More Christmas Dinner Menus

Cookbooks at this time were written by and for the wealthy. The following menu reflects what an English nobleman might have served his guests at Christmas. Some early American settlers might have considered these foods “traditional” holiday fare, even though they probably set a simpler table. Note: Not all colonial-era Christian Americans celebrated Christmas. Think: Puritan Pilgrims & Quakers and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians.

“A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day, and how to set the Meat in Order.
: Oysters. 1. A collar of brawn. 2. Stewed Broth of Mutton marrow bones. 3. A grand Sallet. 4. A pottage of caponets. 5. A breast of veal in stoffado. 6. A boil’d partridge. 7. A chine of beef, or surloin roast. 8. Minced pies. 9. A Jegote of mutton with anchove sauce. 10. A made dish of sweet-bread. 11. A swan roast. 12. A pasty of venison. 13. A kid with a pudding in his belly. 14. A steak pie. 15. A hanch of venison roasted. 16. A turkey roast and stuck with cloves. 17. A made dish of chickens in puff paste. 18. Two bran geese roasted, one larded. 19. Two large capons, one larded. 20. A Custard.

The second course for the same Mess. Oranges and Lemons. 1. A Young lamb or kid. 2. Two couple of rabbits, two larded. 3. A pig souc’t with tongues. 4. Three ducks, one larded. 5. Three pheasants, 1 larded. 6. A Swan Pye. 7. Three brace of partridge, three larded. 8. Made dish in puff paste. 9. Bolonia sausages, and anChoves, mushrooms, and Cavieate, and pickled oysters in a dish. 10. Six teels, three larded. 11. A Gammon of Westphalia Bacon. 12. Ten plovers, five larded. 13. A quince Pye, or warden pye. 14. Six woodcocks, 3 larded. 15. A standing Tart in puff-paste, preserved fruits, Pippins &c. 16. A dish of Larks. 17. Six dried neats tongues. 18. Sturgeon. 19. Powdered Geese. Jellies.”
The Accomplisht Cook, Robert May, facsimile 1685 edition [Prospect Books:Devon] 2000 (pages unnumbered)


