April 21, 2008

With all due respect, I disagree:

L.A. times writer Monica Corcoran had an article out on "Party planners' quick-and-dirty tips" which featured Bryan Rabin and Jeffrey Best "two of LA’s top party planners" according to whoever hires people to plan events on the scale of an Oscar party thrown by Madonna. Click here to read the article.

Anyway, I'm reading this article, and one of the questions is Do you need to consult your guests about food allergies and finicky tendencies? Bryan Rabin gave his reply: It's so L.A. You should ask around and see if anyone is a vegetarian or has food allergies. But don't plan the menu around someone who has allergies. Just prepare a special dish for that person. That made me remember a dinner for 10 that I prepared recently.

I grilled the host's assistant (well, not literally) about whether anyone had any allergies or other dietary restrictions. I was told that a few of the guests were vegetarian. I confirmed, "Only vegetarian, or vegan? I can use milk, butter, cheese, eggs..." and she said yes, just vegetarian. "Maybe you can make the whole meal vegetarian."

No problem! So I come up with a menu: A bunch of nice appetizers, a salad, a very hearty risotto with butternut squash, and several vegetable side dishes. I also ask people do they like something with fruit or chocolate for dessert. She chose chocolate, so in staying with the Italian theme set by the risotto, I made a cassata. (pound cake with marscapone cheese filling, covered with whipped chocolate ganache).

One of the guests approached me about 45 minutes before service, and asked what was on the menu. As i told him, he nodded, and then said, "So, nothing is vegan, then?"  Um, no, nobody said anything was supposed to be vegan!

As you can imagine, by that point, most everything is nearly completed, just requiring a few finishing touches. I mentally scanned the menu, and there were still a couple of things that I could tweak, like not adding Parmesan cheese to one of the salads or to one portion of the risotto, not adding butter to the vegetables....but the cake was finished, there was no un-doing it.

I had intended to garnish the risotto with a slice of green apple lightly sautéed in butter, but instead, I made a little dessert with the apple, plus some brown sugar, cinnamon, orange juice & zest, and whatever else i could scrounge. After serving this poor guy a whole bunch of plain food, I wanted to do something special for him.

Come time for dessert, I sauced the plates, served up slices of the cake, and arranged this little apple creation for him. When i served everyone the cake, and gave him his special vegan dessert, he looked at me like I'd set an assortment of rocks on his plate.
Vegan Guy: What is this?

Me: A baked apple with cinnamon and an orange sauce. It's vegan!

Vegan guy: Oh....

Guy across the table: (loud enough for all the other 9 guests to hear) Duuuuuuuuude! What did you do to piss off the chef? WE all got chocolate cake!

Me: Oh, ha ha, (gulp) nothing's wrong. (nervous smile) This is vegan.

Vegan guy: (clearly not pleased at the attention) Oh. Uh ...thanks.
But then, while I was cleaning the kitchen, I watched as he ate the butter/cream/cheese/egg cake off the loud guy's plate.*

So, no, Bryan Rabin, don't just serve them something special, particularly if it's especially obvious that it's different. If you're the host, realize that nobody wants to be singled out as different from the rest of the guests. A good chef can work with you to make something that works for everyone.

* I seriously don't care if you are wearing a PETA shirt under your fur coat while you gnaw the heads off of live baby koalas. And I'll never forget that one guy at a brunch I catered who, when someone said, "Hey, I thought you were Jewish, too!" replied with "Yeah, but I LOVE bacon, I just don't eat it in front of my kids." Whatever floats your boat. You hire me to cook for you, I'll do whatever you ask. But you gotta ask!

Last thing I ate or drank: Cold Filet of Salmon with Aioli, over Mixed Greens and Belgian Endive

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