Buying Food and Supplies

It's possible that these wedding catering posts--at least the one today and tomorrow--may not be of much interest for many of you, but I'd like to get all these resources and tips in one place, for my own reference, and for anyone who might be looking for ideas to embark on such an adventure of their own. So bear with me, eh?

In planning the wedding catering last month, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to prepare everything, and how to keep the hot foods hot and the cool foods cool.  We ended up renting two warm pan carriers from a local rental place, which each fit five full-size catering pans. We bought the full shallow catering pans (8), along with chafing fuel (8), full deep steam pans (4), and steam table catering racks (4) from this somewhat overwhelming site. You can see the whole chafing dish set-up in the far left of the second photo below, complete with tomatillo-sauced enchiladas.  The warm pan carriers and chafing dishes were remarkably effective, keeping the enchiladas piping hot throughout the whole night. Success!

Other kinds of dishes and supplies that we found indispensable were foil pans of the full-size and half-size varieties (seen in the third photo below), and lots of large bowls, cutting boards, knives, and a food processor as seen in the middle photo below. That food processor was golden when it came to pureeing tomatillos for the enchilada sauce, pureeing cilantro and other ingredients for the cilantro rice, grating 14 pounds of Cedar Grove Monterey Jack for the enchiladas, pureeing walnuts and raspberries for the salad vinaigrette, and grating 16 carrots for the salad (and we actually borrowed a second food processor from friends, so we had two to work with). Review the whole menu here.

Other borrowed items that were unexpectedly crucial were large pots (seen reducing tomatillo sauce below, and which were also used for cooking Mexican rice); a huge cookie sheet (seen holding bread for bruschetta below, but which was also used for spreading beans out for cooling, spreading rice out for cooling, and filling deviled eggs); and a huge plastic tupperware container, which was used for everything from holding pureed tomatillo sauce to mixing Mexican rice with cilantro dressing, from mixing swiss chard with sauteed onions and shredded cheese for the enchilada filling to mixing various greens for  the green salad.

Lots of the above dishes, along with many large salad bowls and platters and serving spoons, were borrowed from friends, borrowed from my departmental kitchen, and purchased used from my favorite local thrift store.

In addition to acquiring all the appropriate dishes and supplies, I also had to buy all the raw ingredients that became deviled eggs, white bean bruschetta, caprese skewers, green salad, black bean and corn salad, cilantro rice salad, and swiss chard enchiladas with tomatillo sauce.

After finding all of the recipes we were going to use, I tried to scale each one up to feed about 90 people, and then compiled a shopping list based on those recipes. I divided the shopping list into four categories, based on where I wanted to buy the ingredients: the Willy Street Co-op (our local sustainable and ethical source for food) for dairy eggs, and bulk products; Woodman's (our local big box grocery store) for many of the vegetables and all the packaged food (to keep costs down, since the Co-op can be expensive); a local Mexican grocery for the tomatillos, jalapenos, and corn tortillas; and the Saturday farmer's market (the nation's largest producer-only market!) for asparagus and salad greens.

On these lists were items like 8 dozen eggs, 46 bunches swiss chard, 14 lbs Monterey Jack, 180 balls of fresh mozzarella, 15 cups dried beans, 20 cups rice, 13 heads of garlic, 33 lbs tomatillos (~230), 280 corn tortillas, 16 lbs of greens, 12 lbs asparagus, and so on. A lot of food!

I ended up paring down my shopping trips a little bit because this awful rainy cold weather of ours delayed the first real harvest so that asparagus and greens weren't really available at the market yet (if only the wedding had been a week later!), and I ended up getting organic, non-local asparagus at the co-op, and greens from Woodman's. And although I called around to a few local Mexican groceries, none of them had enough tomatillos to fulfill my needs, so I got all the Mexican ingredients at Woodman's instead.  I got to know the Woodman's produce manager pretty darn well, after he weighed out 25 lbs of tomatillos and 30 lbs of swiss chard for me. And the cashiers at all these places were also excited to hear about my wedding catering plans, and wished me well...

In retrospect, I got more food than I needed on almost all counts, but especially on the salad and salad dressing ingredient fronts--those things really don't scale up as you'd imagine they might!  We had enough salad and dressing to feed at least 500 people, I'd guess. Seriously.

I'm sure I've left lots out, but hopefully this begins the story of how to equip yourself with the appropriate tools to make a big meal like this happen. Questions?