Time was, the word ‘catering’ conjured up visions of sterno-powered chafing dishes and mounds of fussy white linen tablecloths. Large events might have meant bland food of the rubber chicken-and-rice-casserole variety or anything served on a stick.
News flash: Catering has come a long way, baby. Here in Birmingham, we have a slew of talented outfits to call upon when you are planning that next fete. In fact, you don’t even need to wait until you’re hosting a big event; these caterers specialize in everything from private dinners for two, breakfast for a crowd, lunch for the office, paleo meals for you and your workout buddies, dinner delivered to harried families, weddings, graduations, ice cream sandwiches for a hundred of your closest friends, and any other event you can dream up. The only limit is your imagination. All you have to do is ask.
The Caterer Restaurateur
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George McMillan, owner/chef of FOODBAR in Cahaba Heights, has been a caterer AND a restaurateur for a very long time. In fact, the lines blur when asked which came first.
Q:You catered the Museum Ball this summer. While some people might imagine a gala dinner for 400+ as just another chicken dinner, you took it to the next level, serving braised short ribs with a cabernet-risotto. How did that come about?
A: My team and I put together a tasting menu of three different choices for three different courses, as well as nine appetizers. (Museum Ball co-chairs) Liz (Pharo) and Carolyn (Featheringill) are friends so I felt really comfortable talking to them about the menu. I encouraged them to pre-set the first course and the dessert course. We assembly-lined the entrée and then had a cold first course of ceviche in a shell with a wheat cracker as a sail. It just worked.
Q: How do you translate your restaurant into a catered affair?
A: People are not always expecting to re-create the FOODBAR experience so much as to execute the same level of consistency and service. We are a scratch-kitchen and I like to work with whatever is freshest at the moment—but you also have to have a little bit of reality too. There is A LOT of planning when you think about making five gallons of fine-dice anything.
Q: With events big or small, what does hospitality look like to you?
A: It’s making someone feel comfortable in the environment that you’ve created, whether that’s FOODBAR, or, if I’m in somebody’s home, taking away the concerns that go along with entertaining and allowing them to enjoy themselves to the fullest.
FOODBAR's Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad
3 (2-ounce) cubed watermelon pieces
3 (1-ounce) slices goat cheese, formed into balls
2-3 tablespoons agrumato lemon olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar reduced to syrup
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
5-7 mint leaves (chiffonade)
1. Arrange watermelon & goat cheese to personal aesthetic pleasure on plate.
2. Pool agrumato lemon olive oil in 3 separate areas on the plate. Drizzle balsamic syrup in olive oil pools.
3. Dust plate with cracked black peppercorns and garnish with mint chiffonade.
FOODBAR • 205.876.8100
Breakfast of Champions
Who doesn’t love breakfast food? As Crestline Bagel Company owner Jennifer Yarbrough can tell you, it really is that one meal that everyone agrees on—bacon, eggs, sausage, biscuits, scones, bagels, granola, yogurt, coffee, tea, orange juice. Whether you pick up or enjoy catered delivery, there really is something for everyone. Either way, PJs are optional.
Q: What’s your best advice to a client who needs to stretch their dollars?
A: We have lots of options since we can control both portion size and ingredients in what we bake. Often times we make miniature bagels, biscuits, muffins, pastries, etc., to help customers stretch their budget. We also offer bagel bites and other smaller, less expensive options that meet any constraint.
Q: While some people might think of Crestline Bagel as a breakfast-only outpost, you can actually cater a whole lot more than just bagels and muffins, right? What are some customers’ favorites?
A: A new favorite is the Southwestern Breakfast Casserole that we serve with sour cream and pico de gallo. (For recipe: visit birminghamhomeandgarden.com.) It goes great with our bagels and biscuits. We also cater a lot of appetizers and boxed lunches for offices, as well as heavier lunch items for longer business meetings.
Q: When you’re not behind the counter at Crestline Bagel, where are you most likely to dine out in Birmingham?
A: We love supporting our local restaurants (several of them sell and serve our bread). We are so lucky to live in a town with such a creative and lively food scene. My family’s default is Taziki’s because it is fast, fresh, and everyone is happy with their menu choices.
Q: We hear you have your own flock of chickens. Do you live on a farm?
A: Our home is actually on a small neighborhood lot. Still, we have 6 hens. We raised two of them from day-old chicks so our boys (Houston and Yates) could experience a sliver of farm life, which is how I was raised. We have a smattering of different breeds, which makes for a pretty basket of eggs. We don’t use the eggs at the store, but do enjoy them at home.
