By: Allison Vencel
When catering a wedding, filled with military members, their spouses, full-blown Colonels and extended family members, it may be wise to try a few, smaller events first. Here is the story of my very first catering job.
As a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 21-year old, one of my good friends, “Sheila” (names have been changed to protect the highly embarrassed), was getting married! A joyous occasion, to be sure, but we had a problem. Most of the seasoned party-givers and expert cooks in her family were simply not going to be able to fly to England to witness or help with the blessed event.
Pixie to the rescue! Yeah, right. Filled with the kind of eager confidence that only total ignorance can bring, I volunteered to cater the entire event…by myself…to include the wedding cake. Ok, before I decide exactly how many things are wrong with this decision, how many ways there were to fail…I remember that back then, in my own young mind, failure was simply not an option! Don’t you wish that this kind of confidence would just stay with you, forever?
I pressed on, oblivious to what would most certainly be doom and destruction, and planned the canapés. Shrimp cocktail, fancy little salads on Melba toast rounds, the usual fruit and vegetable trays, and some hot entrees. A giant batch of lasagna, the ubiquitous tiny sausages wrapped in crescent-shaped rolls, served with barbecue sauce, an altogether an interesting and eclectic menu. Or so I thought at the time.
Then, there was THE CAKE. It has to be in all capital letters, because, let me tell you…this was THE CAKE to end all cakes. It graced the cover of a pretty well-known national gourmet publication; it was three tiers tall, with the two upper tiers being supported by tiny liqueur glasses. It was frosted to elegant perfection, with small, lavender flowers, and green vine-like tendrils between them. I, in my ultimate wisdom, decided that I MUST make, THE CAKE.
Now, if you must know, I am a recipe follower for the most part. I measure accurately, follow obediently, and did not indulge in more seat-of-the-pants chefdom until recent years. Each time I made the cake batter, which involved separating 12 eggs, and of course careful mixing and measuring, I poured it into the three, expensive cake pans, and slid them into the oven.
Three times this happened. Three times the cakes turned out watery, un-baked tins of liquid cake batter. And the wedding was tomorrow. Now, like a deer in the headlights, faced with making the filling and frosting from scratch, carefully balancing the tiers on the tiny glasses, and refrigerating overnight…I began to panic. My panic was absolutely nothing compared to the look in the bride’s eyes, however. My hubris evaporated faster than a puddle in the desert, and I tore off to the Commissary, returning with boxes and boxes of a certain brown-haired-lady’s yellow cake mix.
A group sigh of relief soon followed, when the cakes were baked and cooled. I finished the prep work on the rest of the appetizers and hot foods, and sank into bed, beyond exhausted. The next day was coming, and quickly!
The wedding day dawned bright and beautiful, and although I could not attend the ceremony, I was with the couple in spirit, not to mention dashing about their kitchen like a crazy person, completing and setting up the buffet line of my proud first catering job.
The bride and groom showed up to the house a few minutes before the rest of the attendees, and the moment of truth was upon me. With the help of the bride, we gingerly placed the tiers of the cake in place, and carried it to the table. It was a vision! It could have easily taken the place of the cake on the cover of that famous fancy magazine! As we placed it on the table, I looked up at “Sheila” at that moment, and said; “Well, we did it, Congratulations!” At that precise moment…..the very top tier fell off, and hit the table with a devastating, dull “plop” that to me resembled the very sound that my head was going to make, when the bride and her new husband dispatched their caterer. My life as I knew it was over.
The eyes of the bride and groom grew large, and the first guests were walking into the door. I had to think fast. The groom and I carefully whisked the decapitated cake back to the kitchen, and I threw the frosting into the freezer – whatever repair I was going to make had to hold up for the reception! Ten minutes later, when the guests were mingling, with the frosting nice and cold, I frosted over the dented top tier, re-decorated with tiny lavender edible candy flowers, and with great ceremony, carried it out to the reception table, to loud applause. You can imagine the blushing…if they only knew!
Luckily for me, there were no further disasters, the cake was eaten and enjoyed…the disguised and repaired top tier was frozen, it’s super-frosted self to be enjoyed (read: sugar coma) on the couple’s anniversary, and I was pop-eyed, but relieved.
I never bought that particular publication…ever, again. Eat well, my friends.