Toothpicks, especially those garnished with frilly cellophane, are as declasse at parties and receptions as white socks, according to an innovative brace of caterers who do a lively trade in New York under the banner of "Glorious Food." Christopher Idone (who cooks) and Sean Driscoll (who handles business arrangements) have banned a few other cliches as well from their presentations.
"No cheese puffs, frankfurters in blankets or meat balls in tomato sauce," said Idone. "We don't serve beef bourguignon or beef Wellington and never put salads in cucumber boats," he continued. "We avoid chafing dishes, too, but even if you can't, there is no law they have to be stainless steel," Driscoll said. "Individual puff pastry packets are popular, but I think it's just a new way of presenting minced mystery meat. And no carved ice swans at a reception holding chopped liver or caviar, although they are rather grand."
"They're just plain ugly," cut in his partner.
What then is beauty? And who is willing to behold it at the substantial prices it costs to employ "Glorious Food"?
Idone and Driscoll have been on tour, in a demonstration that promotes using sheets and other fabrics in home entertaining. The message they preach is that not only can simplicity be charming, it can make a deep impression as well. When company is coming, whether using a caterer or not, let the food be itself, they say. Substiitute imaginative selection and presentation for excessive quantity and overwhelming variety.
"There's nothing worse than 12 different kinds of food on one plate," Driscoll said with a faint shudder. "We handle a buffet like a dinner," Idone added. "We'll have several different plates available. Some people don't notice and put it all on the same plate anyway, but there won't be a glut of food. We don't believe in groaning boards and usually dessert will be passed separately."
They describe the food they serve as light, and admit a kinship with the nouvelle cuisine chefs of France. For instance, "We use a lot of vegetables," said Idone. "If I do a loin of veal or a rack or loin of lamb for a dinner, I'll surround it with as many as four or five vegetables." Or they may serve a pre-sliced ham in pastry, cold sole fillets with a cucumber sauce or their glorious melon," a honeydew half filled with gin-laced crabmeat.
The private dinners they do in New York are almost exclusively weeknight affairs and run to a formula that allows them to live a far more normal schedule than restaurateurs. "Guests are asked at 8," Driscoll said, "so they are all there by 8:30. We don't serve hors d'oeuvres because they are ready to sit down by 8:45 or 9 and like to stick to white wine or champagne. It doesn't always work, but it works a lot. When we serve drinks, vodka and scotch are the cocktail leaders, with some call recently for rum."
It costs about $24 per person for a typical Glorious Food meal. Beverages and serving personnel are extra, with waiters drawing $45 a night these days in the Big Apple.
Multicourse French meals with several wines are "fun to do," but most clients are steered in another direction. At first they respond, Idone and Driscoll say, because "we convinced them over to our way of doing things. Now attitudes toward what people expect from party fod are changing. All men were supposed to eat was beef and chocolate. That's ridiculous.Men have heard of veal and lamb. They felt the guests would think they were holding back if we served chicken, not matter how elegant it was. We had to turn them around."
Success hasn't hurt. Glorious Food now operates from a carriage house on E. 75th Street and employs four full time cooks and 10 waiters. A list of prestigious clients includes Halston, Bill Blass, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a variety of business firms. They will be featured in next month's House and Garden. "Now most people who call have an idea what we do," Driscoll said. "But we still get a few calls that begin, 'What's you hots (party foods) and what's your colds?"
In the beginning, about five years ago, they had to cope with such demands. Idone, a musician by training but an enthusiastic cook, did the food for a friend's party. That led to two other parties. Driscoll, who was producing television commercials, became a partner. New York magazine discovered them, as did the Southhampton summer set. ("We quit after two summers," Idone said. "When people go to the beach they're into parties, not food. It's a different atmosphere than in the city.") Catering corporate luncheons ("we pack lunches in bags or baskets, but never in boxes") opened more doors and still accounts for about half their business.
"We don't want to get any larger," Driscoll said. "The whole thing is built on personal attention. We do nothing at which at least one of us does not appear." "We make it very difficult for ourselves," Idone continued. "We don't use frozen foods or cans. We don't freeze the foods we make. We do them the day of the party or at the party itself. If we expand it will be toward books, toward showing people how to entertain as a total concept."
Home cooks may want to try some of the recipes they assembled for a booklet called "Fieldcrost Entertains." It is available from Fieldcrest, 60 W. 40th St. New York, 10018, for $2. PUREE OF PEA AND MINT SOUP (6 servings) 2 pounds fresh peas, shelled 6 scallions, finely chopped 3 tablespoons sweet butter 1 sprig parsley 2 cups chicken stock Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half Sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped
In a medium-size pot, saute scallions in butter. Add peas, stock, parsley and bring to a boil. Turn down heat, add salt and pepper and simmer until peas are overdone - 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove peas with a slotted spoon to a food processor or blender. Add about half the stock and puree until very smooth, gradually adding the rest of the stock. For an extra fine puree, pass through the fine blade of a food mill as well. Add heavy cream, stir well and refrigerate until ready to serve. Chop mint just before serving and sprinkle in center of each soup plate. THREE BEAN SALAD (16 to 20 servings) 1 pound kidney beans, cooked 1 pound white beans, cooked 1 pound flageolet, cooked 1 bunch seallious, including some of green, thinly aliced 1 green or redpepper, seeded and finely diced 1 celery heart, finely chopped 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes 1 clove garlie, chopped Salt and freshly ground pepper 6 tablespoons wine vinegar 10 tablespoons olive oil
Drain beans (If using canned beans, wash them in a colander under cold running water and allow them to drain thoroughly) and place in a large bowl. Add scallions, green pepper and celery. In a separate bowl, mix garlic, salt and pepper, vinegar and oil. Pour over salad and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve. FANCY TEA CAKE (1 cake) 5 medium eggs, separated 1 1/2 cups sugar 5 ounces sifted all-purpose flour 5 ounces potato flour Pinch of salt Grated rind of 1 lemon 2 tablespoons curants 2 tablespoons sultana raisins 2 tablespoons slivered, blached almonds Confectioners' sugar
Beat egg yolks, sugar and both flours in an electric mixer until the consistency of mayonnaise, about 15 minutes. Beat the whites separately with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Fold into the batter mixture. Add lemon rind. Dust almonds, currants and raisins lightly with flour and fold them in as well.
Butter a 9-inch cake pan, line the bottom with waxed paper, then butter again. Dust with flour and knock out the excess. Pour in cake mixture and bake on the middle shelf of a prehated 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out dry.
Allow to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Then turn out on a serving platter. When cool, dust with confectioners' sugar. POACHED PEARS WITH APRICOT SAUCE (6 servings) 6 well shaped Bose or Aujon pears, ripe but firm 4 whole cloves 1 cinnamon stick Juice of 2 lemons 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1 cup apricot preserves 2 ounces water 2 ounces bourbon 1/4 cup chopped pistachio nuts
Peel pears and place them in an enamel or stainless steel pan with cloves, cinnamon stick and vanilla, lemon juice. Cover tham with cold water. Cut a waxed paper circle and fit it over the pears. Bring liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook until pears are tender but not soft, about 25 minutes. Allow pears to cool in the liquid and refrigerate if planning to serve them the next day.
In a heavy saucepan, heat jam and water over low heat. When sauce starts to boil, remove from heat and stir in bourbon. Strain through a fine sieve and store covered in the refrigerator.
Have pears and sauce at room temperature before serving. (Sauce may be cut with a small amount of water if it is too thick to flow easily.) Place pears on serving plates, spoon sauce over each one and garnish with chopped pistachios.