Thursday, January 21, 2010

Conversation with: Olivier Cheng

I grilled Olivier Cheng, founder of Olivier Cheng Catering and Events, to get some insight on the catering business, discuss what food trends are in and out, and try to find out what special food he has on the menu for the Celebrations launch party.

But before you read the interview, here is Olivier’s tip on how to help your caterer help you find your food vision. Press play to watch.

PB: Tell us about how you got started in the catering business.

Olivier: My background is in business and architecture and I got started in the catering business because I worked for a friend of mine who was an architect and ran a little luxury resort in Colorado. He really loved what he did and I helped him on the business and design side to help run and manage it.

I came back here trying to figure out what I’d like to do and I liked the idea of working on food, catering and design so I worked for somebody I knew here in New York, and then I worked for a celebrity chef to help him start a business, and from there I started my own business.

I just really wanted to make something that was not your typical catering business. For me, it was more about doing beautiful food, about the way things looked in the whole story--from how the staff looked, etc...Obviously you have to complement everything all the way around. [I wanted] to really treat it like a fine restaurant but in a catering experience.

PB: Now let’s jump to what’s really important. What’s your favorite food?

Olivier (smiling): Well, I have to say that one of my favorite foods is one of your favorite foods...and that would have to be short ribs. I think you’d agree with me that short ribs with a little celery root is the way to go.

PB: What food trend do you think has been overdone in the past year?

Olivier: That’s a good question. Since New York is so eclectic, it’s hard for me to say what...

You know, I’m wondering if this sort of American comfort food thing is--with the cupcakes and everything--I feel like that’s really getting saturated and I think that’s something that has sort of seen its day.

PB: What’s the strangest food request you’ve ever had from a client?

Olivier: It would have to be for this wedding we did where it was just a two person wedding and the bride really didn’t eat anything. I think she was lactose intolerant or vegetarian and the groom was a complete carnivore. Since we were only feeding two people, I think for their hors d’oeuvre for their wedding we served her one type because that was all she could eat and we served him like 10.

It had to be one of the most unique parties I’ve done food-wise since their tastes were so different yet there was only two of them. When you’re doing that for 100 people, it’s a little different, but for just two, I think the clash stood out to me the most.

PB: How do you plan your menus? What’s your process?

Olivier: We’re very client-oriented. One of the very first things I always do is talk to the client and figure out what they love and what they envision for food. To me, it’s really about the client and to direct the client to help them find their vision.

PB: Here's the final question we’ve been waiting for. What are you planning on serving at my Celebrations launch party?

Olivier: Well, a lot of it is a surprise so I shouldn’t really be revealing to you what we have planned...BUT one of the things we’re doing is that I want to serve some of your favorite things.

At the parties we do together, I see that your eyes light up when you’re around the food table so one of the things I’m doing for you is that we’re going to serve what I was talking about earlier which is one of my favorite things as well... braised short ribs with celery root puree. So I hope you will love that.

Now tell me dear readers, what is one amazing dish you recently had and where did you eat it?

Photos by: Olivier Cheng Catering and Events or Jason Wyche

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