Achieving a healthy work/life balance can be a real challenge. Especially when your work is never 9-5 and the life part is all wrapped up in the work part and those lines are so blurred! In hospitality, the “work hard play hard” ethic runs through our bones, it has to, otherwise it would all be work!
Working alongside Px at his restaurants and outside catering events is less of a work/life balance and more a case of “if Life had a baby with Work this is what it would look like”. I’m not complaining but it does take some stamina!
The last couple of weeks have been a prime example, in the midst of Px opening not one but two venues in consecutive weeks, we’ve also catered two weddings for our friends. The first being held locally in London, in the beautiful old Asylum chapel in Peckham. Remember that “Friends” wedding, the old church with all the candles? The Asylum is like that. Such romance! I was in floods the moment our friend Sarah walked down the aisle and don’t even get me started with when the kids sang “I’m a believer”. It was all too much for my apparently not so ice cold heart.
We provided the after ceremony Spanish style canapés, (“Spanapés”) and the evening “Cheese Cake”, a tower of Spanish cheeses, from Manchego to Murcia al Vino (goats cheese washed in red wine) all stacked up and dressed with figs & flowers.
If, like us, you are rubbish at buying wedding gifts, sorting out the catering is always a great solution, and it’s such a joy to be part of a friend’s most important day. Also it prevents, in my case the predictable wedding guest scenario of getting too drunk too soon and saying something inappropriate to the brides mother. At least we are busy until after food service, then it’s a case of catching up with the by now wasted guests who have already delivered the wedding faux pas to uncle Dave’s new girlfriend, ten times over. It’s a case of damage limitation.
Our second wedding was a larger event, not in guest numbers, just in logistics as it was located just outside Barcelona. Travelling with work, unless you are a travelling salesman I imagine, is possibly one of the greatest privileges ever. Our friends Catherine & Gary were tying the knot after 7 years together, and were having one ceremony in the UK and a follow up one in Spain. Being in the catering business themselves, and with an insider knowledge of how to pull an event together, they opted to dump the wedding planner and the local catering company, and manage the event themselves. A bold move, but one that paid off in its intimacy and personal touch, with the involvement of friends and family helping out with the set up and of course with us catering it for them.
C&G had eaten many times at Px’s Donostia Social Club, a Basque inspired tapas restaurant located in Pop Brixton, and the prospect of him catering their wedding was a keen idea, budget and venue permitting. Some venues insist on using their own approved caterers, but this venue was more relaxed and allowed outside caterers.
After a days recce of the venue a few weeks prior to the event, sourcing wholesale markets, ordering equipment, crockery, grills and service utensils, we headed out to Barcelona to stay in the beautiful villa C&G had hired for their guests. Located in the hills above Sitges, about 35 miles south of Barca, this was a stunning prelude to what was to be a lovely weekend, one which we were really honoured to be able to attend in any capacity!
Our first day of prep consisted of a lot of shopping. With 50 guests to cater for, to include canapés and the main meal, with late night cheese and nibbles, there was a fair amount of ingredients to gather.
Working through Px’s pencil scribbled shopping list we started at Mercabarna the fruit and veg wholesale market, comparable to London’s New Spitalfields where caterers and restaurants can buy boxes of produce in bulk at a better value. We were travelling with Antonio, Px’s manager of The Tapas Room and our Spanish translator and chef. A useful guy to have around when buying produce in a Spanish wholesale market with very little functional language ourselves, unless ordering beer or asking where the toilets are located.
These huge wholesale markets are always a sight to behold. Just the sheer quantity and range of fresh fruit & vegetables, stacked boxes high is extraordinary. Then there is the gliding dance routines of the laden fork lift trucks that skate effortlessly around the long corridors of pallets like mechanical Torvill & Deans.
But we were there to shop. From beautiful tomatoes of the deepest reds for making Gazpacho, to artichokes like fur cones, slender stems of asparagus, to earthy trays of mushrooms and plump cherries. We worked our way through the list and came away with a huge haul of freshness, stacked into the car and off to the next market for the fish & meat.
