Q: You set up breakfast for two in bed?
A: Two, three, or four in bed.
Q: In the same?
A: It's a big bed.
Q: What do they get, scrambled eggs and sausage?
A: We've done eggs benedict with champage with a violinist playing in the background.
Q: I don't think we want to get anymore into that. I think that's disgusting. It probably costs a lot of money.
A: Well, you have to invite your own guests.
Q: I wouldn't know how to have four people in bed. I couldn't get four to come.
A: We could give you some names, Henry. We're talking about food service.
Q: Well, I never see any of that, of course. You know, it occurred to me not long ago that I'm never going to be invited to an orgy. I told that to a very splendid respectable woman and she said, "Neither have I." She said, "I think the only thing is we're gonna have to have our own orgy and invite people who are not going to be invited anywhere else."
A: Well, don't forget your caterer.
Q: We'll have the eggs benedict.
A: We've been involved in one unconsciously. A couple of waiters and waitresses arrived on the job. Everything was fine, like any other normal party. Halfway through the party everyone started taking their clothes off. Except our waiters and waitresses, of course.
Q: I guess it wouldn't make any difference to them.
A: The scenery was different. Was not your typical Ridgewell's party, I might add.
Q: It would be surprising.
A: Tips were good.
Q: Has anybody ever asked you to provide for dinner some stewed puppies or something like that?
A: No -- not in the food line. But we have been asked to provide other things that we couldn't do.
Q: Well, I hope not! I did hear that you fed all those Abscam people very well indeed.
A: It went on here in Washington for about four or five different parties. There didn't seem anything wrong. People use caterers for business entertaining. We thought it was strange that there was rather large tips they were giving to our waiters.
Q: I'm sure the waiters didn't object.
A: The reason I put two-and-two to get five was that they kept on wanting to go back. I finally collared one. I said, "Why do you constantly want to go back to this one house?" He says, "Mr. Ellis, you would not believe the tips that I am getting." He says, "What's even more, they give it to me in front of all the guests!" And that's just -- different. It's normally done very discreetly.
Q: How is the economy doing? I would think your business would register easy money and tough money.
A: We're finding that in the last recession, people used our services to bring people in to show products and goods. They never did that before. They always put all their advertising dollars into print media.
Q: Are you trying to say the chocolate mousse will do the job better than The Washington Post?
A: Well, you can taste the chocolate mousse, but you cannot taste The Washington Post.
Q: It's delicious if you are careful with your seasonings. Little butter and oil, yes. But you -- that stands to reason, what you're saying.
A: We've found that there's been a switch in entertaining in Washington. Business entertaining is taking a much great percentile than social entertaining was, say, five, eight years ago. Today, 80 percent of our business is business entertaining. The embassy entertaining is down to almost nothing.
Q: People in Washington don't really know other people until they are flung into the same frying pan.
A: Washington changes so often. That's good for our business. Administrations change, association people change, diplomats change. There's a constant, tremendous motion. It creates the necessity for people to get together.
Q: I'm not one of these people that hire you for my great parties. Probably because I don't ever have any parties. But give me an idea of what this sort of thing would cost. What's the cheapest, if I wash the dishes and everything?
A: How about if you threw the dishes away? We'll set that scenario. Of course, I'm speaking about plastic glasses, plastic dinnerware. If you'll need waiters, need an elaborate centerpiece with flowers, your cost is quite exorbitant. But most people don't do that. They have their own table setting for 10. They might have a maid or know somebody that can help out. They only want the food, and that food can be anywhere from, say, $10.50, $11 up to $40, even $50 per person. Let's set the scenario for a seated French service dinner for 10 with the soup as a first course and hor d'oerves.
Q: You certainly are keen on soup.
A: That's the cheapest I have besides the fish course.
A: A main course, a salad course and the dessert -- approximately $15 to $25 a person.
Q: What's the most expensive per head that you recall for a dinner?
A: We had one particular dinner that was on the Mall. We had tenting, generators, special chandeliers, the best of wines, the best of food, dancing -- that was in excess of $300 per person.
A: That was for 550 people. It was for a European bank. And they're gonna do it again.
Q: Oh, good!
A: That included port-a-potties.
Q: If I ever had a thing like that, at 300 bucks-a-head, I would expect something better than a port-a-pottie.
A: But it was flushing. Believe it or not, we have gotten tremendous promotions for people in some of the jobs we've done for them. People will call and they'll say my job is on the line. Believe it or not, it relates to how this party came off.
Q: Good God, maybe I should have a party. You could get me a raise.
A: Get it all set for you.
Q: The sky's the limit.
A: If you do not ask, you shall not receive.
Q: Spend money to make money.
A: Speculate to accumulate.
Q: I'm getting a whole new perspective on the world. I thought maybe I would.
A: Eat yourself to success.
Q: I suppose you have to be quite discreet.
A: Yes. Being with heads of state, we hear a lot of what goes on.
Q: Is it true that Ridgewell's was aware that a vice presidential nominee was decided on before anybody else?
A: Since the presidential nominee was served, yes, we did hear.
Q: That was Walter Mondale. You could have picked up the phone and let your friends know. At one of your dinners once I saw a woman -- she was my dinner partner -- being served a lobster. As she reached for it, the fork slipped and the lobster fell and she grabbed it in mid-air.
A: Hopefully, it wasn't the same lady, but there was an occasion where a sorbet ball rolled off of a platter down the front of a woman's dress.
Q: Kind of chilly.
A: Chilly. There was a quick shock that came over her face, but very politely.