Christmas Dinner in the 1990’s

Christmas Dinner 1990’s Style: [1990] “Enjoy a night-before feast: Cornish Hens with Savory Stuffing, Sweet Red Pepper Puree in Pepper Boats, Sweet and White Potato Puree, Broccoli with Walnut Butter, Vegetable Consomme, Paris Brest with sun-caramel halo.”(p. 113) “Make heavenly delights: A[pricot Diamonds, Swedish Ginger Cutouts, Linzer Jewels, Orange Star Stack-Ups.” (p. 114) —Family Circle, December 18, 1990 [NOTE: Advertisements for Microwave Pressure Cooker, Burton Stove-Top Grill, Corning Visions Cookware, Mirro AirBake Insulate Bakeware.] [1991] “For Americans wondering how to send goodies to US servicemembers, there are some very important ‘don’ts’ says Susan Templin, manager of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultyr Hotline. Don’t send anything made with pork products or alcohol because of Saudi government restrictions. Don’t send anything perishable. Packages take 14 to 20 days to get to Saudi Arabia…Consider items that can withstand the delay, high temperatures, and rough handling…Ms. Templin suggests store-bought cookies; cakes and breads that come in tins or cans; jarred or canned nuts, pretzels, popcorn; beef jerky; dried fruit; hard candy; presweetened drink mixes (sugar-sweetened fare better than artificially sweetened mixes)…Homemade goods should be addressed to a specific servicemenber or unit. Nestle Foods Corporation is one company offereing ‘desert-safe’ recipes…Hershey Foods Corporation has come out with the coveted ‘Desert Bar.’ It was developed in response to the Army’s request for a heat-resistant chocolate bar made with real milk chocolate. Some 144,000 bars were shipped to Saudi Arabia. The ‘Desert Bar’ replaces the old ‘Tropical Chocolate’ bar…It has been tested at 120 degrees F. for 14 weeks. As far as morale enhancers go, perhaps nothing can top the troops’ Christmas dinner: real turkey, gravy, shrimp, cranberry sauce, cornbread, instant potatoes, nuts, sweet potatoes, fruit cake. Total cost: $3.1 million.” —“Food: Melts in Your Mouth…not in the sand,” Kirsten A. Conover, Christian Science Monitor, January 3, 1991 (p. 14) [1992] “Holiday Brunch: Cran-Berry Cocktail, Eggnog French Toast, Bazked Ham Slices, Fresh Strawberries, Coffee.” (p. 238) —Good Housekeeping, December 1992 [1993] “Holiday Cookies: Spice cookies, strawberry tart cookies, snowflake cookies, mocha pecan balls, chocolate-dipped hazelnut shortbread wedges, coconut bars, walnut cups, Spritz Christmas wreath cookies, fruit cookies.” (p. 130) “Casual Christmastime Dinner: Prosciutto-Wrapped Breadsticks with Fig, Cucumber Tapenade Canapes, Baked Polenta with Shittake Gagout, Arugula Radichio and Endive Salad, Cranberry Sweril ice-Cream cake.” (p. 151) “Christmas Dinner: Oxtail Bouillon with Parmesan Puffs, Oxtail Pate, Roasted Rack of Venison and Shallots with Dried-Cranberry Gravy, Brown-and-Wild-Rice Pilaf with Porcini and Parsley, Puree of Three Root Vegetablesj, Mixed Greens, With Hibet Vinaigrette and Gorgonzola, Chocolate Linzertorte.” (p. 172) —Gourmet, December 1993) [NOTE: Advertisements for Calphon cookware, Healthy Choice Fat Free Cheeses, 2nd Avenue Deli by Mail, Micro-beer of the Month Club.] [1994] “A Joyful Feast: Garlic-studded roast pork loin with fragrant sprigs of fresh rosemary, Filet of beef with cheesy potatoes and baby carrots, Thyme-scented chicken roaster with ripe figs, Festive red-and-green Christmas Salad.” (p. 108-109) —Family Circle, December 20, 1994 [1995] “Come for Christmas: Mushroom-Bacon Bundles, Chinese Firecrackers, Spinach California Rolls, Smoked Turkey and Lettuce Packets, Zesty Beef Wrap-Ups, Herb Popovers, Christmas Goose, Stuffed Potatoes with Buttermilk and Bacon, Roasted Beet and Orange Salad, Parsnip Puree, Wild Rice Orzo and Mushrooms, Standing Rib Roast with Onion Gravy, Creamed Roasted Baby Onions with Peas, Brussels Sprouts with Msutard Seeds, Carrot Puree, Turnip Puree with Fried Onions, Roast Fresh Ham, Chritmas Ice Ceran Bombe, Holly Wreth Cake, Linzer Cookies.” (p.107-112) “Holiday Poke Cake.” (p, 155, Jell-O & Cool Whip advertisement.) —Woman’s Day, December 19, 1995 [1996] “Christmas Dinner: Dilled Shrimp with Cucumber Ribbons, Spinach-Mushroom Stuffed Tenterloin, Oven-roasted Parsnips & Carrots, Wild Rice Pilaf with Dried Cranberries, Winter Salad with Ripe Pears & Toasted Pecans, Brandied Buche de Noele with Meringue Mushrooms, Double-Berry Linzer Tart.” (p. 181-182) —Good Housekeeping, December 1996 [1997] “New Mexico Christmas, Open House Buffet: Sesame-Nut Crunch, Salsas Dips and Tortilla Chips, Christmas Posole, Black Bean Soup with Hot-Sauce Bar, Hickory-smoked Turkey, Apricot Cherry and Green Chili Chutney, Assorted Mustards and Mayonnaise, Sandwich Breads and Rolls, Tiny Chili and Corn Muffins, Steamed Tamales, Extra-Spicy Gingersnaps, Bizcochitos, House-Gift Desserts, Self-Serve Beverage Bar, Chimayo Punch, Mexican Hot Chocolate.” (p. 81) “Native American Christams Feast: Potawatomi Popcorn, Chenin Blanc, Field Greens with Sage-Pinon Vinaigrette, Crusted Tenderloin with Chipotle Onions, Oven-roasted Roots, Quinoa wasn Wild Rice Stuffed Squash, Mushroom and Sunchoke Saute, Cabernet Sauvignon, Simply A’Maize’ing Corn Ice Cream, Chocolate Sorbet, Raspberry Sauce, Sparking Wine.” (p. 88) —Sunset (Mountain Edition), December 1997 [1998] “A Taste of Chrismas Past: Crab Cakes and Baby Greens with Lemon Vinaigrette, Champagne, Crown Roast of Pork with Apple and Pork Stuffing and Cider Gravy, Butternut Squash and Rutabaga Puree, Sweet-and-Sour Red Cabbage, hard Cider or Pinot Noir, Chocolate-Orange Buche de Noel.” (p. 118) “Salmon and Spinach Terrine with Cucumber-Dill Sauce, Champagne, Roast Turkey with Bourbon Gravy, Corn Bread Succotash Stuffing, Maple-Glazed yams with Pecan Topping, Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Cranberry-Kumquat Chutney, Zinfandel, Syrah or Chardonnay, Warm Pear Shortcakes with Brandied Cream.” (p. 120) “Season’s Best Cookies: Christmas Tree Shortbread, Spiced Snowflakes, Coconut-Macadamia Crescents, Fudgy Hazelnut Brownies with Marbled Chocolate Glaze.” (p. 133) “Christmas Breakfast: Double-Salmon and Sweet Potato Hash with Poached Eggs, Cranberry-Studded Creme Fraiche Scones, Ginger Butter, Apple-Fig Crisp.” (p. 139) —Bon Appetit, December 1998 [NOTE: Advertisements for Analon Professional Cookware, Wearever Air baking pans, Cuisinart non-stick cookware, Panasonic National (steamer & rice cooker), Salton 1,2,3 ‘Spresso (esresso machine).] [1999] “Dessert of the Month: Fig Holiday Roll.” (p. 79) “Twelve Days of Christmas: Buttered Carrots, Roast Poussin with Prunes and Thyme, Caramelized Onion Tartlets, Pate Brisee, Rice Pilaf with Herbes de Provence, Toasted Almonds and Driec Pears, Seven Swans A-Swimming, Cooked Custard Eggnog, Spicy Pecans, Ramos Gin Fizz, Gingerbread Cupcakes with Butter or Chocolate Glaze, Meringue Buttercream, Oatmeal Cookies.” (p. 272-282) . —Martha Stewart Living, December 1999-January 2000