From left: William Hamrick, John Hall, Chelsea Wells, Victor King, Roscoe Hall, Steva Casey, Wil Drake, Robin Bashinsky, Kyle Campbell, Haller Magee. Location: Jones Valley Teaching Farm
It is no secret that Birmingham is home to some AMAZING culinary talent. While most of these chefs can be found at the helm of our favorite restaurants, there are a few who have the occasional night off or work part time. Those evenings, they join with mixologist Steva Casey to create memorable events with Swingshift Popups.
Easily the most respected bartender in town, Steva Casey has found a way to play matchmaker, pairing these chefs with hungry diners. In private homes and independent venues, these vanguards wield santoku knives and sous vide machines, cocktail shakers and muddlers, with a deftness the general public is not often privy to.
Q: Steva, with access to so many great chefs, how do you decide who to pair with each event? What are the different personalities here?
A: These chefs are my friends. Swingshift is really just a way for me to get to hang out with them and do something we love—which is feed people. Each of them have their own unique approach to food, and it’s always fun to see what they want to make. I essentially sit down and map out what days I’m available and put to them to see who is also available those days.
Q: You’ve been known to create bespoke cocktails for events. What are your favorite summer ingredients to feature in a beverage?
A: I like to do a punch to start every dinner to sort of set the tone for the party. I love summer berries and herbs, like strawberries, blueberries, mint, and rosemary, and I try to incorporate them as much as possible. I love to have local ingredients featured. I love using beer, like Good People Bearded Lady, to make summer drinks.
Victor King’s Farro Salad with Peach Vinaigrette
1 peach, peeled and cut into small cubes
½ cup cider vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
½ cup olive oil
1 head gem lettuce
1½ cups cooked farro
¼ cup whole leaf parsley (optional)
¼ cup pistachios, toasted (optional)
1. Assemble vinaigrette by combining peaches, vinegar, and thyme. Let sit for about 30 minutes and add olive oil to taste.
2. Separate leaves from the lettuce and cross 2 on each plate.
3. Toss farro with a little bit of vinaigrette, salt and pepper to taste, and optional parsley.
4. Spoon equal amounts of farro mix over each plate, and drizzle a little more vinaigrette on each plate to make sure the lettuce gets dressed.
5. Garnish with pistachios and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Swingshift Popup • 205.305.8424
When husband-and-wife team Erin and Brian Mooney decided to take their catering business to the next level, the secret ingredient turned out to be salt. Well, really it was SALT Fine Catering, Chef Robby Melvin’s former business. When Melvin closed shop to go in-house with Southern Living Magazine as their Test Kitchen Director, he referred his clients to the Mooneys. Fast-forward a few years and you can now call upon Tre Luna to provide sandwiches for one, paleo-meals for your family, lunch for your entire office, or an elegant sit-down dinner for a wedding. We call that a tasty win-win.
Q: So, you two were already doing your own thing when SALT Fine Catering closed and Robby Melvin started sending clients your way. How did that come about?
A: Erin: Robby is an old friend of mine and I worked with him at SALT for about three years. Brian is a very talented chef and was already working as a chef (formerly at The University Club in Tuscaloosa and at Greystone Country Club). When Robby closed SALT, I got a business license for Tre Luna so we could continue doing what we loved: cooking in private homes. The business has only expanded from there.
Q: What a difference between cooking for large groups in a club setting versus taking your operation on the road. What is the hardest part?
A: Brian: Leaving the premises! You hurry to pack up all the vans with everything you will need at least two hours in advance. That is quite a challenge. You HAVE to be prepared. If you are working an event at a farm in the country and run out of food, that would be a huge problem!
Erin:Having a great staff is key. We have a team of veteran caterers who make events run smoothly—from food prep to service.
Q: What is something your regular clients might not know about Tre Luna?
A: Erin: My family had a restaurant (VJs on the Runway) out by the airport when I was growing up so I was always around the business of food. VJs is now closed but we still do a lot of work at the airport, putting food on private planes. One of our friends is a pilot so we kind of got into that world through him.
Brian: It is interesting. Tomorrow I have a job at the airport—breakfast for one person at 5:30 am. I am delivering an omelet, orange juice and a biscuit to the plane.
Erin: Sometimes it’s a huge order, other times it’s lunch for two pilots.
Q: Is that the craziest order you’ve had in catering?
