As I’ve said before, to have me in your friend circle means I am your go-to for all edible recommendations. Most of the time this means that, after contacting me, people walk away with new eating and adventuring possibilities. But sometimes I tell people where to go for selfish reasons.
At weddings, for example. The food and cake can be notoriously awful at large functions. (In a recent talk at The Commonwealth Club, Charles Phan, chef/owner of The Slanted Door, reminded us that if we wanted to see restaurants buying, for example, sustainable seafood, we should think about speaking up at the next banquet dinner or luncheon we eat at or have at a hotel. “Because you can eat more Chilean Sea Bass in one day in a hotel than I could buy/sell at my restaurant in a year.”)
When people come to me asking for wedding cake making expertise or the option to cater their wedding, I send them to people and companies who do a much better job than I ever could. People who make a living in said fields. I give them the cards of those who have never let me and my recommendation down. I give out the names of companies who have fed me well at the very same parties I could have catered myself, but thankfully chose not to.
Take it from me when I say not all catering companies are created equally. I’ve worked for many who make food I myself am scared to eat at the very functions I’m preparing or plating the food for! When I’ve worked for these places, I eat big meals beforehand and carry snacks for the moment I’m caught hungrily off guard.
And then there are the places where I show up to work hungry. Hungry to learn and to eat. Paula Le Duc, for example. PLD is the exclusive caterer for The Ferry Building Events. They are incredibly organized, smart, efficient, and serve some of the best food in the Bay Area, no matter if the party is for 5000 or 50. They are professional and friendly and emply hundreds of people, many of them loyal for years on end. I loved working for them and have sent a number of cooks their way. It’s always a good sign when a catering company hires aggressively and competitively from within the restaurant industry.
Which brings me to Living Room Events, a company made up of almost exclusively restaurant people. They are a catering company dedicated to cooking food on par with signature Cal-Med restaurants such as Zuni, Chez Panisse and Oliveto. Their chefs shop at the same farmers’ markets and produce companies that the famously local-seasonal restaurants do. So when my friends Victoria and Phil came to me for caterer advice, selfishly knowing I would be a guest at their gorgeous wedding, I strongly suggested LRE. As with all food businesses you can often be served something extraordinarily delicious in the “tasting,” but then at the actual event, the food is sub-par. I only recommend companies where their follow through is as good, if not better, than how they sell it.
This past Sunday was the third time where I have been a happy guest of their services. The food and service were so good, people at the party were telling the waiters they wished the catering company would turn into a restaurant! And rumor has it that Living Room Events is, in fact, going to open a restaurant. I would have eaten three plates of savoury food had I not known how good the cake was going to be.
Wedding cakes are made first to dazzle us with our eyes. What’s hiding under the 5 inches of buttercream, fondant or marzipan could be a cake made 6 months ago and stored in a deep freezer. You can get a raspberry cake in January, and much of the decorations could be edible ingredients whose digestibility is questionable, but that wedding cake could cost you tens of thousands of dollars and no one would wonder why a frosted dessert can sit in the heat of July’s busy wedding month for the 6 or 7 hours it takes for the ceremony to start.
Having worked with Rachel Leising at Citizen Cake, owner of wedding cake business and now retail bakery Petite Patisserie in Potrero Hill, I can say that this woman’s cakes taste as good as they look. Rachel is dedicated to seasonal, local, sustainable and Organic ingredients because they taste better. I have been at many a wedding and birthday party where I saved room for dessert and my only disappointment was there weren’t more than two slices to eat!
I don’t get paid to make these recommendations. I no longer work for any of these companies or people. But believe me when I say that it is better to pay the same or a little more for food and the work of food artisans whose product is far and above the quality of most of their competitors.
I know there are many more outstanding companies out there. Who do you love? Who do you recommend?