Oh my. What day is it? We have just recovered – I think – from one of the most busy, challenging, and ultimately rewarding commissions of our chef careers. Picture the scene. 350 Italians gathered, expectant…and, most importantly, hungry. Now that would be daunting enough, but these were not only Italians, but Sicilians. Hungry Sicilians. And what they were waiting for was our food.
The gathering was to celebrate the Festa di San Giuseppe, which originally began in Sicily but is now recognised across most of Italy. And beyond: this particular celebration was in Hoddesdon. We had been invited to prepare and serve a buffet menu for the occasion, in aid of the Breast Cancer unit at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow. Alongside running our online deli and finding great producers in Italy, this is what we do. Feed people, sometimes on a big scale.
I love the days in the kitchen when we’re preparing for events like this. Long days and hard work, but oddly satisfying as gradually the seemingly insurmountable mountain of gorgeous ingredients moves through the kitchen and becomes delicious things to eat: prepped, cooked, cooled, chilled. Bubbling pots of ragu for the lasagne; a thousand meatballs fried off; hundreds of chicken breasts baked and waiting for their olive, rosemary and caper dressing; tomatoes, fennel and carrots chopped and shredded; aubergines and peppers roasted and smelling sweet; and crisply roasted new potatoes redolent with garlic and rosemary: all awaiting their moment to burst upon the unsuspecting Sicilians.
It all went swimmingly. Noisy, convivial, bustling, fun. There was a huge amount of food – on top of the generous menu we provided, most of the guests had made something as an offering to San Giuseppe, which everyone tucked into at the end. One of the very great things about catering for Italians is that you know instantly whether they are enjoying the food. And this was one of the few occasions when I’ve seen Italians managing to form a queue!
Would we do it again? In a flash. But give us a few days to get over this one first…