Take It Outside

Events that made the most of their outdoor setting, with tips on how to make sure your own open-air affairs shine—no matter the weather

Dinner Amidst the Lavender

CATERER • Geppetto Catering, geppettocatering.com

Venue • Soleado Lavender Farm, Dickerson, Md.

Last September, Riverdale, Md.-based Geppetto Catering pulled off a “Lavender-to-Table Dinner” that was such a success, it’s now a summer series.

The event was a fundraiser for Soleado Lavender Farm, a family-run farm at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain in Montgomery County, Md., that grows several varieties of French and English lavender. Geppetto’s menu was inspired by the French countryside and infused with light touches of the lavender harvested from the farm.

Known for its focus on sustainability, Geppetto sourced each menu ingredient from a local vendor or farm. When guests arrived at 6 p.m., they were greeted with a lavender lemonade cocktail and guided to the reception, where passed appetizers included miniature country rabbit pot pies; smoked brisket sliders with Carolina coleslaw; eggplant Parmesan fritters; miniature Maryland crab cakes with chervil cream sauce; and a charcuterie display featuring cured meats from MeatCrafters, based in Hyattsville, Md.

On their way to dinner, guests stopped to admire the lavender farm’s bamboo forest—often used for yoga retreats—which was set up to show its capabilities as a reception space. On the farm’s candlelit patio, overlooking the rolling hills of Maryland, they then enjoyed a three-course meal that included cold tomato and tarragon soup; rustic rolls with whipped lavender honey butter; roasted chicken with Provençal sauce; mustard roasted potatoes; haricots verts with garlic and sliced almonds; and warm peach cobbler with lavender ice cream.

While the first lavender dinner had about 50 guests in attendance—with more turned away at the door—the upcoming May dinner will host about 100, and will be followed by monthly dinners through early October. Says Joshua Carin, owner of Geppetto Catering: “We are so appreciative of the community’s support of our commitment to supporting local agriculture and family farms!”


Picture-Perfect Fall Wedding

CATERER • J. Scott Catering, jscottcatering.com

Venue • Springton Manor Farm, Glenmoore, Pa.

Mother Nature gave her blessing with peeks of fall foliage and crisp October weather for a bride who wanted a “fun and unique” wedding that veered far from a traditional country-club setting.

Malvern, Pa.-based J. Scott Catering—the exclusive caterer for Springton Manor Farm, a historic venue dating to the 1700s on 300 rolling acres—created a fall-inspired menu for the 220-guest event. To the accompaniment of a three-piece band that included a dulcimer, guests enjoyed an outdoor cocktail hour, centered around a gazebo and underneath stringed market lights. J. Scott served up two local cheese plate stations and passed hors d’oeuvres including crispy pork belly squares with grilled red onion and sweet potato puree on brioche; arugula and burrata tartlets with sweet onion and balsamic; seared Kobe beef with wild mushroom bread pudding and truffled horseradish aioli; fried chicken and waffles with sausage gravy; Maryland lump crab cakes with chili crème fraiche; and pear and brie tartlets.

A 4,000-square-foot outdoor tented structure—where decorative mini pumpkins underscored the season—hosted the plated dinner, which featured a choice of grilled lamb loin, pan-seared halibut or vegetable galette, accompanied by crispy duck-fat roasted potatoes with fresh parsley and a seasonal vegetable medley. After cake and cupcakes, guests took to the dance floor, where a 12-piece band kept the party going. After the sun set, the tent shone with dynamic lighting, while outdoor fire pits lit up the autumn night.


Al Fresco Open House

CATERER • Crave Catering, crave-catering.com

Venue • Ma Maison, Dripping Springs, Texas

A sunny 70-degree January day helped show off the outdoor spaces at Ma Maison—a wedding venue nestled on 23 acres in wine country outside of Austin, Texas—during its fourth anniversary and open house event, with food by its exclusive caterer, Austin-based Crave Catering.

More than 300 guests attended the event—including brides and grooms, friends, family, vendors and couples who previously celebrated their wedding at Ma Maison—which designer Tracy Collins Events decorated with a black, white and gold palette. Interactive elements included a s’mores station, where guests could roast their own mint or cookies-and-cream flavored marshmallow over a fire pit, and pair it with white or milk chocolate; as well as custom poems written by artist Scott James, who composed the verses after a guest gave him one word for inspiration.

Ma Maison’s Trellis lawn was set up for a sample rehearsal dinner, with vineyard tables from Marquee Events, lush white floral arrangements by Wild Bunches and bistro string lights by Austin Event Lighting. Guests could choose from an array of Crave Catering treats and drinks, including blackberry thyme sparklers, combining champagne and gin, and garnished with blueberries and a sprig of thyme. In the Bridal Garden, the Bust Yo’ Chops Grilling Station and Brew Bar served up sizzling bone-in tomahawk ribeye accompanied by winter root vegetables paired with a selection of brews. At another station, small plates of bone marrow, wild boar and roasted duck were paired with the perfect whiskeys. Crave staff also passed bites including trifled Mason jar salads, goat cheese tartlets, stuffed merlot mushrooms, ahi tuna tartare, and fontina polenta and wild mushroom ragu.

A grilling station on the Stone Patio offered Gulf grilled oysters, bacon-wrapped shrimp and panzanella bruschetta. For a sweet treat, guests could visit the Steel City Pops booth for natural and gluten-free frozen bites with banana, coconut, lime and strawberry lemonade flavors.


A Catering Hole in One

CATERER • M Culinary Concepts, mculinary.com

Venue • Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale, Ariz.