Q: Anyhow, what I was getting at is, you know, everybody can make a mistake. There must have been little mishaps along the road, like forgetting to cook the turkey for the secretary of state or something like that.
A: We had an extremely large wedding reception down on the Eastern Shore. Six trucks. We had forgotten the cake.
Q: Is that the first time anybody had had a wedding cake made of Twinkies?
A: Oh, no, no, no. We decided we would call the state police. So here we go with a cake and a truck screaming down Route 50, led by a screaming siren and a state trooper.
Q: All of us poor taxpayers pay for your delivery service as a rule, is that right?
A: He was patrolling 50 anyway, so there wasn't a big expense.
Q: That's what they all say. I had an aunt who was a bridesmaid in a rural place in the middle of Louisiana, and the caterer came up from New Orleans the last minute to ice it the night before. They have a lot of awful animals running around loose down there, including things on the ceiling, and one of these 6-inch things fell off into the cake and was struggling valiantly when they came down in the morning. The caterer, not knowing quite what to do, scraped it off, spread the remaining icing over and did beautifully.
A: You know -- you can equate a caterer almost to a performer. When that curtain goes up, you've got to be ready. We have to have all logistics in line, all our choreography has to be done, all of our props have to be in place because there's no delaying.
Q: Like the wedding cake, it has to be there.
A: I'll tell you, one of the drawbacks of catering is when you're catering for the president and someone calls in with a bomb scare.
Q: Even worse would be to say I have word that the raspberry Bavarian is poisoned.
A: We have Secret Service that follow us.
Q: Is it ever true?
A: Never, no. There's security on our end. Whenever there's a head of state, you have 20 waiters lined up. The head waiter in the front of the line will serve the principals' table. Secret Service agents will take that platter away from him, go back in the line at random and exchange platters. A security precaution. They'll do that with every course. Sometimes they'll probe the desserts.
Q: It's been checked for dynamite?
A: And they'll taste the food as well.
Q: Do you lose many Secret Service men?
A: They're getting a little heavier.
Q: The hard thing about your business -- you can't fool them when it hits the mouth.
A: Washington has become very sophisticated over the years.
Q: Let me tell you, cave men can tell the difference between a shrimp and an eggnog made with artificial vanilla.
A: You know, there's a method to a caterer's madness, trying to find a different way to present food. We're now introducing a new, if you will, nouveau cuisine type of catering. It's called "art a la carte," but it's a marriage of Ridgewell standard with the avant garde, new-New York, new-California.
Q: Yeah, that's a terrible mistake. Six green beans and a piece of veal you can read the paper through, that's what it is.
A: Well, no. We give you four pieces of paper-thin veal and, yes, the six still greens. But there's back-up if you want more. Nouveau cuisine to us does not mean little tiny portions. It means different presentation.
Q: I've been to some posh places and they just starved you to death because that's thought to be smart.
A: It is stupid, because that guest will not come back. I think that's why pure nouveau cuisine is not going to make it. It's too artsy, too craftsy, and it doesn't fill you up, doesn't give you a bang for your buck.
Q: My own country is the Tennessee-Mississippi border country, and there you can't make people go home. They come and they expect to be fed, and if they don't get 2,000 calories, they hold it against the host. Whereas I've noticed that in Washington people don't always eat as much as I do. I also don't think we drink as much in Washington as people say we do, but you would know because you have the bottles.
A: People are not going to get loaded in Washington D.C. They've got business to conduct at these parties.
Q: When I went on these fancy posh things, I never saw anybody drunk. Occasionally there would be a member of Congress who liked to polka and, you know, rev himself up. But even he wasn't really --
A: A few people, they'll sort of slide into their limousine, but they're friendly drunks.
A: Washington's an early-start city, too. People in responsible positions can't afford to get up feeling bad.
Q: That's an astonishing thing to say. Why do the administrations one after another do so badly? I always assumed it was because they were drunk all the time.
A: I really think that people are moderating in Washington, because they know they're being watched.
Q: There was a wonderful party at the Kennedy Center several years ago where there wasn't anything to eat except lobster. It was in great big punch bowls, big silver bucket things. And champagne. That's all there was. Some people would not budge. They were going to sit there and eat till they burst. People who are civilized -- which is a handful of people in the city -- they will get what they're going to get and get away from the table. There are other people who go up there and they will munch like a cow. Can't you teach some of these people a few manners about getting away from the trough?
A: There are some people that want to be seen at the buffet table. They're going to meet everybody because they've got to come by the table.
Q: Well, I don't want to dwell on it, but all that food up there and short of gouging an old lady of 82 in the ribs, there's no way to get to it.
A: Either that, Henry, or just find the kitchen.
Q: I would never dare walk in a kitchen. What are you going to do if every reader of The Washington Post starts going into the kitchen?
A: There have been better parties in the kitchen than there are outside in the guest area.
A: Yeah, we have a ball in the kitchen.
Q: Are there little Ridgewells coming along?
A: (Jeff:) We both have a houseful of little Ridgewells. I have three young ladies and two young men.
Q: And Bruce?
A: I have four girls. I was not able to come up with those boys.
Q: Well, it takes a bigger man to have a girl, as eerybody knows. They're probably so young that you don't know if they'll be interested in the business.
A: Oh, they're interested. They like to come by and check all the pastries out. They say to me, "Daddy, I'd love to work with you because you have so much fun eating and meeting all those important people."
A: It's like my girls. They will say, "Daddy, you get to eat all those chocolate eclairs and cream puffs. You got a great job."
Q: It is a great job; it's really quite shameful. I wish I had a job I didn't have to do anything but eat lobsters.