Cherries Jubilee

Food historians generally credit Auguste Escoffier for creating Cherries Jubilee to mark Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebration. There seems to be some conflict as to which Jubilee (1887? 1897?). Charles Elme Francatelli (primary Chef to Queen Victoria) confirms the Queen’s oft noted affection toward cherries. Francatelli’s recipe was meant to accompany venison:
“64. Cherry Sauce A La Victoria.
Put a small pot of red currant-jelly into a stewpan, together with a dozen cloves, a stick of cinnamon, the rind of two oranges, a piece of glaze, and a large gravy-spoonful of reduced brown sauce; moisten with a half a pint of Burgundy wine, boil gently on the fire for twenty minutes; pass the sauce through a tammy into a bain-marie, add the juice of the two oranges, and before sending to table boil the sauce. This sauce is especially appropriate with red deer or roebuck, when prepared in a marinade and larded.”
—Francatelli’s Modern Cook, Charles Elme Francatelli [David McKay:Philadelphia] 1890s? (p. 48) [RECIPE NOTE: Interesting juxtaposition in both ingredients and method to Escoffier’sSteak Diane.

Of course, dishes are not invented, they evolve. A survey of 19th century cookbooks confirms both cherry compote and cherries preserved in brandy were popular items. Towards the end of the century, elaborate chafing dish and flambe recipes (Baked Alaska, for a dessert example) became the hallmark of the best chefs and finest menus. Given this context, it was probably only a matter of time before someone decided to set sweetened, liqueur-covered cherries “on fire.” The vanilla ice cream base was introduced later, probably inspired by the popular appeal of Baked Alaska. In America, Cherries Jubilee quickly became a standard dessert item in the finest continental restaurants. The recipe was quickly adopted/adapted by American home cooks who wanted to impress their dinner guests. Cookbooks in the 1950s & 1960s almost always contain a simplified recipe for this particular item. In the United States, flamboyant flambe dishes climaxed during the Kennedy years.

“Cherries Jubilee were created in honor of Queen Victoria. Then, as now, the British public delighted in every detail of the Royal Family’s life and everyone know that cherries were the queen’s favorite fruit…The whole nation celebrated at her Golden Jubilee in 1887 and again at her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. It was during the earlier celebration that Cherries Jubilee first appeared. Curiously, the original dish did not call for ice cream at all. Sweet cherries poached in a simple syrup that was slightly thickened, were poured into fireproof dishes, then warmed brandy was added and set on flame at the moment of serving. Soon, however, Escoffier was serving vanilla ice cream accompagnie de Cerises Jubile to many dignitaries…”
—Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, Patricia Bunning Stevens [Ohio University Press:Athens OH] 1998 (p. 215)

“Cherries Jubilee: A dessert made with black cherries flambeed with kirsch or brandy, then spooned over vanilla ice cream. The dish [was]…especially fashionable from the 1930s through the 1960s in deluxe restaurants, and also a popular dinner-party dish of the same period. The origins of the dish are unknown.”
—Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 69)

Compare these recipes:

[1869] “Compote of Cherries
Take 1 lb of May-Duke or Kentish cherries; cut off all but 3/4 inch of the stalks; Put 1/2 lb. Of lump sugar in a copper sugar boiler, with 2 quarts of water; boil for three minutes; put the cherries in this syrup; cover the pan, and simmer for five minutes; drain the cherries on a sieve; dish them up in a compte dish, the stalks upwards; reduce the syrup to 30 degrees; let it cool; pour it over the cherries; and serve.”
—The Royal Cookery Book, Jules Gouffe [Samson Low:London] 1869 (p. 207)
[1903] “Recipe 4523: Cerises Jubilee
Remove the stone from some nice large cherries then poach the cherries in syrup; remove and place them in small silver timbales. Reduce the syrup and thicken it with diluted arrowroot using 1/2 tablespoons per 3dl (1/2 pint or 2 1/2 U.S. cups) syrup. Instead of the syrup, redcurrant jelly many be used. Coat the cherries with the sauce, pour 1/2 tablespoon of warmed Kirsch into each timbale and set alight when bringing them to the table.”
–Le Guide Culinaire, August Escoffier, 1903, translated into English by H.L. Cracknell and R.J. Kaufmann [Wiley:New York] 1981 (p. 538)
[NOTE: the similarities between Francatelli’s Victoria recipe (referenced above) and this.]

