Dine: Nibbles Needed

Try though they might, wedding parties cannot subsist on cake and champagne alone – and we don’t recommend it in any case.

Toulouse Gourmet

Parties need food – especially in New Orleans, the rumbling tummy of America. And don’t even think about skimping on the grub when you have two families’ worth of people – including children and infants – running around getting hungrier and crankier by the second. Eventually, you’re going to have to feed the troops. Here are a few options from around town for chowing down after you’ve exchanged your vows.

Palate Catering (864-2990, PalateNewOrleans.com), which has been in operation since 2004, specializes in creative reproductions of New Orleans’ culinary staples, although they can cater all sorts of cuisine besides. “I’m fluent in everything from Asian to regional American cuisines,” says owner Glenn Vatshell, “but clients tend to like local cuisine … we’ll do things like jambalaya risotto cakes.” Vatshell has been dishing up fine dining for nearly three decades, having come up through Polo Restaurant (in New York City) and apprenticed under such chefs as Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller. He later served as executive chef at various high-end restaurants, hotels and catering services in New York and San Francisco.

Vatshell generally leaves liquor packages to the devices of the wedding party, but Palate can craft specialty cocktails for weddings.

Palate offers a wide spectrum of place settings as well. “It varies depending on the bride; we do everything,” says Vatshell. “We can have very high-end disposables, for some events we have [utensils and decorations] that are Japanese-inspired, some that are “green” products, all the way to fine china and crystal.”

While Vatshell trains his staff to perform any sort of service, he has found that “the majority of New Orleans weddings are passed hors d’oeuvres and grazing buffets … that’s generally what we see.”

Palate can cater for up to 1,600 people and has gone as far as Pass Christian, Miss., for events, but generally stays closer to home. And as for advance notice, “We can do it overnight if we have to,” says Vatshell, but “it depends on the client. We’re getting bookings now for weddings a year in advance.”

Mr. Mudbug Catering (465-9770, MrMudbug.com) also rocks out with Cajun- and Creole-influenced cuisine, with other dining styles available on request.

According to B.J. Lore, Mudbug’s director of catering operations, the company offers a broad range of dishware, linens, flatware and accessories, and has several bar packages available as well.

Although Mudbug specializes in seafood boils (they’re named Mudbug, remember) and cocktail parties, they can cater to any special requests or menu options.

“Weddings, cocktail events and corporate parties are usually six months out,” Lore says in terms of time frames for events, but he adds that he can whip something together “anywhere from two weeks out to as little as two days. We are very flexible and can create parties in short notice.”

Owners Michael and Alicia Maenza are celebrating Mudbug’s silver anniversary this year (they opened in 1986). According to Lore, Mudbug can go (and cater) anywhere. “We are a mobile catering company,” he says; “one of our main slogans is ‘we go where you go.’” They have done events all around the country, and even in Canada, for parties as large as 5,000.

Continuing the adherence to the principles of Louisiana Cuisine, K-Paul’s Catering Expedition (812-2628, ChefPaul.com/catering) specializes in on-site cooking (at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen) as well as “fresh ingredients” and “blackened items,” according to sales and production director Marty Cosgrove.

Under the direction of owner Paul Prudhomme (yes, that one) and executive chef Paul Miller (who, like Prudhomme, is an Opelousas native; the Pauls hooked up in Atlanta in the 1970s), the company has been catering for over 30 years, and is willing to cater “anywhere on the planet,” according to Cosgrove.

K-Paul’s offers everything from “full service with china, glassware and flatware” down to “high-end acrylic disposables,” says Cosgrove, and features “full bar packages along with beer and wine packages.” They also feature all types of service, from seated dinners to cocktail receptions and everything in between. To go off-site (away from the restaurant), K-Paul’s requires a minimum of 75 diners, but can cater for up to 4,500 people.

Toulouse Gourmet (488-4466, ToulouseGourmet.com) diverges from the Louisiana-centeric menus of other catering companies and doesn’t cleave to one particular cuisine. “We do international, American, new American,” says executive chef and general manager Russ Spezial.

Toulouse features an assortment of setting options, from high-end plastic to different types of china, and offers different bar packages as well. “We can do a martini bar, a martini luge, a mohito station, bring-your-own,” says Spezial. They’re also flexible in terms of style of service, offering everything from buffet-style dining all the way up to butler service.

Toulouse is a slightly younger company (they opened in 2006) and is run by Spezial, sales manager Kellie Levy and kitchen manager Ben Miller. According to Spezial, the company does “social catering, stadium concessions and school lunch programs” and, as with their versatility with cuisine, don’t limit themselves to one or another style of event. As for client bases, “we’re geared more towards the gourmand,” says Spezial. Toulouse has no minimum party size and can cater parties of up to 2,000 people, and usually works with at least a couple of weeks’ notice, although, Spezial says, “we have some clients that call us the day before.”

Coming back around to local cuisine, Kettle Catering (733-8835, KettleCatering.net) offers “a wide range, from French-Cajun-Creole to American barbecue,” says executive chef Pierre Hilzim. The catering menu features over 300 items from pizzas to carving stations, and even a signature dish – Crawfish Monica, named for Hilzim’s wife – that has been enjoyed by presidents, popes and Jazz Fest patrons alike (Kajun Kettle, of which Kettle Catering is a division, is a perennial Fest vendor).

Like Glenn Vatshell, Hilzim worked his way up through restaurants in San Francisco, but not before putting himself through college by cooking here in town – and before that, he would tag along with his father, the former executive director of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, who would take the young Hilzim along on business visits to kitchens across the state.

Kettle rocks the liquid refreshments as well, offering everything from “basic bar setups – beer and wine – to full bars to premium cocktail stations.” As with the other caterers, they offer a full spectrum of place settings, from disposable dishware to fine china.

Since Kettle operates out of the Kajun Kettle factory, they can cook for tens of thousands of people at a time. “We do a lot of disaster feeding because we have a lot of horsepower,” says Hilzim; “we’ve done up to 30,000 people in one week.” For a party that nudges five figures’ worth of attendees, he says that Kettle would need a couple of months’ notice. “We’re very good at projecting food out,” says Hilzim; “we have a full catering kitchen as well as the horsepower from the production facility.”

As diets and trends have changed, catering services have adapted as well. All of the companies listed here are able to accommodate various diets such as vegetarian, vegan and pescetarian, as well as food allergies such as celiac disease and beyond, presuming you give them enough advance notice. Whichever way you choose to go, the city has plenty of dining options perfect for fueling up your party for a night of dancing. So eat up and party down!
 

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