It's 7:30AM. Todd Stovetop has been up for three hours forming small balls of pastry dough into a platter of bacon cream puffs. This recipe is a new take on a classic. He concocted it during one particularly slow day in culinary school. He never thought it'd cause him to be up before sunrise, of course.
His sous chef Sue walks into the kitchen to begin her day. "Yum, bacon," she says. Sue usually isn't this profound. She must be a morning person.
Todd walks over to his computer to look over the account for the wedding job. For this event, the bride wants a Brazil in the Summer-themed wedding. The menu she chose will cost about sixty dollars a head for food and another forty on top for drinks.
Keeping a spreadsheet of everything in their food inventory prevents them from buying too much or too little of any item. When Todd was first starting out, he overbought for a large corporate event. He ordered fifteen cans of Beluga caviar when one would have been just fine, and ended up digging into his own pocket to pay his staff. For some reason, none of them would accept caviar as payment (go figure).
It was a disaster that could have been avoided with business sense and organization. That's why Todd wakes up and gets to his kitchen so early—the better prepared he is, the fewer things can go wrong.
Todd works on his puffs for another hour before heading out at 8:00AM to the local goat farm where he buys his cheese. Sallie, the owner of Goats 'R' Us, is waiting outside. After six years and hundreds of pounds of goat cheese, they know each other well.
"I know it's beet season when I see your catering van rolling down my driveway," Sallie says.
"Oh, Sallie, you know my clients can't get enough beet salad with goat cheese," replies Todd. "'Nothing beets your salad' is what they say." Sallie smiles, but she doesn't laugh. He's used that same joke for six years and it gets less funny every year.
Todd stops by his favorite produce stand, farmer's market, and flower shop on his way back to the kitchen, arriving around 10:00AM. For the Brazilian-themed wedding, Todd prepares codfish croquettes, fried yucca, and snapper sautéed in coconut milk.
Though his background is in French cuisine, Todd has had to adapt his culinary style to match the needs of his clients—including decorating the platters with Brazilian corsage orchids. They're paying him to be flexible and detailed, and he's more than happy to oblige.
He notices Sue adding too much vanilla bean to the sauce for the mango chicken. "We want tropical, not terrible," he says in his best Gordon Ramsay impersonation while taking the mixing bowl away.
Sue rolls her eyes and takes it right back. She's got dozens of mouths to feed and she doesn't have time for any of that nonsense.
Lunchtime rolls around and Todd grabs a protein shake from the fridge. Even though he's surrounded by food all day, he only eats little meals. That's because he's usually full from tasting dozens of dishes but not having time to really sit and enjoy them. How ironic.
Sue loads up the van with chafing dishes—food pans to keep entrees hot—tables, beverage bins, little bits and pieces, and the portable oven. For the most part, everything else is loaded. As often as he can, Todd loads up the van hours before a large catering event.
It's all about being prepared—it gives him enough time to figure out if he's missing anything and to add any last minute items to the truck. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if he forgot the cocktail sauce, but it wouldn't be a fun chat with the wedding coordinator either.
Sue and Todd drive over to the client's beach house, arriving at 1:00PM. The reception is being held outside at their expansive beachside estate. Todd greets Erin and Tom, his two on-call servers for the event, already dressed in their black vests and bowties.
In addition to the food, Todd provides servers and bartenders as part of service. He used to try serving the food while also cooking it, but he found it hard to flip frittatas with one hand and pour drinks with the other.
While the servers set up the reception area, Todd and Sue head to the client's kitchen and begin prepping—heating the food, arranging his appetizers onto trays, and placing the brightly colored flowers in the middle of each tray to give it an extra touch of Brazil. Sue compliments him on the idea; he thanks her, not feeling the need to mention it was his girlfriend who came up with it. She's a big Pinterest fan.
The afternoon is a whirlwind of activity. Todd quickly prepares food, sets up trays for servers, and delegates tasks to Sue. He steps out of the kitchen to talk to the wedding planner to go over important party-related information like changes in guest count and how soon the newly married couple will arrive.
Big surprise—the ceremony is running overtime (they always do). Apparently Uncle Jack decided to sing a seventeen-minute hymn. Finally, at 4:25PM, the stretch Humvees full of party-goers roll up to the house. It's go time.
Cleanup comes around 10:35PM. Todd and company walk out of the house and make the trek back to where the workers' cars are located. He says thank you to his servers, hands out their cash tips (it was a good party) and bids them farewell.
Todd's work day isn't over, however. He and Sue make the long trek back to the kitchen for the final leg of this eighteen-hour journey. Once the van is unloaded and the dishes have been washed and put away, Todd and Sue can finally lock up.
She heads out with a "see you tomorrow, boss," and he's left standing alone. The parking lot is dark and empty—much like it was when he first arrived at 4:30AM. Sometimes he can't even believe it's still the same day.
He looks forward to going home and throwing some leftover bacon pastry puffs in the microwave. He's picky about the food he serves, but that usually means he'll enjoy whatever he's prepared. The best part is all the work is already done, he just has to press a button. And at 11:45PM, that's all the effort he feels like putting in.