[1954] “Cherries Jubilee
Few things are easier than this dessert with a cosmopolitan air. You simply drain the juice from a No. 2 can of pitted black cherries–the big ones–and reserve about one-fourth. Put the cherries and the juice in a chafing dish. Bring just to the simmering point and keep there for about a minute, agitating with a spoon (I really mean “agitating” instead of “stirring”). The pour on about a half a cup of warmed brandy, mix with the cherries, and ignite. While they are flaming, ladle them over individual dishes of vanilla ice cream, which are ready and waiting. (You’ll need a quart). And this dessert is bound to bring words of admiration.”
—Martha Deane’s Cooking for Compliments, Marian Young Taylor [M. Barrows:New York] 1954 (p. 241)
[NOTE: Martha Deane was a radio personality on New York’s WOR station]

Creme Brulee

The name is French, but the origins are not perfectly clear. Escoffier and the other major French culinary experts do not include recipes for this item in their classic cookbooks. Culinary experts generally agree that Creme Brulee originated in England. They also agree recipes for this dessert vary accoring to time and place.

“One of the greatest desserts in the realm of cooking is Creme Brulee and despite its name it is not French but a very old English one. No one seems quite to know when or how it became Gallicized, for over a long period of time it was known simply as burnt cream. The earliest recipe I have been able to find was printed in a 17th-century cookbook from Dorsetshire. After that it had a rather interesting history and gained considerable renown. Originally, this was a rich custard, a mixture of sugar, egg yolks and cream cooked over heat, then poured into a dish and cooled. The top was then sprinkled with sugar and the sugar caramelized to a brown glaze with a red-hot salamander, and old type of heavy metal tool which was lowered to the surface of the sugar and moved over it until the intense heat melted and browned the sugar, hence the name burnt cream. Creme Brulee became a standard dessert at Cambridge University, especially Christ College where it was made in a special dish designed by the Copeland-Spode Co. It’s amusing to read old cookbooks and to discover the many versions of Creme Brulee–sometimes it was made with gooseberry or raspberry fool instead of custard…You still are more apt to find it served in England, although in America we went through a great Creme Brulee period a number of years ago and I wish we would again, for to my mind it is without peer–few desserts are more delicious to eat and to look at…In the years during which the recipe has been used in America, the original recipe has been considerably changed, and I’m not sure it was for the better. Many U.S. recipes call for a topping of brown sugared, and although I have used this from time to time, I’ve never felt the result was all it should be…”
—“Creme Brulee: Dessert One of the Greatest,” James A. Beard, Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1970 (p. K3)
[NOTE: This article contains a typical 1970s American recipe.]

“Creme brulee is a French term for a rich baked custard made with cream, rather than with milk. The Custard is topped with a layer of sugar (usually brown) which is then caramelized by use of a salamander or under a grill. Creme, meaning cream, is derived from the Latin “Chrisma” through the old French creme. The term brulee is applied to dishes such as cream custards with are finished off with a caramelized sugar glaze. In English, the dish is Burnt cream. This term was in use as long ago as the beginning of the 18th century, but the French term had already been used by Massailot in 1691 and has priority, although it fell into disuse in France for a while in the 19th century…Creme brulee is also sometimes known as Trinity cream because of its association with Trinity College, Cambridge, where the college crest was impressed on top of the cream with a branding iron.”
—Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 226)

“Although many people think of [Creme Brulee] as a French dessert, creme brulee is actually Creole. Make the basic cream exactly like the preceding creme anglaise, but use half the amount of sugar, and whipping cream instead of milk.”
—Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle & Julia Child [Alfred A. Knopf:New York] 1963 (p. 589)

