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Cooking for a Crowd

I have a simple wish–when a guest is about to go to an event, they say to their friends “And the food will be from Chef Joanne Purnell from Good Gracious Events!” They know this because the invitation says it, because that’s how much of a FOMO draw the chef is. 

Does it sound crazy? Why shouldn’t catering and banquet chefs be as lauded as restaurant chefs? Why is it that cooking for a crowd gets little or no attention unless it’s a restaurant chef doing it? I believe that what we do every week year-in-and year-out is as impressive as working in a restaurant kitchen. Not to mention exciting–our food must come out of a (usually) makeshift kitchen plated perfectly, hot, and served to the entire room within minutes. No leisurely three-hour dinner here! 

This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate and love restaurants and their chefs! Far from it. I’ve had the experience of working in a restaurant environment for years before starting Good Gracious! Events and know the dynamics of how to produce food for 150 in an evening. And I realize that often the guests were there mainly because the chef had gained the reputation of being a star and serving innovative delicious food.

And yet, at Good Gracious, we have prepared innovative, delicious food for large crowds that range up to thousands. The difference is in the behind-the-scenes logistics, timing and menu planning, not the food itself which is always top notch. One might even say “restaurant quality.” 

Getting over the stigma 

I am not immune to the fact that there is a sigma about “banquet” catering. People have been taught to lower their expectations when it comes to having dinner at any large event. And there are so many jokes about meetings and weddings with “rubber chicken.” It does us all a great disservice. In my humble opinion, we have dropped the ball by not trying hard enough. Maybe it’s institution-think (hard to break out of what “we’ve always done”) or maybe it’s all about the bottom line, or could it be generational? Whatever it is, unimaginative or mediocre food coming out of beautiful kitchens in country clubs or hotels doesn’t make any sense. I do not want to be disrespectful but if you disagree then let me know because it would give me so much pleasure to hear you say, “Pauline you are wrong!”

It's been my life’s work to aggressively change the attitude towards cooking for a crowd. Good Gracious and many other off-premise caterers have become known for bringing great food to the table that would match any high-end restaurant. I have tried to bring it to the attention of mainstream media, I’ve written books and articles, and still I have not discerned any change except for when it’s a restaurant chef doing the catering. Part of the reason is that the media likes to do stories on places where people can go, but I believe with social media we can now begin to tell our own stories.   

The art of cooking for a crowd is different and I want to give a shout out to all those off-premise caterers who bring excellence to the world of cooking for a crowd through creativity, presentation, taste, and innovation. It is the talented chefs that truly keep the integrity of producing deliciously great food for a crowd that makes them all stars!

I’ve now shared my wish. How can we make it a reality? Who will be the first catering chef star recognized by the world? I look forward to talking with my community, with associations, and with the catering magazines about this. How can we bring my simple wish to life? To hear a guest say: “This is going to be good! I understand [insert your company name here] is the caterer and they have that fabulous chef.” That would be music to my ears, and I’ll bet my fellow caterers would love to hear it as well! Who is with me to make it happen? 


Pauline Parry

Founder, Good Gracious! Events

Pauline Parry is founder of Good Gracious! Events in Los Angeles, on of the country’s premier catering firms. She is author of “Food, Fun, Love: Party Styles” and just published her memoir/cookbook, “My Culinary Love Story.” The fabulous chef at Good Gracious she mentions is Chef Joanne Purnell!