Meals are caterered at Sotterley Plantation by Bill Taylor and others. For further information write to Elizabeth Harman, Sotterley Mansion, Hollywood, Md. 20636, or call (301) 373-2280. Taylor may be reached by writing him at Klahanie, Great Mills, Md. 20634, or calling (301) 994-1765.
AGAINST THE colonial setting of Sotterley Plantation, Bill Taylor was doing his thing last Sunday -- producing a meal for 60 with style and flair.
The 18th century St. Mary's County plantation house, with its view over the Patuxent River, was scarcely more eye-catching than the food, or than Taylor himself. Despite the heat, he had dressed in a three-piece white suit garnished here and there with touches of pink (shirt) and red (carnation and shoes). Classical music played from a hidden source. Vegetables, crystal bowls, silver trays and even books of poetry were utilized as props. The guests responded enthusiastically. They caught the mood and eagerly consumed mint juleps, a crab and cheese spread, a Taylor creation called chicken Sotterley, tiny corn muffins and more. Chocolate coated strawberries provided a dramatic finale. The performance made it clear why Taylor's catering and cooking lessons have enhanced the social scene in southern Maryland, and have led to demands for his services from Annapolis and Washington.
Taylor is a transplanted Canadian who worked in the '50s and '60s at Jeleff's, the women's specialty store here that has since closed, before moving to the small town of Great Mills. First he ran a gift shop in Lexington Park and did parties for friends on the side. Then, in 1977, demands for his services had grown to a point where he decided to do catering full-time. Soon thereafter, he added the classes -- two 10-week series of "great dinners" taught at Leonardtown High School each fall and winter as part of the adult education program.
Spring and early summer is high season in southern Maryland and on this particular weekend Taylor had done a party for the Smithsonian Associates Saturday, a Sunday afternoon luncheon (for members of his cooking classes and their spouses) and was to cater another party in the evening. Nonetheless Taylor, who admits he "loves giving parties" showed no sign of fatigue. He bounced back and forth between the kitchen and the lawn, popping up here and there like a leprechaun to greet and kiss a newly arrived guest or deposit food or a fresh tray of drinks.
Before the meal began, he made a speech of welcome and explained the menu, then retired to the kitchen to direct food preparation and service.
He calls himself the "dinner designer," perhaps in memory of his stint as Jelleff's display director, and thinks of entertainment with food in terms of theater. "I want to astound the people," he said, "to make them feel this is the best meal, the best time they've ever had." Too many caterers, he feels, concentrate on making food look good but fail to make sure it tastes good, too. c"The disappointment is double when that happens," Taylor said. "Presentation is important but, like the laughs in a comedy, the evening has to build. You can't afford to let your audience down."
He has a storehouse of other, theories that should be useful to those who entertain, with or without a caterer.
"Don't overextend yourself by planning more than you can achieve. Keep half your energy for your guests. When you are relaxed, your guests will feel, it an they will relax."
"The real aims of my cooking classes is to build the students' self-confidence. We don't talk about food processors.They learn how to use a knife. Once you know that, once you know how things should look and smell, you realize there are no mistakes in cooking. Whatever goes wrong, you can always fix it. If the souffle falls, call it something else."
"Don't be pretentious in your food choices. I ate in a fish house recently, and they served carrots garnished with coconut. That just didn't fit. In that setting it was pretentious. In doing a party, I cook for men. fIf the food is too pretty, it turns them off. And I find they are more comfortable and respond when they know what something is. I always label my foods at a buffet or have a menu for sit-down meals. It helps build anticipation to know what's coming, if people haven't seen it before they won't feel ignorant and embarassed, and at a buffet they can avoid something they might not like."
"I like to do lunches in the outdoors or in a room where there is a great deal of light. I try to keep the mood casual, sometimes even in a picnic style. At night I like more formal dress and a more formal setting and try to make the food seem a little more special. I love to set up the table with the lights low so the guests won't really see it until dinner is served. That's more theater. It adds to the anticipation. Also, I like to move around. At home I will set up for coffee in another room or even in a special place outside."
"I prefer sit-down meals to buffet, but the size of the crowd and the space you have available has to determine your choice. For a buffet I make sure it is obvious which direction people should take in serving themselves and always provide bamboo trays. The tray becomes a portable table, so people can carry everything easily and can sit anywhere."