“Creme brulee…The Random House Dictionary of the English Language traces the first appearance in print of creme brulee to 1885, from the French, meaning ‘burnt cream,’ which it is often called in England. But the dish is probably not of French oridings. Escoffier does not mention such a dish; Larousse Gastronomique refers to a similar dish under the name Creme Anglaise au Miroir…as ‘burnt cream’ the dish originated in England, where, according to English food authority Jane Grigson recipes for the dish appeared in seventeenth- century cookbooks. By the turn of the twentieth century it had become a favorite dessert at Trinity College, Cambridge, and, according to Jane Garmen in Great British Cooking (1981), it is often referred to as ‘Trinity Cream.’Recipes for ‘burnt cream’ have been included in Creole cookbooks since the nineteenth century, though the Picayune Creole Cook Book (1901) indicates that the confection is made merely by adding caramel to a custard base that is then reduced, strained, garished with fruits, and served cool…The classic American cookbook Joy of Cooking calls it ‘A rich French custard–famous for its hard, caramelized sugar glaze.’…the popularity of the dish in the United States soared after it was made fashionable when chef Alain Sailhac brought the idea back from a trip to Spain (where the dish is known as an old Catalan dessert called crema quemada a la catalana) in 1982 and began making it at the restaurant Le Cirque in New York City. After that it became a standard dish in American fine-dining restaurants, as well, ironically, as in France.”
—Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 106-7)

You have to have a passion for catering

You have to have a passion for catering. Unlike a restaurant, it’s not just “a protein, a starch and a veg” on the plate and how quickly can get it on the table. We’re creating restaurant quality and style food in a large format. So it’s taking all the passion that you have for food, flavors, textures, plating—all those things that we love as chefs—and pairing it with a strong logistical and operational mindset as to how to get it done. It ends up being a lot more management. In most restaurants, even in really large restaurants, the kitchen staff is maybe ten or twenty people, whereas I oversee over 200 people. So it’s a lot of high-end culinary work, but also a ton of logistic, operational, management, and business acumen as well.

Most professional chefs are well trained to cook for lots of different people with different tastes on any given day.  But what if your job is to cook for the same 150 people one day, and twelve the next?  Not only do you have to be a versatile chef, but also you have to be a very good listener.  Everybody has an opinion every day—and they’ll surely be back tomorrow.

What should you ask a caterer?  What answers should you look for when choosing a caterer for your event, meeting, conference or party?

If you have not yet worked with or found the perfect caterer for your corporate needs, these questions will help direct you toward choosing a corporate caterer to be your go-to partner.  This can be especially helpful for those looking for a Charlottesville area caterer.

Here’s what to ask about the catering business in general, and what specifically to ask the caterer(s) in contention for your business:

1. Can you provide ample menu choices for those with dietary restrictions?

This one is growing more important every day.  Caterers must be able to serve those with dietary restrictions, including gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, organic and more.

2. Do you offer themed menus?

Corporate events do not always call for specialty menus; however, nothing reenergizes a day-long conference or rewards a team quite like a themed menu. We are versed in many of these menus that your guests will enjoy.

3. Can I speak with your current clients and watch/read some client testimonials?

Great caterers attract wonderful clients and loyal customers who would be happy to speak with potential clients in search of a new caterer.  Additionally, happy clients leave reviews all the time.  Look for reviews on Yelp, Google and the company’s website, but also ask your potential caterer for some references to help you make up your mind.

4. Can you also provide wait staff, tables, chairs and other equipment (should I require it)?

While chances are you will be hosting in your own location or at a venue with plenty of tables, chairs and equipment, there will be times when you are looking for a unique set up or additional equipment to best reach your event goals.  In these cases, your caterer should be able to help you with these rentals—and, in some cases, you can rent these items directly through the caterer so as not to deal with the hassle of multiple vendors and contacts.

5. What does your delivery staff do when they arrive at my building?

In other words, will you have to sit outside and wait for the delivery person to arrive?  Do they even arrive on time?  The delivery time (and set up) is crucial to your guests and their tight timelines.  A really great delivery person acts more like a brand ambassador who will represent the company’s brand well.  Great brand ambassadors will enter quietly and set up the catering in a friendly, professional, discrete manner so as not to disturb the meeting or surrounding office space.  They will also come back after the event and cleanup/pick up the area, again, with professionalism and discretion.

6. Do you have experience serving events like mine?

Has the company ever catered an all-day meeting, a three-day conference, a snack break, coffee and dessert, ice cream socials, etc.?  You should be looking for an experienced caterer that reflects the hard work and responsibility you take for your job.  Take a look at your caterer’s track record—and again, ask for references so you can hear from a third party how well (or poorly) the caterer executed your unique catering.

7. Do you have experience serving at my chosen venue or in my office building?

Logistics can be extremely challenging for caterers working with new venues.  Sometimes there are surprise stairs and no elevator.  Other times there are locked doors with passes or keys that the delivery staff must get before delivering the food.  If, however, a caterer has worked in your venue before, then it might already know the best way to maneuver around the building to maximum efficiency.

8. How do you handle last minute requests?

No matter how prepared you are in advance, just about every event planner is challenged with last minute catering needs.  This is where your knowledge of how your caterer handles last minute requests, changes and additions will come in extremely handy.  Your lowered stress levels will thank you for already having a relationship with a great caterer who knows just how important the last minute catering needs for its clients really are.

