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Keeping it Real

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"We want all the hors d'oeuvres to be white and all the desserts to be pink," said the bride-to-be, a Korean-American woman in a tailored designer dress sitting next to her bearded hipster fiancé.

"But then we need dinner stations of any color, so long as there's Italian food," he chimed in.

"And authentic Korean," she added.

"So we're looking at whitefish ceviche on daikon, white bean soup, crab salad, white cheddar mac and cheese croquettes, followed by a pasta table and Korean barbecue, then winding up with pink macaroons, pink mini donuts and pink grapefruit tarts," I announce.

Just another day in the life of a New York anti-caterer. It wasn't always like this.

In the '80s, my company had a rather '80s name: Parties by Rossi. It was the era of those names ... Body by Jake, Cars by So-and-so.

The problem was that "Parties by Rossi" sounded like an Italian deli that catered or a stodgy mainstream business. The calls I got were, "Can you send cold cuts to our Super Bowl party?" or "Can you make tea sandwiches for a ladies' luncheon?"

Between calls for meatball subs and chicken cordon bleu, I wrote cooking columns. One day, I was finishing a column called "The Raging Flying Skillet" and looked up at the title.

"The Raging Skillet!" I swear I heard a trumpet blast.

Since the name change, I could make a performance piece out of the inquiries I get.

"I'm from Jamaica; my fiancée is Jewish. Can you help us?" Jerk chicken on latkes, here I come!

"We want all our food served from a bathtub!" That took some thinking, but a clawfoot filled with ice made a very nice raw bar.

"We need an '80s theme!" Chex mix at the bar, a signature Fresca and vodka drink dubbed the Krystle Carrington, and a lot of sushi. (What could be more '80s?) That party was a blast, but for the pesky knowledge that when I got into the biz, it was the '80s!

And yet the skillet keeps raging.

For a Buffalo bride, I created Buffalo chicken ice cream cones with blue cheese icing. For The Vagina Monologues, I created a VIP afterparty where all the hors d'oeuvres were, shall we say, anatomically correct. Honey, you can't believe what you can do with a sundried pear.

But it's not all sunshine and rosewater. For a Halloween-theme wedding, I made the mistake of agreeing to serve soup in hollowed-out pumpkins. How hard could it be?

Hollowing out 150 pumpkins required an army. I should have found a grade school and paid kids by the pumpkin. Instead, my chefs spent three days in pumpkin hell. I still can't eat pumpkin pie.

At least it's never boring.

I remember how painful it was working in restaurants, creating the same dishes night after night. The first thing I did when I opened was to make an all-menus-are-written-to-order rule. No catering packages. Usually it's great, but it can lead to "the endless epiphany."

"We want a family-style dinner featuring Middle Eastern food." Sample Menu A: salmon charmoulla, saffron couscous and vegetable tagine.

"Actually, we want an all-American buffet." Sample Menu B: barbecued brisket, mac and cheese and tri-color coleslaw with cornbread.

"We want to go Asian." Sample Menu C: chicken in tamari glaze, vegetable pad thai and stir-fry vegetables.

"Now that we think about it, we want to go with a cocktail party."

One bride made it to W! Turned out she wanted her wedding night to be special, so a few months before the wedding, she STOPPED HAVING SEX WITH HIM! I called her and asked on behalf of myself, and the staff, and her friends, if she would consider immediately having sex with her fiancé. He called the next day to thank me, and to approve the menu.

I supposed the biggest problem I have is that lately, everyone else is getting edgy, too. It used to be a cocktail party wedding was downright shocking. Clients would look at me as though I were the Johnny Rotten of catering. Now everyone is doing cocktail party weddings!

I did my first floating supper 20 years ago for a dinner I was catering for 700 music industry folks in a venue that seated 500. Why not take all the dishes and pass them in small portions? It was a radical sensation. Now when I suggest floating suppers, I hear, "Oh yes, those." But after the antics of Marilyn Manson, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, I suppose Johnny Rotten gets a yawn, too.

What's worse is that I have inadvertently become trendy. It's not as though I meant to, but I cook menus around clients' wish lists. For a few years running, those wish lists have included kale, bacon, and a lot of whiskey.

"Wow, very current," a pal of mine said over dinner, knowing "trendy" might cause me to yak up my halibut.

I try to comfort myself by keeping the F in food for FUN.

I love to elevate the lowbrow. Like miniature homemade PB and J Pop-Tarts on elegant silver platters with orchids. Yes, I know; Pop-Tarts are "current." Shut up!

If we have to serve bacon, we dip it in chocolate, and to that endless parade of kale dishes, my answer is kale kimchi.

I also love to bastardize loftier foods. I relegate truffles to truffle-scented mac and cheese balls. Caviar lives on latkes with sour cream and shots of Doctor Brown's celery soda.

So yes, I suppose I am no longer the only wacka-doo caterer in town. But I think of myself like a pair of Levi's; even if faded, even if surrounded by other Levi's, I'm still the only one with the "Sex Pistols" patch on the back pocket. I think.

Twenty-six years later, I'm still rocking and raging. So shut up and eat some "current" soft-pretzel sandwiches. I'm filling them with pastrami, Bavarian mustard and sauerkraut. Take that, Gaga!

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