05.02.2011

On our recent trip to Venice, we were fortunate to be given tickets (from our friends at Oliva Nera) to this amazing wine consortium, celebrating its 45th year, in Verona.

We were excited at the prospect of spending a day doing nothing but drinking wine! And were totally unprepared for both the magnitude as well as the compelling nature of this event. There were 12 HUGE–I mean, beyond HUGE pavilions, each representing a different Italian region and its’ respective wines, spread out over a massive area. Each pavilion had anywhere from 200-3,000 wineries represented–we were psyched and couldn’t wait to get to the Brunello di Montalcino section!

It takes alot to intimidate me, especially when it comes to wine, but this experience was a whole different ballgame! This was serious, very intense negotiations with wineries, exporters, importers, etc. All we could see was a sea of men in dark suits, engaged in wild Italian conversation, gesturing and drinking wine and (outside the pavilions) smoking cigarettes like crazy! Besides the fact that hardly anyone spoke English AND that we definitely did not appear to be in the ‘business,’ it was an overwhelming experience. We did manage to do some justice to some excellent wines (none of the brunello’s though.)

Another aspect of this event is the Agricultural Divison which did the same for Olive Oil as it did for the wines. Imagine 20,000 different kinds of Olive Oils under 1 roof! Again, this is serious business, and all the oils were sealed and airtight inbetween tastings, so that no oxidation would affect the flavor. I can still feel all the different notes of those oils…

It was a once in a lifetime experience; I was told that there were 146,000 attendees at this 4 day conference, and I was honored to be among them.

04.20.2011

How does one go from a magical vacation in Venice back to the reality of a dreary April in Southeastern Connecticut!?

Hold on to the memories and the flavor!
A few things about this trip to Venice (will go into more detail later)
– Our dear friends Isabella and Dino (and their amazing food) at Osteria Oliva Nera
-Julie- the server at Oliva Nera, with a radiant smile, deftness, speed and perception–would you like to work for ATTC?!
-Eating tons of food and walking it all off–or most of it anyway!
-Negronis–the best
-Watching amazing construction/renovation from boat barges-remember, the roads are canals and the streets are the buildings in Venice
-No cars…yay!
-Works of Giambattista Tiepolo
-A contemporary world that exists within the confines of ancient history
-The delicate stuffed zucchini blossoms at Oliva Nera–absolute heaven on a fork
-Pumping Stations–taking your empty water to your local “P.S.” to fill up with local wines
-Aqua Alta- we never visit Venice in season and have had the luxury of dining in restaurants (wearing our muck boots) sitting in 6” of water
-Proximity to–Alto Adige–another world where Italy and Germany blend flavors
-Seeing my favorite color purple–in everything, on everyone, every shade, everywhere
04.06.2011

I can almost taste Venice right now. We are leaving for a long over due trip back to our friends in Venice. Having missed being back for a few years now, we frequently visited there in the off seasons. (March-April or November, which is prime aqua alta season and we live in our Muck-boots!!)

We can’t wait to see our dear friends Isabella and Dino of Osteria Oliva Nera, in the Castello region of Venice. Their food is pure inspiration–the best of flavors coupled with their warm hospitality, is quite addictive and we can’t wait to get our “fix!!”

Check out their website and eat your heart out!!!
04.04.2011

Our ATTC garden is beginning to wake up from winter

We can see lots of Salad Burnet–an old fashioned herb which has beautiful accordion like leaves that unfold and taste like cucumber. Munching on one always makes me think of summer.

Our lovage is also sprouting. Lovage is a bit like celery but is more anise-like in flavor and has a hollow stem–making it ideal for sipping Bloody Marys! It is one of the secret ingredients in our mixed herb pesto and is great in salads. My mouth is watering for summer right now.

We have lots of varieties of Thyme, Sage, Chives and other alliums, and Japanese parsley. Perhaps my favorite unusual herb is angelica. These rich red or deep green stems are topped with big umbrella like ball of “flowers,” and it self seeds easily. It takes about 2-3 years to flower and can grow up to 8 feet tall in some conditions. You’ve probably seen “candied angelica” (as a flavoring and/or dessert with Italian pastries and fruit cake.) Chef Bill is always finding crazy wats to use this striking element.