In the year 2000, Phoenix-based M Culinary Concepts catered a corporate tent and the Members’ Club hospitality at the Phoenix Open, a professional golf tournament on the PGA Tour held every year in late January/early February at the Tournament Players Club (TPC) in Scottsdale, Ariz. Thus began a partnership that has lasted 19 years, with M Culinary catering 90 percent of all hospitality on the entire course for the 2018 Waste Management (WM) Phoenix Open, as the tournament is now known. And this year the tournament was bigger than ever, attracting nearly 720,000 fans.

M Culinary served more than 200,000 people over six days at this year’s Open. On Saturday—always the most highly attended day of the tournament—50,000 people dined on the company’s cuisine in hospitality areas throughout the course. In Bay Club, the WM Phoenix Open’s answer to “What’s next in the luxury Skybox experience?”, the M Culinary team offered brunch, reception and all-day snack menus featuring interactive chef-action stations. Guests could dine on such specialties as eggs Benedict, crab salad rolls, pizza, carved New York strip, butler-passed tandoori chicken and gianduja hazelnut tartuffi. Vegan, gluten-free, nut-free and dairy-free items were offered across all hospitality areas.

To prepare for such a huge event, M Culinary starts planning for the next Open within weeks of each tournament’s conclusion. The catering team designs and builds five temporary full-service kitchens and six satellite staging kitchens across the course, and erects temporary receiving stations and tented “warehouses” to receive deliveries on-site. The M Culinary commissary, located just over 10 miles away and running 24 hours a day, supports the on-course teams with prep work and product sorting. The entire on- and off-course M Culinary team numbers more than 1,100 during the WM Phoenix Open.

While the biggest worry is always weather, this year the tournament enjoyed sunny skies and highs in the 80s. Whatever happens next year, M Culinary will be prepared.


Southern Splendor

CATERER • Cru Catering, crucatering.com

Venue • Fenwick Hall, Johns Island, S.C.

For a couple that wanted to treat their mostly out-of-town guests with a locally inspired menu, Charleston, S.C.-based Cru Catering catered an outdoor black-tie wedding last April on the grounds of an 18th-century plantation house, Fenwick Hall. For the 345-guest event, Cru Catering set up an onsite kitchen at the historic venue, which limits the number of events it hosts each year.

As they arrived at the reception, guests were greeted with trays of water with lemon wheels, and glasses of sauvignon blanc and Veuve Clicquot. The menu at the food stations—decorated with signs made of moss spelling out “Taste” and “Savor”—was designed to give a variety of options with small-plate tastings. The offerings included an action sushi bar, where chefs hand-rolled sushi and sliced it to order; as well as small plates of boar ragu; herb and cheese polenta; Thai seafood risotto, with shrimp, fish, scallops and mussels; pepper-seared tenderloin of beef; Brussels sprouts; and Parmesan-whipped potatoes. Local grouper ceviche, savory mushroom pop-tarts and green tomato bruschetta rounded out the menu.

The late-night menu featured fried chicken and waffle cones, and hamburger sliders with Parmesan truffle fries. In addition to the bar offerings—which included beer from the local Westbrook Brewery—guests were treated to strawberry-jalapeño margaritas that were served through an ice luge straight into the glass.

While Cru Catering had a back-up plan for inclement weather, the evening turned out to be beautiful—with temperatures pleasant enough even for the tuxedo-clad guests—and ended with a full moon overhead, shining through the Spanish moss-draped oak trees.

Tips for a Successful Outdoor Event

Andrea Correale (pictured below), president and founder of Glen Cove, N.Y.-based Elegant Affairs (elegantaffairscaterers.com), has been producing custom-designed, award-winning catered events for more than 20 years, working with such A-list celebrities as Brooke Shields, Mariah Carey, Jimmy Fallon and Liam Neeson. Many of her star-studded events take place in stunning outdoor settings in New York’s summer playground of the Hamptons. Correale shared her top 10 tips for ensuring that outdoor events come off without a hitch.

1. Always have an iron-clad rain plan in place in case of bad weather. If you are going to have a party outdoors, you must always have a plan B—to bring it inside or to have a tent available on a rain plan. Most companies will do this and will require that you pay for half of the tent estimate if you don’t use it. This is nonnegotiable if the event cannot be housed indoors.

2. Placement of your buffets or food stations is key. Take note of where they will be located, and avoid placing them in the sun for prolonged periods of time. At the site inspection, take note of where the shady areas are and work from there. If you can’t escape the sun, make arrangements for umbrellas or, at the very least, pop-up tents to cover up the food.

3. Catering outdoors requires extra precaution to make sure food is held at the proper temperatures to keep it safe.

4. Sometimes you not only have to plan for rain but also wind. Make sure you plan ahead and have a way to secure linens from blowing out of place and to secure glassware on your bars.

5. Make sure that your cook tent or prep area is as close as possible to the food service area, and that your refrigerated vehicle can be stationed nearby.

6. You will need a lot more ice at an outdoor event than in an indoor setting. Allow for 5 pounds per person when the weather is warm.

7. Be sure to check out how well the area is lit if you are going to be going past dusk. You may need to bring in additional lighting not only for the party but for the area needed by the staff to load up the trucks.

8. Before laying out the floor plan, figure out where the electrical outlets are (and if there are any).

9. Always serve a cold treat for dessert and a bit of fruit. Be creative!

10. Set up a fun water bar with a variety of fruit- and herb-infused waters to keep everyone hydrated.