Andrea attracts generosity. Maybe it’s because she’s such a giving person herself. For her, starting a new business without resources, the greatest kindness that people could bestow upon her was to pass her number on to friends with a recommendation.
Among her many guardian angels few shine brighter than Mrs A. In fact, if she wasn’t already married, and if I wasn’t, I would want to be married to Mrs A. She has a heart bigger than herself, a wicked sense of humour, and an uncanny ability to know exactly what’s going on, even if isn’t obvious. Probably a good 25% of Andrea’s business is a product of her referrals.
So, at the end of 2004 we were on location every night for two weeks. Mr and Mrs A. had their son visiting from overseas with a variety of South American friends, as well as a business connection – the very attractive marketing executive for one of the big Italian fashion brands, whom we’ll call Federica. With all these young Latinos and Latinas partying in Cape Town, dinner was programmed for 9.00pm, which usually meant that it started at 9.30 or 10.00. With peak season stretching the (wo)manpower, I was on duty most often.
It must be mentioned that I was also doing my normal day time work, and 10.00 pm is my usual bed time. The good thing about the late start is that I had time to relax at home with the kids for an hour before heading out again. On bar duty and general service was Mark – a borderline professional rugby prop forward for whom wearing a tie would be the greatest unkindness. So, we’d be doing our prep in the kitchen and Federica would get back from gym. In the very tiniest lycra hot pants she would open the fridge, bending forwards as she reached for a drink. I was at least able to have a discreet look while chopping onions. Mark just stood and gaped, clearly delighted that she’d spent some time on the exercise cycle (with obvious effects on the positioning of her pants).
Some time later the guests would assemble for dinner having had naps and showers. Mark would open the wines I’d selected with Mr A. and dinner would be served. Occasionally I’d be required to tell the table about the food and/or wine being served. With the domestic worker conveniently taking the night off (or perhaps in umbrage at her usual fare being scorned), I’d wash the dishes and leave the kitchen in spotless condition. This is the life of a caterer. Of a self-declared high-powered marketing man? Maybe not.
New Year’s Eve was slightly more complex from a logistical point of view. We had five different functions running, including the wedding of a 6?-year-old woman getting married for the fifth time. Let’s just say that she’s to plastic surgery what Mickey Mouse is to Walt Disney. I suspected that changing her facial expression from wide-mouthed smile wasn’t something she did voluntarily.
The early part of my evening consisted of delivering food and equipment to various locations around Cape Town, including the wedding venue, where the white-frocked bride was getting her wedding pictures done in advance of the ceremony. I was already home, getting ready to leave for Mr and Mrs A’s party when Andrea called in great distress. They couldn’t find oyster knives. Guests would be arriving in 15 minutes, and oysters were part of the canapé assortment. I dashed around the house looking for alternatives, on impulse grabbing a parmesan chisel.
I don’t think that oysters have ever been opened as quickly. This, I have decided, is the finest tool one could ever use for opening oysters. The point is sharp, and therefore perfect for gaining initial access. The blade is broad and strong, which gives great leverage. And the handle is substantial enough to allow one a really good grip.
I arrived at my own function to find that the sushi chef had arrived with fish, avocado, soy sauce, wasabi, mats, knives and rice, but had left his nori behind. Fortunately I could despatch someone to dash across town to pick up the missing ingredient.
The rest of the team had already done most of the set-up, so I got busy with organising fires for the food we’d be grilling much later. The well-toned Federica may have flashed her derriere at us, too. I checked the Arabiatta sauce that Andrea had ordered in (sometimes when there are this many functions on the go it’s better economy to buy some things ready-made). It was too delicious for words; Thomas had surpassed even his own high standards. Then I looked a little more closely. Lurking in the rich, dark tomato base were squares of meat that looked unmistakeably like bacon. Thomas had made an Amatriciana; a delicious one, but not necessarily appropriate for a Shabbat dinner.
I toyed briefly with the idea of blending the sauce, so that there would at least not be visual evidence. I couldn’t; even if it could perhaps pass as smoked chicken, I would know that I had deceived the guests. Maybe they all ate bacon on a regular basis, but that was of their own choice. This, I could not do.
So, a runner was sent to an all-night store to buy tomatoes, garlic and chilli. There’s a very quick and easy pasta sauce we do, where we fry some garlic in olive oil, then scald fabulously ripe tomatoes in the same pan. We rip basil leaves into it just before serving. That was the plan, except for the addition of chilli. The tomatoes weren’t great, but I was able to rescue the situation.
Food service went smoothly, starting with sushi, and followed by canapés. The main part of the meal was a variety of things straight off the barbecue and onto platters for guests to eat a mano. Tuna on lemon grass skewers always go down well (we once had a guest profusely thank us for the delicious beef – he didn’t eat any fish or seafood – at a function where we were asked to produce a seafood extravaganza). The hit of the evening, though, were the French-trimmed chermoula-marinated lamb cutlets. Apart from the absolutely awesome flavour, the great thing about these is that the chine bone is removed, so the meat is attached to the rib only, and is dead easy to eat while standing around.
One of our big jobs over that period was to do the food for a party house being run as a promotional exercise by an international liquor brand. New Year’s Eve was not part of the brief, but that didn’t stop them calling Andrea (who called me) to complain about the state of the platters (well, hello, they were delivered for lunch, not late dinner!) and insisting that we immediately deliver more food. It turned out that Client was bringing a group of about 40 to watch New Year’s fireworks from the house. So I dashed over to spruce up the platters, Andrea sent some of her leftovers with a waiter, I cooked some more beef and chicken skewers, and the day was saved. Happy Client, happy event co-ordinator, more business for caterer.
At midnight I was back in the kitchen, but I at least had a glass of bubbly. After the cheering and out-of-tune Auld Lang Synes had died down there was an approaching chant of “Oscar, Oscar”. Did I mention that I may not only be a closet surgeon or closet chef, but perhaps also a closet rock star? Or that fighting for my headspace are voyeur and exhibitionist? A chain of Latinas came dancing into the kitchen with yet more bubbly for me. Everyone wanted to hug and kiss me. Fab party!