To me, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without schlepping heavy Cambros full of food into someone’s home or hauling cases of sparkling wine to an office building.
Years of catering have imprinted this on my brain, which now confuses extreme muscle fatigue with seasonal happiness.
My catering career started behind stage at giant rock and roll concerts. It evolved to staging events for art and gallery openings, then morphed into a more permanent venue when I started Café Lulu, and then became itinerant again when I became a private chef. Obviously, catering is one of the ultimate behind the scenes professions.
I have always loved being behind the scenes. The Regular Joes were out front listening to the music. I was in the dressing room of Aerosmith loading up their bar with tequila and chatting with the band.
So I went searching for a place to get my holiday fix of chaos, and Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions let me into their world.
Inspired Occasions must the busiest caterer in town. In the week I joined them, they had back-to-back parties for 500 plus six or seven other jobs each of those days. Then there was a sit down dinner for 100-plus at Union Station the next day plus several other events. You get the idea.
The staff at Inspired Occasions prepares itself for this season. They know it will try their fortitude and skills. But they seem totally ready for it. After 14 or 15 hours of work, when I’m wondering how my legs turned into throbbing tree stumps, the kitchen and staging rooms are still buzzing with activity.
And Lon Lane doesn’t ask them to do anything he won’t do himself. He is there when you arrive at 5 a.m. and he’s still there when you leave at midnight. His wife works by his side, as does his son.
Smoked beef tenderloin, roast espresso chicken, baron of corned beef, three kinds of deviled eggs, 600 shrimp, 400 stone crab claws, thousand of cookies, philo stuffed with goat cheese and figs, scallop ceviche, antipasto cones, fruited chicken salad, mango bread, mini BLT’s, a taco bar, tea sandwiches, dozens of sauces and dips, orange brined turkey, hundreds of lemon curd tarts, marinated vegetables, chocolate dipped strawberries. These are just a few of the items the kitchen sends out in one 24-hour period.
Executive Chef Zelda Johnson and Executive sous chef JR Ritz keep their team moving forward with surprisingly good cheer.
Every kitchen has its unique conversation and music. Sometimes the talk is sports oriented, sometimes all about what you did the night before. This kitchen was filled with discussions of movies and music, a popular culture talk show. Classic rock played on one side, hip-hop where the younger people worked.
It was a well-oiled war machine.
Jeff French, the general manager, and his team of event specialists kept the usual tension between the front of the house and the back of the house to a minimum. There was no yelling. Well, almost no yelling.
After my time at Inspired Occasions, I was left with a lingering sense of the irony of what they do so well.
Dark outside when you go in, dark outside when you go home. This is the life of thousands of hospitality workers across the country at the holiday season. While you are enjoying a holiday party, they are washing dozens of pots and pans, prepping thousands of steaks, wrapping and stacking and counting and baking.
This is the time they make the money for their car payment, their children’s Christmas presents, and that house payment they missed in September.
So, to all the behind the scenes hospitality workers out there, I salute you. And I salute the front of the house as well, the bartenders, hostesses, managers and servers. Have a wonderful holiday when you can enjoy it — in January.
Lou Jane Temple’s road to food has been a long and winding one. First as a rock n roll caterer back stage to the stars, then with her own Kansas City based catering company, Cafe Lulu, food writing, novelist, private chef. Lou Jane has written and had published nine culinary mysteries and one cookbook. She recently moved back to Kansas City and eagerly awaits the next chapter of her food career.