A: Erin: Actually no! The other day we had an order for just a PB&J. So far, we haven’t turned down any catering requests. On the same day, we also fed folks in Gardendale and fulfilled corporate orders in downtown Birmingham.
Brian: We’ve gotten good at finding a way to make every job work well. One time I cooked a very special Christmas dinner for two in someone’s home, pairing wine with eight different courses.
Q: Tell us about the name, Tre Luna?
A: It is a takeoff on our last name, Mooney, and the fact that we have three kids who are everything to us. So, Tre for three and Luna for Moon.
Goat Cheese, Pistachio and Balsamic Strawberries
1 cup balsamic vinegar
3 ounces raw pistachios
1 pint fresh strawberries
8 ounces of your favorite goat cheese (we use Stone’s Hollow)
1. In a small saucepan, add balsamic and cook on medium heat until the vinegar turns into a syrup consistency. Reduce the vinegar by 3/4 and set aside to cool.
2. In a food processor pulse pistachios into a ground powder.
3. Rinse strawberries and cut in half. Place them cut-side up on your favorite hors d’oeuvres tray.
4. Using a teaspoon, spread goat cheese on top of each of strawberry. Dust with ground pistachios. Drizzle with balsamic glaze, and serve chilled. Serves 8 – 10.
Tre Luna's Sweet Pea Pesto Tortellini Salad
1 1/2 cup fresh English sweet peas
1 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves
1 cup spinach leaves
1/2 cup pistachios
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 10-ounce packages fresh tortellini pasta, cooked according to package directions, cooled
1. Bring water to boil in a large stock pot.
2. Blanch fresh peas in boiling water for about 90 seconds or until peas become tender. Then transfer peas into ice water to cool.
3. In food processor combine 1/2 the amount of peas, basil, mint, spinach, pistachios, sea salt, cracked black pepper, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Half-way through blending add 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. Finish blending to a nice smooth consistency.
4. Spoon mixture over tortellini and mix thoroughly. Add remaining Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the top. Serves 6.
Tre Luna Catering • 205.322.3463
Located off Highway 119 in Greystone, Bellini’s Ristorante and Bar has a long list of devoted regulars. The catering arm of the business only began about three years ago but has recently ramped up in earnest with the addition of a new catering chef and a separate off-site kitchen. Catering Director Branden Saccomani freely admits that this situation offers the best of both worlds, utilizing the creativity of veteran Chef Sean Butler while building upon the solid menu of the existing restaurant.
Q: What is the best advice you have for customers looking to stretch their catering budget?
A: Branden: Buffet, buffet, buffet! Extra costs can really add up quickly when table service is involved. For a served meal, my rule of thumb is one server to every eight guests. When you’ve got a party for 300 people, that can add up to thousands of dollars.
Q: Is there a secret ingredient for a successful event?
A: Branden: Just like a great recipe, there is no single “secret ingredient” for a successful event. Success depends on a combination of the right vendors, a great venue, and a client with an open mind.
Q: What is your number one catering no-no?
A: Branden: Not allowing enough time for set-up on the day of the event. There is nothing worse than being rushed.
Q: Chef Butler, what does your ideal menu look like?
A: Sean: We make pretty much everything from scratch here so if a client can dream it, we can do it. We can make boxed meals for any diet you’re following, and deliver those. We’ve done events off-site where we cooked the fish that guests had just caught. I love a challenge and love to be creative.
Q: Most requested item on the catering menu?
A: Branden: Candied Pork Tenderloin with Conecuh Sausage and Corn Succotash. We are very lucky to have some clients that just ask for “something amazing.” That gives our talented culinary team room to shine!
Candied Pork Tenderloin with Conecuh Sausage and Corn Succotash
2 pork tenderloins (3 lbs.)
6 cups sweet tea, divided
3 tablespoons salt
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup Cajun seasoning (your favorite brand)
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Conecuh sausage, cut on bias into 1-inch slices
2 cups fresh corn, cut off of cob
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1. In a zip-top bag, combine 4 cups of sweet tea and 3 tablespoons of salt and pork tenderloin. Refrigerate for 12 – 24 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 325°F.
3. Remove pork from brine (discard brine) and season with a mixture of ½ cup of brown sugar and ¼ cup Cajun seasoning.
4. In a small sauce pot over low heat, add remaining two cups sweet tea. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until it reaches a syrupy consistency.
5. In a large cast iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sear the pork tenderloin on all sides. Remove from cast iron skillet and place on a baking rack. Roast until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 120°F (about 8 minutes).
