I recently had the opportunity to interview acclaimed caterer and James Beard Award winning Chef, Jean Marie Lacroix, and Chef Thomas McMullen of Brulee Catering. Lacroix enjoyed the title of Executive Chef of the Four Season’s Fountain and then on to establish his namesake restaurant Lacroix at the Rittenhouse. Brulee are the official caterers to some of the most exclusive and sought after event locations in the area such as The National Constitution Center, The Please Touch Museum, Carpenters Hall, The Seaport Museum, The Masonic Temple of Philadelphia and The Independence Visitors Center.
In 2012 Chef Lacroix was invited to become a member of the First American Chef Corp, a US State Department initiative whose mission is to forge cultural exchanges worldwide through culinary engagement. And this year Brulee was asked to serve at the US Open, a massive responsibility and amazing honor.
Below is our information packed Q & A with Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix and Chef Thomas McMullen.
What kind of party would you most like to do at the Jersey Shore?
Weddings, with a ceremony on the beach are fantastic! Then catering receptions at private shore homes either bayside or oceanfront – we have relationships with a number of home owners who rent their properties for private events, as well as realtors with vacation rental properties perfectly suited for our clients. We love to create fun beach themes for deck parties celebrating anniversaries and birthdays. Private family gatherings allow our host to be a guest as we take care of all planning, set-up, service and food and drinks with a styled presentation that wows – often including chef-manned, interactive grill stations or dessert bar for a few elements of action. In Cape May for example, we cater events at the Convention Center, Nature Center, Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities and Sunset Lounge. Annually, we cater a private Night in Venice party for 300 guests at a shore home with tenting and a nautical backdrop – ultimately a gourmet barbeque and seafood spread for family and friends to view the parade of boats in Ocean City. Dusk Nightclub at Caesars in Atlantic City is a fabulous venue for us to book bar or bat mitzvahs and sweet sixteen parties. The lounge atmosphere is very nice for 40th and 50th milestone birthdays as well as something unique for corporate events and fundraisers.
Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix: Plan your menu in advance, and prepare most of it the day before. Do not over purchase, buy just what is needed to not run short.
Per 4 guests: 8oz of meat or fish (or 4oz of each is ample);
We recommend for a spread: four salads, one soup. Serve cold soup, melon and smoked ham skewers, vegetables in salad, corn, beets, tomatoes — stay with the season.
Dessert: one cake, two fresh fruit compote, one ice cream, preferably Vanilla.
Cold food is always welcome and can be prepared the day before. Use local and organic products, lots of fresh herbs, local fish and seafood, fresh seasonal cut fruits with ice cream. Have menu cards with the names of each item (and name the local food farms if you wish) on the table. Serve accompanying cold sauces and dressings. Lots of cold drinks, use good plastic clear glasses and plates. Good quality sturdy plastic cutlery. Large thick colorful napkins. Plan, be calm and enjoy.
What kinds of new food trends are they seeing now?
Buy local is still the biggest trend. Farm-to-table… shop local farms produce, cheese, seafood. Keep it simple, follow seasonality building our menus by what is freshest, best in-season.
What dishes would you want to eat if you were hosting your own party?
Chef Lacroix: Fish, salmon, shellfish, clams, crab, oyster, cold roast lamb.
Chef Thomas McMullen: Yellow watermelon cup stuffed with red watermelon and spicy crab salad is one of my favorite Brûlée signature hors d’oeuvres. Seafood is my favorite, fresh fish done on the grill is very nice. I love a surf and turf station done outside of the norm — picture a miso glazed grilled lobster tail accompanied by Polynesian spice marinated filet mignon.
What was it like providing the food for the US Open?
Intense. We served three different meal periods for four days straight for 600 people at a time. 1,800 meals per day x 4 days = turnaround totaling 7,200 meals overall. All high end menus. Every morning, we had several chef-manned omelette stations for breakfast. Lunch each day was different — with a picnic theme one day, an Asian station the next, a day of BBQ with no overlap so guests experienced Brûlée’s culinary creativity. We’d do it again in a heartbeat. Intense, but a success! Great team building experience with rave reviews by the client.
What Jersey produce, fruit, cheese or meat do you love for your dishes?
Lacroix: We always seek to buy from local NJ farms. Bobolink farm for amazing cheeses. Tullymore Farm for poultry and grass fed beef. Metropolitan Seafood for all local fish and seafood. Vanness farm for fruits and produce.
Chef Thomas: Jersey tomatoes are hands down the best tomatoes around. Stone fruits in the fall — apples, pears for salads. In the summer it’s blueberries, peaches and watermelon — blueberries from Hammonton are fantastic. Squash grown in Vineland — some neat hybrids to experiment with, different squashes for different seasons. Cape May salt oysters, Barnegat scallops, NJ clams, etc.
Do you prefer to use organic and free range ?
Lacroix: We focus on local and sustainable as much as possible – especially in summer for produce. Free range is a good alternative year round. Our menus are built only with seafood choices according to the Environmental Defense Fund’s fish selector to ensure we serve seafood that is not only good for our guests but also good for the oceans.
What are some of the challenges of catering compared to cooking in a restaurant?
Lacroix: Catering is all about anticipation and organization. At Brûlée, we start and plan every details in our central kitchen so we are able to produce the best food anywhere the clients’ events takes us – off-site in a Center City Philadelphia penthouse or to a deck party at a Jersey Shore home. Preserving quality, freshness and taste is our prime goal… plate presentation, design, garnishes and service is discussed team-wide and rehearsed before the day. Everything must be planned. No guessing work in catering.
Anything else to add?
McMullen: We build custom menus for private events according to the client’s vision — even most recently a boardwalk theme for a kids birthday party. For more information about your next Jersey Shore event Brulee can be contacted at 215-923-6000 and at www.brulee-catering.com
Michele Errichetti is from South Jersey born and fed. She comes from an Italian family where they eat, live, and breathe FOOD. Michele was cooking and eating under her grandmom’s feet every Sunday for “gravy” and at home with her mother (a Medigan or American) during the week. Nowadays, she cooks for her two sons, husband, and father most days of the week. She takes “Girl Road Trips” with her friends at least once a month that always culminate with you guessed it, FOOD. She hopes fresh, local, organic, and free range will become the norm. Michele is searching Atlantic County for everything that has anything to do with good food and she’s taking you along for the ride. – See more at: http://www.jerseybites.com/the-team/#sthash.1s62z3zl.dpuf