Catering hacks—we all have them. If you work in this industry, then you’re well aware of the challenges, unavoidable elements, and time constraints many of us face when we're working events. This is exactly why we come up with ways and mantras that help us keep a fresh, positive perspective, not to mention make our lives a little easier when we’re in a jam. This month, we reached out to our members and asked them about their top catering hacks. Here’s what they had to say:
“When you are at an offsite event, in a field, hours away from the shop, you’re basically on your own desert island,” says Adam Gooch, corporate executive chef of Common Plea Catering. “This is where my get-it-done attitude has always shined. I learned very early from my father, who was a field mechanic, you have to work around problems that arise and figure it out with what you have.”
Another of Gooch’s catering hacks is to carry a toolbox with handy items he might need in a bind.
He always makes sure he has everything on hand to repair the equipment he works with when he’s on the road: This is everything from flashlights to zip ties and ponchos. He once made a mini taco holder out of an aluminum pan lid.
“This hack has become our standard, as we ship our mini taco shells in alum pans and then use the lid to assemble,” he says.
Here are a few other items you might find in Gooch’s magic toolbox:
• A hammer in case he needs to beat table leg extensions into the ground, which is especially important when setting up in a grassy field.
• Plywood sheets to help make a solid path for carts being transported from a truck to a tent.
• A butane torch in case a chef needs to light a difficult fryer.
• Rubber boots for event planners—because you never know what kind of surface you’ll be working on.
• A hand blender for quick sauce, vinaigrette, and soup enhancement.
• Xanthan gum is a great fix for broken sauces and dressings.
• Containers of salt, pepper, and cornstarch to stretch, fix, and adjust recipes as needed.
“Everyone needs to focus on the big picture and not the hacks,” Gooch says. “Hacks are there to help when uncontrollable things, like a rainstorm, happen. Taco holders happened because someone didn’t follow their standard operating procedure.”
Renee Miner, president of Empyrean Events and Catering, says liquid nitrogen is one of her go-to hacks at events.
“We bring one of our tanks to most of our off-premise events, especially if it’s outdoors during the summer,” she explains. “It has been a saving tool for butter quenelles that melt in hot tents, table-placed charcuterie boards that needed to be kept from spoiling in 100-degree weather, and once to save a cake that was falling apart under the hot sun. When you are off-premise and have little or zero cooling space, a tank of nitrogen will help keep your production on pace and product top-quality.”
What do you keep in your toolbox during an event bind? Pssst: your catering hack might just save another caterer a boatload of headaches and trouble.
Common Plea Catering and Empyrean Events and Catering are proud members of the ICA. For more information, visit internationalcaterers.org.