I was happy to see that our rosemary plant winterized over perfectly and is flowering up a storm in our greenhouse. And, we are crossing our fingers that our Lemon Verbena trees survive their 7th winter. The leaf of this “tender” perennial tree has very high concentration of oil so it is magical when we need to infuse a lemon flavor.

The Japanese Parsley is now at its 3rd year of rejuvenating–in fact, it may be rejuvenating “too much” as it seems to be everywhere.

Now, if someone would promise me that we won’t have any snow in the next few days, I’d be a happy caterer and gardener!!
03.28.2011

As off-premises caterers who work in field kitchens ie. tents, landing strips, trucks, garages, closets – hardly ever in a real kitchen, we are always concerned about safe food practices. The state of CT requires there be at least one “Serve Safe Certified” staff person at each event and ATTC policy is that in addition to chefs, all managers, must have a full understanding of this information and become certified as well. So instead of Sunday being the proverbial “day of rest” we came to class!

Our own Rachael LaPort, a certified instructor held our own (private) “Serve Save” Certification class for 25 members of our team. She was great making it relevant to catering. Tho I have taken lots of these courses before, I always learn something new. Being a nurse, I thought I was interested in bacteria but Rachael takes it a step further and managed to energize everyone in cockroaches (NOT in North Stonington!) as well as Listeria, Giardiasis, Anisakiasis and the knowing the sweet taste of the bacteria when milk goes sour – she gets into it!!!

A few of the key points we covered: Changing food gloves after each task; the importance of establishing REAL hand washing stations in cooktents; utilizing “time/temp” principals (very important as we transport raw food items from our cookery to the venue for on site cooking); the importance of avoiding cross contamination – and tons more!

I guess my point in telling you all this is that at ATTC take we take our responsibility of preparing and serving food quite seriously. Staff training is a priority with us and over the next few months we will be conducting our “refresher” courses in various subjects for seasoned staff as well as our intensive program for new team members.

Along with you, we all enjoy a great party – but always know your “gut” is our priority!!!
03.25.2011

Who doesn’t love office supplies? Our A Thyme to Cook office definitely does. Just the thought of opening a 4 door/2 drawer cabinet, a closet or our own desk drawers looking for just the note pad, sticky note, pen, pencil, eraser, stapler, tape, staple remover, white out, calculator, highlighter, sharpie, push pin, ruler, and of course our all time favorite… the paper clip. The paper clip is a love hate relationship here in our office. How many of us had a document slide ever so quietly under a paper clip and become attached to a file or proposal it doesn’t any right being involved in? So, last week Linda had a meeting with her good friend and financial advisor and they got on the subject of this very thing. Alex banished paper clips from his office and Linda loved the idea so much she said never is a paper clip to be used again! So the binder clip is now the #1 most used office product at A Thyme to Cook – well besides the bottomless 75 count bottle of Advil…

03.21.2011

They go to Catersource!

Held annually in Vegas, I returned a few weeks ago and am still recovering. Part of my delay recovering is due to flight issues involving Cleveland. No offense to those of you who live there but I do not want to ever connect through Hopkins International Airport Hell again in my lifetime! OK – am done venting… let me tell you about Vegas!

Catersource is an annual gathering of ~6000 caterers from all over the world. This 4 day symposium involves seminars and presentations that range from the latest food trends, hands on culinary experiences, management issues, 24/7 cater-talk and of course a few parties, (or extravaganzas) that are mind blowing! (Try emptying out your swimming pool and have a party in it). As it is held in conjunction with Event Solutions, there is also an entire program of courses dealing with the latest style, event design and execution.

The International Caterers Association provides much of the high-level education at this conference and produces the annual CATIE Award ceremony. Most of you know we were nominated for a CATIE for our Mad Hatter Cake. To be nominated (for these catering Oscars) alone is the thrill of a lifetime as recognition from our peers is such an honor. To date, we have had 15 nominations and two awards (just call me the Susan Lucci of the CATIES!). For me the best part of the conference is the camaraderie, exchange of ideas, sharing and generous support among catering professionals of all kinds. Developing relationships with others who have the same passion for our industry is invaluable and gets our creative juices flowing. I am grateful to be on the ICA board and thankful for this annual dose of inspiration and recognition.

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