6. While pork cooks, add the Conecuh sausage to the cast iron skillet. Cook until golden brown. Add corn and cook until the corn begins to gain a dark color. Add garlic, peppers, and onions, and cook until onions are translucent. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
7. Allow Pork Tenderloin to rest at room temperature 5-10 minutes before slicing. Serve pork over succotash. Finish with sweet tea reduction. Serves 6 – 8.
1 sweet potato, shredded
1 cup dark cocoa powder
2 tablespoons almond flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ cup raw honey
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup dark (70%) chocolate chips
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Pierce sweet potato all over with a fork. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
3. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
4. Remove skin and add shredded sweet potato to a bowl. Add eggs, coconut oil, honey and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.
5. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Pour into a prepared 8 x 8 glass baking dish. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes. Let cool before cutting into squares.
Catering by Bellini’s • 205.502.7272
The Grown-Up Lunch Box
Mary Drennan and Tiffany Vickers Davis want to improve your lunch. And your dinner. And maybe your breakfast too.
Several years ago when this duo worked at Cooking Light Magazine, they would roll their desk chairs between each other’s cubicles and daydream about the business that would one day become Nourish. What started as “What If We…” has quickly grown into “Why Not?!”
Today, the duo creates heat-sealed packaged meals that are enjoyed everywhere from IronTribe members to offices in Southside to cabins at Lake Martin to homes in sunny California. They offer local meal pick-up and delivery and ship anywhere in the United States.
Your old college roommate from Jackson just had her first baby? Send her a week of Nourish dinners. Headed to 30-A for a quick getaway and don’t want to pack the whole fridge? Have Nourish meals delivered to the condo. Want a better shot of sticking to that new carb-free diet? Let Mary and Tiffany plan your meals for the month.
Q: Who is the Nourish client?
A: We like the idea of filling the gap for people who want to eat healthy but who know that it takes some planning. Some clients will spend all day Sunday cooking for the week but need one or two to fill in. We can take care of that. We also provide meals for a lot of new moms, moms who might not want to eat the same food as their kids, single professionals, and anyone looking to eat better. We have one client who buys every single meal from us for his entire family—his wife, son, grandson, and himself —because they are all trying to be more healthy. They are participating in the EatSmart program at UAB and we provide this family with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Q: You also cater for Iron Tribe. What amount of your production is dedicated to Iron Tribe meals?
A: Probably about 60% right now. We also do a lot of corporate meals for larger companies such as Maynard Cooper, Brasfield-Gorrie, and others. Our clients and catering events vary from week-to-week.
Q: Do you really ship Nourish meals across the country?
A: Yes! Through our work for Iron Tribe, we learned the logistics behind shipping food from Birmingham, Alabama, to California overnight. We have the capabilities to have a huge footprint. The majority of our business though is in the Southeast and is direct to customers.
Q: Tell us about one of your Nourish success stories?
A: We like to be more personal with our clients and tailor our food to their needs. We had one client who we helped get into her dream wedding dress. She bought the dress one size smaller; we provided the meals and she worked really hard to exercise and get to that point. She made it and sent us a picture in her dress!
Poached Eggs Over Asparagus, Arugula and Bacon
1 tablespoon white vinegar
salt and pepper
1 ounce fresh arugula
6 asparagus spears, blanched
2 slices bacon, cooked
1. To poach eggs, boil a small pot of water; add 1 tablespoon white vinegar to pot. Gently crack the egg into an 8-oz ramekin. When water comes to a rolling boil, gently pour the egg into pot and cook 2-3 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Carefully remove with a strainer. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
2. To plate dish, place arugula leaves on a plate. Arrange asparagus spears on top, and add poached egg. Serve with a slice or two of bacon.
Nourish • 205-532-9771
Small and Sophisticated
Well-traveled Carey Thomasson has a knack for bringing the world to your plate. Having cooked for private clients and celebrities from New York to Los Angeles, she now lives in Mountain Brook and relishes catering intimate dinner parties. Whether it is setting the tone with elegant hors d’oeveres and sophisticated amuses bouche or serving butter-poached lobster and hand-made raspberry granita for six, Carey Thomasson creates meal that will make you feel like you’ve paired your favorite jeans with an Hermès scarf: comfortably refined.
Q: How did you go from feeding Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas in L.A. and working in New York City to putting down roots in Alabama?
A: I met (my husband) Dan at a wedding in Miami; he was living in Birmingham and I was living in NYC. We were engaged in 3 months and married within the year. I love it here. I was ready to leave NYC. I loved it but it’s a hard place to live.