9. What’s included in your menu’s price per person?

Sometimes there are loads of hidden fees—for plates, napkins, condiments, sides, etc.—and you will not find that out until after you receive your proposed menu.  You can cut that part out by asking upfront what exactly is included in the price, how much the delivery will cost and if there is any rental or set up cost involved in your order (or in a potential future order).

10. Can I tour the kitchen?

This one is huge.  If your caterer does not invite you to its facility, you should ask to see their operations.  It will ease your mind knowing how and where the food is prepared, plus you will get the chance to meet your entire catering team face-to-face.

11. How does your delivery staff dress?

What your delivery staff looks like when they enter your premises is an important factor for most places of business.  From the shoes all the way to the hat or hairnet, it is important that the caterer you hired is well-represented and professionally put together when the delivery person walks through your doors.

12. Do you provide any eco-friendly options?

To many, this is a very important feature of any vendor or partner, not solely a catering partner.  Ask about on-site eco-friendly options, such as recycled cutlery, plates and utensils, but also ask about the deliveries, waste disposal and in-house operations and what your caterer is doing to help promote earth-conscious initiatives.

13. Do you offer any specials?

How often are the menus changing?  Does the caterer offer weekly, monthly or quarterly specials?  This is something to consider if you frequently cater and will be looking for new menu items every once in a while to mix it up.

14. Do you offer multiple presentation and plating options?

Sometimes companies just need catering for the everyday-type meetings, in which case disposable plates, cutlery and other serving utensils apply perfectly.  However, there are times when you might need a finer presentation or display, such as non-disposables with an upscale presentation.  In those instances, it is important that you are working with a caterer who offers different levels of presentation and plating options and who offers those items as your single partner.  It is a challange if you have to independently rent the equipment on your own.

About the l’etoile catering Blog

Here I sit in excitement about our switch over from l’étoile to l’étoile catering in my office above the restaurant in Charlottesville, trying to write our first blog for our new website. Some thoughts come to mind – we have been serving Charlottesville, Albemarle and the surrounding area for over 21 years with our restaurant. Now my love of hospitality and Vickie’s attention to detail and communication with our clients it has taken us on a new course to a full service catering business, I now get to bring l’étoile to you. Welcome to Mark’s official blog, where you’ll find a chronicle of our events, cuisine, and artisan designs. Experience something beyond the mainstream with l’étoile catering. What makes us stand a head above ordinary caterers? Simply: spectacular food, presentation, and consistent creativity. We use only the finest ingredients and the freshest produce available to create unique menus for each event. With a flair for the individual event, you will find traditional favorites like ham biscuits and grilled cheese metamorphosed into bite-sized treats served up in inventive new ways. Our team members and I are masters of every detail and sticklers for taste.

L’etoile Restaurant to Focus on Catering and In-House Events Only

L’etoile Restaurant announced today that Saturday, September 27th, 2014 will be the last day the restaurant will be open to guests.  L’etoile, a well-known destination for locals and visitors, serving dinner and Sunday brunch at 817 West Main Street in Charlottesville, has been owned and operated by Mark and Vickie Gresge since 1993.

Lauded for its French-Virginian style fine dining, fresh ingredients from local farmers, and a hand-picked wine list, L’etoile’s cuisine has been a favorite dining experience in a city with very discriminating tastes.

Executive Chef Mark Gresge said “It has been an honor to serve our guests at the restaurant for the past 21 years. We want to thank all of our patrons who became like family to us with frequent visits, celebrating occasions and everyday life at our tables.”

The Gresges will operate L’etoile Catering, focusing entirely on in-house special events and catered meals for weddings, corporate and special events. The business will eventually be moving to an offsite full service catering kitchen.

“We’re delighted to continue to share our fine Virginia cuisine with the community in this way, and look forward to reconnecting with long-time restaurant patrons celebrating anniversaries, graduations, weddings, business accomplishments and more,” said Vickie Gresge, owner, and director of special events for the business.”


Virginia Brunswick Stew!!

