to eat as healthy as possible.

and , Centerplate NBSE

A signature, can’t fail to please dish for which you are famous?
Our Milk and White Chocolate Fondue Station with cubed pound cake, marshmallows, pretzels and strawberries.
Your favorite event venue and why?
Across the street from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is the beautiful Carnegie Library. Built in 1902, this Beaux Arts building is a one-of-kind destination for special events and is served by the center’s event and catering professionals.
Your most memorable party and what made it so?
Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Centennial Celebration in July 2008.The largest plated banquet (16,000 guests) in history according to Guinness World Records used 2,933 heads of iceberg lettuce, 5,400 pounds of beef, 17,400 baby carrots and had 17,400 berry lime mousse cakes dressed with 170 gallons of berry crème anglaise.
What’s hot this season, and what has become passé?
Lobster rolls are very popular. Heavy sauces are passé. Reductions, glazes and foams are increasingly preferred by event hosts and their guests.

, Occasions Catering Company

What sets you apart from the competition?
We have an extensive resource library and love the challenge of creating “never-before-seen” parties with a unique menu or thematic concept. Recent projects include an Imperial Chinese dessert reception for the Opera Ball and a “Top Chef”-themed wedding with open kitchens.
A signature, can’t-fail-to-please dish for which you are famous?
Our Belgian chocolate bread pudding.
Your favorite event venue and why?
The Potomac View Terrace on the roof of the American Pharmacist’s Association has an unobstructed panoramic view of the Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac River beyond.
A major challenge and how you managed to overcome it?
We were asked by a longtime client to cater a dinner party for 60 at her home – in the Bahamas. The project involved shipping equipment by container, coordinating with Bahamian regulatory agencies, providing transport and immigration documentation for our staff, and setting up a commercial kitchen in the client’s garage. The party was a spectacular success.
What’s hot this season, and what has become passe?
Hot: ultra-local food, modernScandinavian cuisine, spicy and savory cocktails, desserts with single origin chocolate. Passe: cupcakes and desserts on lollipop sticks, sliders and cocktail-sized comfort foods, fruity martinis, lounge furniture at events.

, Ridgewells Catering

What sets you apart from the competition?
We are a one-stop shop – our clients trust in the fact that we can handle every detail relating to their event – and our food is consistently “yummy.”
A signature, can’t-fail-to-please dish for which you are famous?
Our short rib with balsamic gorgonzola is to die for!
A major challenge and how you managed to overcome it?
Earlier this year when this area was hit by a blizzard, our culinary and operations teams’ dedication and hard work allowed us to meet our production schedule. That included an event for 600 guests at the National Building Museum that went on without a glitch.
What’s hot this season, and what has become passé?
Interactive specialty stations where guests may create their own salad and ice cream dishes.

Susan Gage, Susan Gage Caterers

What sets you apart from the competition?
A company culture that is emphatically upbeat, resulting in our being emotionally invested in client satisfaction.
A signature, can’t-fail-to-please dish for which you are famous?
Our mini-burgers are our most requested hors d’oeuvre.
Your most memorable party and what made it so?
We did Alice Waters’ Art.Food.Hope event during the last Inauguration. Working with such a culinary world legend was amazing, particularly because we were able to do true California cuisine in Washington.
A major challenge and how you managed to overcome it?
We navigated the challenging economy successfully by finding creative ways to maximize value and achieve our clients’ vision without compromising on quality.
What’s hot this season, and what has become passé?
Hot: Bourbon and one-dish meals (paella and ciopinno). Passé: vodka and cupcakes.

, Windows Catering Company

A signature can’t-fail-to-please dish for which you are famous?
Grass-fed loin of lamb with dried dates, papaya and mango, savoy cabbage, golden couscous and pomegranate syrup.
Your most memorable party and what made it so?
A surprise 60th birthday celebration for Henry Dinardo, Windows’ chef/proprietor, who never realized he had been planning his own party for six months. (He thought it was for one of our best clients.) He designed the menu and wine pairings, chose the linens, decor and flowers, picked the band and even did some of the seating. When he got there, over 150 of his closest friends surprised him with an evening he will never forget.
What’s hot this season and what has become passé?
Our savory caviar crudites served on a silver spoon are sure to please even the most adventurous clients. Passé: using cones to serve hors d’oeuvres has run its course.

A featured cocktail by Susan Gage. (Photo Courtesy of Susan Gage Catering Company)

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