Q: What is the craziest request you’ve ever had on a catering job?
A: Once while I was living in Maine, I worked for a family who decided that they wanted to have a picnic dinner. I thought it sounded like a great idea until I discovered that the picnic spot was an hour by boat and there were NO accommodations. I had to build a fire on a huge rock to cook the food and lay the picnic nearby, all set with sterling flatware, china, and crystal. It was a ton of work, but it was beautiful!
Q: When you are not whipping up something fabulous in your own kitchen, where do you and your family like to dine in Birmingham?
A: Birmingham is blessed to have so many great restaurants and chefs, and Dan and I and our children take advantage of this. We can walk to Brick & Tin and Ollie Irene from our house so we do that a lot. Recently we have all loved going (downtown) to Paramount for burgers and cold beer, and the children love the video games. But nothing beats oysters and champagne at Highlands Bar & Grill.
Carey’s Mint Pesto
1 cup packed mint leaves
½ cup pecans
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup olive oil
1. Put mint, pecans, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth.
2. With the motor running, slowly add olive oil through the feed tube.
3. Serve on grilled lamb, grilled chicken or grilled fish. Will last in refrigerator covered for one week.
Carey Thomasson • 205.994.0163
Chill Out (and About)
Most event planners agree, there are three basic aspects to a successful event: great food, outstanding service, and a good dose of theater. Calling on Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara of Big Spoon Creamery to cater ice cream guarantees all three. From their bike-pedal-powered cart, they can offer small-batch flavors like Bananas Foster and dairy-free Coconut Lime by the scoop or in sandwiches.
Q: Summertime is THE perfect time for ice cream! Aside from selling your bespoke ice cream at Pepper Place, where else can we find your cart?
A: We are at the Summit Farmer’s Market on Thursday afternoons and the Ross Bridge Market on Friday afternoons. You can also find us parked with Shindigs at Little Hardware in English Village for lunch on Thursdays. Other than that, it can change weekly. The best way to keep up with our schedule is on Twitter and Instagram or follow us on Facebook.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: We like to use local Alabama and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. We also draw on childhood favorites and memories and enjoy taking a new approach to old favorites.
Q: What is a flavor you tried that really didn’t work well?
A: Back in the fall, we tried to make a butternut squash ice cream with candied pecans but it never materialized into what we were going for.
Q: Having just dessert catered for an event is very clever AND a great way to stretch a budget. What is the most unusual location you’ve taken the Big Spoon Creamery cart?
A: We have been fortunate enough to do a wide variety of events, from office parties to country weddings down dirt roads. One especially memorable event was an ice-cream social high atop the Wells Fargo building downtown.
Peach-Buttermilk Ice Cream
Buttermilk Ice Cream
2¼ cups whole milk
⅓ cup cream
1 ¾ cups sugar
10 egg yolks
4 cups buttermilk
1. Combine the milk and cream in a medium-sized pot. Warm the mixture over low heat.
2. Whisk sugar and egg yolks together in a medium bowl until fluffy and thoroughly combined.
3. When milk mixture reaches 40°C or feels warm to touch, remove from the heat. Pour ⅓ of warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking continuously. Add the tempered egg yolk mixture back into the milk and cream.
4. Return pot to low heat and stir constantly until it becomes thick enough to coat back of a spoon.
5. Remove from heat and strain ice-cream base through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-quart container.
6. Prepare an ice bath in a larger bowl. Place the ice-cream base in the ice bath and stir every 10-15 minutes until completely chilled.
7. When base has cooled, whisk in cold buttermilk.
8. Pour the base into the ice cream machine and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions.
9. When finished churning, transfer ice cream into a container with a lid and place in freezer.
Chilton County Peach Sorbet
2 pounds peeled, sliced peaches
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1¼ cup sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1. Place the peaches in a blender with the lemon juice, granulated sugar, and salt.
2. Blend until pureed and smooth.
3. Strain the puree though a fine strainer.
4. Pour the puree into the ice-cream machine and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions.
5. Allow sorbet to harden in freezer for one hour.
TO FINISH: Once the buttermilk ice cream and the sorbet have been in the freezer for at least one hour, layer them into a container, and place the layered ice cream and sorbet back in the freezer to finish freezing. Scoop away and enjoy! Yields 2 quarts.
Big Spoon Creamery • 205.568.8856
text by Christiana roussel • photos by art meripol