Ask a Southerner about the origins of Brunswick stew, and you’ll start quite the historical debate. Brunswick County in Virginia and Brunswick, Georgia, both lay claim to the first pot of the famous stew. (I, of course, tend to lean toward the Viginia version.) No matter where it came from, family recipes are passed down and sometimes even the pots in which they bubble. I am now the proud keeper of my grandmothers stew pot. Brunswick Stew is a staple barbecue side in the South, and is often found at football tailgates alongside pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, coleslaw, and potato salad.
Brunswick stew traditionally takes hours upon hours to make. Sometimes, it even takes days. With so many ingredients usually made from scratch, it can be a true labor of love. With this super-fast version, rotisserie chicken, leftover barbecue, and canned veggies take most of the preparation time out of the stew. The recipe makes a big batch, so portion out some for later and freeze for up to 3 months. Use leftover barbecued pork or pick up some at your favorite restaurant.
Each year at the “Taste of Brunswick Festival,” some twenty or so contestants vie for the title of “Brunswick County Stewmaster.”
These men continue a long tradition that dates back to 1828 along the banks of the Nottoway River. There, local historians say, Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the House of Delegates from 1839 to 1841, took a group of his friends on a hunting expedition.
While they were on the hunt, the story goes, camp cook “Uncle Jimmy” Matthews stirred together the first impromptu mixture that has become known as Brunswick Stew. The original thick soup was made from squirrels, onions, and stale bread.
Recipes for the stew have varied over the years. Chicken has replaced the squirrel in more modern cook pots, while vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and butterbeans have been added in varying portions.
The one thing that all cooks or stewmasters agree on is that the stew is not done until the paddle stands up in the middle.
Now we have to admit that among some there is debate about where Brunswick Stew originated. A few say it comes from near Brunswick, Georgia, in 1898. Clearly much later than the Virginia claim.
In January 1988, the Virginia General Assembly attempted to put to rest the debate and issued a proclamation citing Brunswick County, Virginia as “…the place of origin of this astonishing gastronomical miracle.”
The tradition continues. This tasty chicken stew is a top fundraiser for local organizations and is frequently sold out in advance of the contest. It is a proud, and delicious, symbol of what awaits the visitor to Brunswick County. Brunswick County, Virginia, that is!
Official Brunswick Stew Recipe
Makes 10 Quarts

5 1/2 lbs deboned chicken (thighs are better)
6 oz. white meat (fatback) (ground or chopped)
4 lbs white potatoes cut up (french fry size is OK)
2 ½ lbs chopped yellow onions
1 ½ qts crushed tomatoes
2 ½ qts small green butterbeans (limas) drain
1 ½ qts white shoe peg corn drain
1 stick margarine
¼ oz black pepper or You can
¼ oz red pepper season to
1 ½ oz salt your taste
1 ½ oz sugar

Prepare your potatoes and onions ahead of starting the stew so that you can stir continuously. Continuous stirring is necessary for the thick consistency to call it a stew and not a soup.
Put the chicken and white meat in the pot; cover with water; bring to a boil and cook until chicken starts coming apart; add potatoes, onions and ¼ of seasonings; bring back to a boil and cook until potatoes are soft; add tomatoes and ¼ seasonings; bring back to boil and cook 5 minutes; add drained butterbeans and ¼ seasonings; bring back to a boil and cook until butterbeans are soft; add drained corn, margarine and balance of seasonings; cook about 10-15 minutes and then enjoy your stew

Charlottesville Foodways

Charlottesville and its foodways

I am inspired by its history. I am amazed at the
generations of families that have lived here for over a hundred years. I
embrace the local traditions and admire the local’s knowledge. Of course, I’ll
never be a ‘local’ no matter how long I live here and I respect that. I really
love the sense of community, the common goals of promoting our culinary history.
It’s very comforting to me. I am very committed to my small town and I feel small
acts are appreciated. I want to step up to the plate and be a good neighbor/
friend….I strive to be an asset to my wonderful small town. As a chef – food
and its preparation can help with that idea.
But how to go about it?

The advice I like to give young chefs, or really anybody
who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for
amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for
the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are
not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the
process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re
sitting around trying to dream up a great idea about food, you can sit there a
long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will
occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you
reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely
unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea
before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case. Get
started and set a course for yourself.

Perhaps plant a garden. Or visit the farmers market and see
what our neighbors are growing.  Try and
prepare some at home.  Or Dine in one of
many of the wonderful restaurants in town that are actively participating in
our wonderful heratige. The local food movement may be just the ticket to save
food traditions and plant varieties that are on the brink of becoming a museum
piece. As people shift their focus back to their specific region and place,
they rediscover the foods that grow specifically and sometimes exclusively in
that particular area, foods that their predecessors knew well. Recovering food
sources goes hand in hand with recovering food traditions: old methods of
growing foods, recipes, folklore, festivals, and other ways to honor local,
whole food and culture.

Wild Turkey in Virginia

On this wonderful spring day in Charlottesville as I was driving in to l’etoile – I kept thinking how I would love the chance to hunt wild turkey.  I have eaten it many times and consider it some of the best wild game there is.  It actually got me inspired to sit down and jot a few words about this area and this great bird that is not only for Thanksgiving.

Early settlers in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries were
dependent on wild game for meat year round due to inadequate methods of food
preservation. Wild turkey and other game were staple food items for settlers
who explored and developed the Virginia countryside. But with increasing
colonization, wild game was also hunted professionally and sold at markets to
feed the growing human population in larger towns and cities. Wild game meats
were sold in quantities comparable to domestic animals, and at a fraction of
the cost of domestic meats.

