by Jonathan Vatner | June 01, 2006

Crusted cod from Aramark’s kitchens

Crusted cod from
Aramark’s kitchens

Picture this: You’re thrilled about the menu you’ve chosen for the closing-night banquet. Then, when it comes time for all 500 people to eat their sole, the fish is rubbery, the beurre blanc has separated and the broccoli is mush. Sound familiar?

“There is a huge difference between a tasting and an event for 2,000,” says Bennett Fass, director of culinary standards for Philadelphia-based Aramark Convention Centers & Cultural Attractions. Herein, Fass serves up some ways to improve the odds that the meal will measure up.

* Ask the chef to attend the tasting. If the chef looks doubtful about a menu request, don’t push it.

* Ask how far the food has to travel from kitchen to ballroom, and how long it will sit in the banquet cart. If the food will be sitting for 45 minutes before being served, let it sit that long before tasting it.

* The thicker the cut, the longer it can sit and retain its consistency. Good choices are filet mignon and veal chop, as well as firm white fishes, such as sea bass, halibut and grouper.

* Avoid duos (i.e., beef and fish), as smaller cuts are easy to overcook. Or pick a dish that tastes better the more it’s cooked, such as braised chicken thighs, brisket, coq au vin, beef bourguignon, short ribs or veal cheeks.

* Use a sturdy sauce, like demi-glace, a cream sauce or a red sauce. Avoid hoity-toity French sauces like beurre blanc and egg-based hollandaise. “You’ll end up with scrambled eggs,” warns Fass.

* Serve a cold entree for lunch. A composed salad with cold chicken or salmon usually works well.