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The hazards of Christmas catering

The hazards of Christmas catering

Remo Ferrari, event catering manager at Ponti’s restaurant, London, recalls some Yuletide lows

Over the past decade I have experienced a catalogue of triumphant and not-so-triumphant moments. In the spirit of goodwill during this festive time, I’m sharing here some of the more eventful incidents I’ve encountered along the rocky road of Christmas catering.

I’ve still got grey hairs from when an overly generous staff member poured too much brandy into the Christmas pudding and, when we lit it, the dessert turned into a fireball of Mount Vesuvius proportions, singeing several eyebrows and setting off all the fire alarms.

Of course, similar events occur regularly at this time of year, when guests, perhaps filled with a little too much Christmas spirit, knock over burning candles or tea lights and set fire to tablecloths, napkins or menus – but these are just small fry compared with that Christmas pud inferno.

Sometimes the unexpected comes from the client, who painstakingly plans the festive itinerary but then, on the night, the managing director suddenly gives an impromptu speech before dinner. We’ve all been there at that horrendous moment when the kitchen is suddenly put on hold and you spend 20 minutes powerlessly watching your beautifully moist turkey frazzle to a crisp.

At other times the unexpected comes from forces completely outside your control. It took a certain type of crisis management technique to cope when our van got stolen en route with all the essentials inside. It was all hands on deck after that, I can tell you.

Suppliers are another potential disaster area. Late deliveries of key ingredients always throw a spanner in the works. The delivery of our vital Parmesan wheel hours late was concealed only by providing copious amounts of Prosecco, which, thankfully, we’d brought ourselves.

One of the worst Christmas catering experiences, though, is those last-minute bookings where organisers arrogantly demand their pokey office is transformed into Ali Baba’s Cave or the North Pole within 24 hours. There’s always one. It’s not as if they’ve had all year to plan it or anything.

Go easy on the brandy if you don’t want to turn this festive treat into a formidable fireball

What are your worst Christmas disasters?

Jonathon Butler, partner and head chef, Fosters on the Docks, Gloucester
“Last year a free bar was provided for an office Christmas party, of which a large older woman took full advantage. She staggered to the toilets and collapsed half-naked. I was elected to look after her until the ambulance arrived. A fight later broke out upstairs between members of the same damn party.”

Mark Broadbent, executive chef, Bluebird Dining Rooms, London
“I was throwing a secret house party one Christmas Eve and was under strict instructions to look after the slow-roasting turkey. The party was going well until I spotted a friend taking chunks out of the turkey with a fork. I was at catering college at the time, so I covered the damage with stuffing and carefully carved it away from the table.”

John Quero, general manager, Lace Market hotel, Nottingham
“Four years ago I was in charge of a hotel packed full of Americans on Bora Bora in the Tahiti islands. It was Christmas Eve, and the food, arriving by boat, hadn’t materialised. Already panicking about this, we woke up on Christmas morning to find half the resort destroyed by a hurricane and still no food to feed our guests.”

Paul Musselwhite, waiter, Dining Room, Hersham, Surrey
“Two years ago someone actually forgot to put the turkeys in the oven. We realised too late and had a restaurant full of guests and no turkey to feed them. One of the staff had to run down to the supermarket to buy replacements. I’m not sure the guests ever knew, but someone lost their job.”

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