Robert Valencia, Executive Pastry Chef of Great Performances, shares his catering techniques, tips and hit recipes.
As we approach a new season, I am focused on menu development. Fresh, seasonal ingredients inspire me to create new dishes; at Great Performances, we are committed to bringing the best of the season to the table. Our Director of Sustainability has prepared a chart for us to guide seasonal menu planning.
I share my thoughts with Executive Chef Matthew Riznyk, and learn about his savory dishes in the process. We work collaboratively to present an innovative set of new dishes to our sales team and clients.
As events pop up, I work with our Event Directors to propose desserts that are a fit for the event. We consider the client’s vision and logistical details, such as:
- When and where will the event occur?
- What is the guest count?
- What is the guest profile? For example, how many children are in attendance? What allergies do guests have?
- How much back-of-house space do we have access to at the venue? We think about how many steps are required to compose a dish.
- What is the budget? For a more time-intensive dish, we recruit more kitchen assistants.
- What is the event timeline?
- Will we be able to cook at the party? For example, I would be able to serve traditional chocolate soufflés at an intimate event in someone’s home, but it would be difficult to serve this dish at a large event that does not have room in the budget for extra equipment and staff. In our world of off-premise catering, many dishes are cooked almost to completion in our Great Performances kitchen and then finished onsite.
Armed with the above notes and the client’s vision, we put forth several ideas in a proposal for the client and then listen to his or her feedback. Great Performances is able to accommodate all kinds of requests, such as the use of alternative sweeteners like honey and agave, and gluten free and/or vegan desserts. Some unique menu items in our repertoire include:
- Dragon’s Breath Popcorn
- Lemon Meringue Cake Pops
- Fill-Your-Own-Cream-Puff station
- Sweet Potato Crunch Bar with Ginger Crème Anglaise and Honey Tuile
- Vellies (yellow pepper/melon, tomato/watermelon, beet root/rhubarb, green apple/cucumber)
I work together with our Director of Sustainability to source local ingredients for the pastry department. For example, one of our staples is heirloom flour from upstate NY.
Great Performances has trademarked the 100 Mile Menu—a menu in which we source all ingredients within a 100-mile radius. I like to make trips to our nearby farmers’ market to acquire the freshest ingredients of the day. Additionally, GP owns Katchkie Farm, a 60-acre organic farm in Kinderhook, NY. The beauty of the Farm truly inspires me!
Preparing pastries for off-premise catering is all about proper insulation and wrapping. We wrap our trays in bubble wrap to prevent damage, and then move the trays to one of our walk-in refrigerators before they are loaded onto the truck headed to the event site.
Due to the high volume of food production for our events and cafes, we do not have space in our Hudson Square kitchen to store food days in advance; thus, we make our items in the quantity needed for each event.
Great Performances owns refrigerated trucks, which are essential for maintaining taste and quality of our food en route to an event. We use blocks of dry ice to keep food cold, since it is not consumed immediately upon the truck’s arrival.
Presentation is critical to desserts. During the menu development process each season, we work with our design department to pair a specific plate with each item.
Our kitchen administration team prepares build sheets for our sales team and party chefs. Build sheets include photos of the item, a list of all ingredients and equipment, and other specific instructions including a timeline. For example, some desserts need to be heated up just after the entrée is served, and others are room temperature and can be plated at any time. Build sheets change frequently as our chefs gain more experience in preparing each item for parties of all scales and in different venues.
- For larger parties, we propose three-step dishes so that our chefs can serve guests quickly.
- For smaller parties, we are able to serve dishes that are composed in five steps.
Great Performances executes thousands of events every year and as a result, we have relationships with many knowledgeable and experienced pastry chefs. We will call on these chefs for events when the dessert served needs to be supervised by someone with a pastry background.
Find 'Catering Tips & Techniques' recipes in the DessertProfessional.com Recipe section or click the links below.