Lamb Cutlets, Clams, Octopus and Sea Bass were our aims for the Santa Caterina market located in the heart of Barcelona. A more accessible local market complete with bars and restaurants and a great place to pick up fresh meat & fish and any remaining ingredients we needed. And it is just around the corner from La Botifarreria, possibly the greatest home of the Catalan sausage! Here we bought enough for the BBQ at the villa and for the Botifarra & Beans that Antonio was planning to make as part of the wedding meal.
With all the shopping done, there was nothing left for it but to party with the guests back up at the villa. We had bought a leg of Jamon which was carved down to the bone by the end of the evening, and with much Cava drunk we got some sleep in ahead of a long days cooking.
The wedding venue was located in the hills just outside Barcelona. Sol Y Vida operates as a charity to help young people with learning disabilities. Within the boundaries of the house and gardens they are taught about growing produce from this incredible location that looks out across Barcelona. As a wedding venue it is perfect. C&G had a ceremony in the gardens and then headed into the covered deck area for dinner. The kitchen was also outside, in a covered area adjacent to the dining deck. It was really good to be that close to the action, it made us feel more involved than if we had been hidden away in a back kitchen somewhere.
The day was spent preparing the dishes for the evening. Antonio pushed on with the Gazpacho using those amazing tomatoes and with the Febaba stew. Px was prepping veg, fish and charcuterie while I made sure the service side of the evening was set up correctly. Lots of chopping, slicing and crossing out of lists. As always these things pull together at the last moment.
As guests milled about after the ceremony on the lawn, we served trays of charcuterie, & boquerones, shot glasses of Gazpacho poured from a dispenser and bowls of clams steamed in Cava and parsley.
The main meal was presented with “Family Service”, big platters of each dish for guests to help themselves from. The trick here is to ensure even distribution of the dishes, otherwise some people can miss out on parts of the meal. Old pro’s as were are there was no chance of this happening here! The food came out fast and furious to the hungry crowd. Tomato salads, bread baskets, grilled lamb cutlets with anchovy butter on asparagus & artichoke, grilled octopus & spring onions, BBQ Sea Bass, Bottifara & Beans, truffled wild mushrooms with PX glaze, all went out in quick succession to the U shaped table of guests.
The food looked and tasted great, Px & Antonio working like crazy next to a scorching fire BBQ. The last part of the food service was a line up of late night nibbles. Cheeses, grapes, figs, cheese cakes and all things munchie! These guests were good eaters and its always satisfying to see everyone enjoying the food. Its pretty much why we do what we do.
After a post service sit down and a welcome beer, we cleared all the used crockery away, moved the tables to one side, ready for the first dance. Hard work but happy work. A lovely evening and now we were ready for two days of relaxing (eating & drinking) our way around Barca.
The morning after the night before demanded an egg based breakfast, so we spent the whole day eating our way around rainy Barca hitting all of Px’s favourite joints. It was Sunday so the famous La Boqueria market was closed, we had that planned for the next day before flying back to London. After a days catering where we ate virtually nothing, we made up for it over the next two days where we consumed like hungry caterpillers…without ever turning into butterflies!
Thank you C&G for inviting Px to cook for you…he always drags me along so I get the perks too!
Where ate & drank in Barca
El Chigre – Cider vermouth and fabulous tapas
Bar del Pla – Roast chicken Croquettes, Beef Tartar & Foie Gras
El Xampanyet – Cava bar, Beef Copa, Mojama, and great atmosphere.
La Boqueria One of the most famous markets in Europe
El Quim – La Boqueria – “Super Burger” w Foie Gras, Fried Eggs & Baby Squid
Kiosk Universal – La Boqueria, any of the sea food a la plancha & Jamon & Eggs
Tapas 24 – Bikini, toasted sandwich
El Gin Tub – Sitges. Cocktails. We really shouldn’t have had that 2nd Negroni…