Early settlers survived by taming the land with ax and plow.
Forests were cut to make way for agricultural production and lumbering. By the
turn of the 20th Century the landscape of Virginia had changed significantly
from the days when settlers first arrived at Jamestown. The extensive forests
that were havens for wild turkey and other wildlife were gone. Most forests had
been cut for lumber or to developed as agricultural lands for crops or grazing
domestic animals. These changes in habitat conditions, combined with market
hunting, led to the disappearance of wild turkeys from 2/3 of Virginia and they
had become rare in other sections. Populations of wild turkeys in Virginia were
probably at their lowest during the period from 1880 to 1910.

Concern for wild turkey conservation led to the passage of
the “Robin Bill” in Virginia during 1912 which prohibited the sale on
the open markets of wild turkey and several other species of birds. However,
enforcement of the “Robin Bill” and other legislation restricting
hunting methods and bag limits did not come until 1916, with the creation of
the Game Department.

The next milestone in turkey conservation came in 1929 when
the Game Commission began a restocking program using turkeys reared at game
farms. Game farm turkeys could easily be propagated and the Game Commission
raised and released several thousand birds before we realized these birds were
not capable of surviving and reproducing in the wild. In 1936, the Virginia
Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit was established under the direction of C. O.
Handley. Their first priority was to develop a satisfactory propagation method
to re-establish turkey populations. Many modifications of breeding, raising,
and releasing game farm turkeys were attempted from 1936 to 1955. All totaled,
the Commission raised and released over 22,000 game farm turkeys. In the final
analysis however, very little, if any, credit can be given to these efforts at
establishing wild turkey populations in any locality in Virginia.

A new procedure was developed in 1955 whereby native wild
turkeys were trapped and transferred to areas with suitable habitat. This
method proved highly successful and from 1955 to 1993 nearly 900 wild turkeys
were trapped and relocated in Virginia, primarily to the Southwest and
Tidewater regions. Wild turkey populations are now found throughout the

Fall hunting for wild turkeys has been a long-established
tradition in Virginia during the 17th-19th centuries when hunting was not
regulated and during the 20th century when seasons and bag limits were first
enforced. However, spring gobbler hunting is a relatively recent management
program that was initiated in 1962 as an experimental season on some public
lands in western Virginia. The experimental season was quickly adopted as it
was determined that spring hunting was biologically feasible and interest in
spring hunting grew.

Following the success reintroduction of the wild turkey, the
Department turned its emphasis towards research questions about wild turkey
biology and management. The most extensive project was a long-term study to
investigate survival, reproduction, and the impacts of fall hunting on wild
turkeys in western Virginia. This project, entitled “The Wild Turkey
Population Dynamics Research Project” was begun to determine the cause of
low population levels and low growth rates in wild turkey populations in
western Virginia. During the 5-year project biologists captured wild turkeys
and attached radio transmitters to the birds to monitor their movements,
survival, and reproduction. The study was part of a cooperative project with
West Virginia and the combined project resulted in a study of more than 1,000
wild turkey hens, the largest single study ever conducted anywhere in the

By combining efforts with West Virginia, the research
project was able to evaluate the impacts of several different fall hunting
season impacts on survival rates. Four different season structures were
evaluated including, no fall hunting, 4-weeks, 8 weeks and 9-weeks of fall
hunting. Results of the study found no difference in survival rates of turkeys
in the 8 and 9-week season in Virginia. Survival rates in Virginia averaged 48%
in Virginia. Survival was 52% in West Virginia’s counties with a 4-week season
and the area in West Virginia without fall hunting averaged 59% survival.
Natural mortality accounted for 34% of the population losses in the study.
Mammalian predators were responsible for most of the natural mortality. Foxes
and bobcats were the most common predators of adult turkeys. Virginia hunters
averaged taking 16% of the population whereas West Virginia hunters averaged
taking 7%. Illegal mortality was surprisingly high, averaging 21% in both

Significant differences were found in annual survival rates
that appear to be related to the availability of mast crops, namely acorns.
Survival rates were higher during years with good mast crops and were much
lower during years of mast failures. Hens monitored during the study for
reproduction revealed surprisingly low recruitment. Only one-third of the hens
were successful hatching a clutch and about half of those were lost during the
first 4-weeks following hatching. The high reproductive potential the wild
turkey is capable of producing was never achieved during the 5-year study; hens
averaged producing only 1.5 poults.

The study concluded that Virginia’s longer fall season was
adding mortality to the population, which lower survival rates. Low
reproductive rates were not compensating for high mortality. High fall
harvests, associated with mast failures, were resulting in lower densities and
lower growth rates.