Despite the talk about diets, people still want a volume of food. For most meals three courses is enough. If you have something wonderful, cut the cocktail hour a little short and and don't feel you have to provide heavy hors d'oeuvres. If you want to feature hors d'oeurves, cut down on the food you serve later. People won't really want soup. Skip it. And dessert should always be light. If I've eaten my way through several courses. I hate to be served a big slab of cake."
"I get my recipes from good books and good cooks. Pay attention to both. Try to use seasonal foods and local products. I have a very good relationship with the Safeway in Lexington Park. They know how important quality is to me, and they work hard to provide it. I only go into Washington for specialty items, but you know St. Mary's County has arrived when there are kiwi fruit in the supermarket."
There is one final touch that Bill Taylor preaches, and practices. At the end of every meal, in addition to tea, he offers coffee that is "strong and hot." The last impression is as important as the first. CHICKEN SOTTERLEY (6 servings) 6 large chicken breast halves Butter Oil Pepper Garlic salt 2 cups whole mushrooms, stems removed Worcestershire sauce 1 cup orange juice 2 1/2 cups chicken broth 1 cup beef broth 2 tablespoons cider vinegar 2 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon oyster sauce 4 tablespoons cornstarch 1 package frozen snow peas, slightly thawed but not soft 1 can (16 ounces) mandarin orange sections, drained 4 thin scallions, finely chopped 1 orange, sliced to give 6 thin rounds 1 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced to give 6 rounds
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry chicken breats and place in buttered shallow pan. Drizzle a little over the breasts and season with black pepper and garlic salt. Bake 30 to 40 minutes. Drain on paper towels, cover and keep warm.
To make the sauce, heat a wok or heavy pan. Toss mushrooms in a little oil or butter. Season with garlic salt and 2 tablespoons worcestershire. Stir for only 30 to 40 seconds. Remove, drain and reserve.
Wipe wok or pan clean and pour in orange juice, 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and beef broth. Add vinegar and sugar, oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon worcestershire and a sprinkling of garlic salt.
In a small pitcher mix the cornstarch in 1 cup cold chicken broth to a thin paste. Cover wok and bring liquid to a boil. Very slowly pour in cornstarch mixture and whisk until thickened but still runny. Turn heat to low and add mushrooms, frozen snow peas, mandarin oranges and chopped scallions.
Blend all together briefly and gently, just to heat through.
To serve, place 1 breast on each plate with a serving of orange rice beside.
Spoon some sauce over both. Garnish with a round of sliced orange topped with round of kiwi fruit. Serve immediately. CORN FRITTERS (Makes about 50) 2 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 2 large eggs, beaten 1 1/2 cups milk 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 cups kernel corn, drained
Sift flour baking powder and salt. Combine beaten eggs with milk and vegetable oil. Stir liquid into flour mixture and add corn. Preheat fat in a pan or deep fryer to 375 degrees. Drop batter into fat by tablespoonful. Do not overcrowd pan. Cook until nicely golden and drain on paper towels. Serve warm. BAKED ORANGE RICE (6 servings) 1 stick butter 1 medium onion, finely chopped 2 large cloves garlic, minced 1 cup chicken broth 1 cup orange juice 1 cup beef broth 1/2 teaspoon salt Few dashes worcestershire sauce 2 cups long-grain rice
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a heavy frying pan melt the butter. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft but not brown. In one pan heat the chicken broth, in another the orange juice and beef broth, plus the salt and a few dashes of worcestershire. Add rice to cooked onions. Stir well to coat, then add hot chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover and bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, add orange juice and beef broth mixture, stir well, cover and bake for 15 minutes. Fluff rice with fork and keep warm. PEACH CHUTNEY (Makes 5 quarts) 7 pounds fresh peaches, peeled and cut into thick slices 2 cups cider vinegar 2 pounds dark brown sugar 1/2 cup grated onion 2 pounds seedless raisins 5 or 6 apples, peeled, cored and diced 2 tablespoons-white mustard seeds Juice and grated rind of 2 lemons 1/4 cup freshly grated ginger or 3 tablespoons ground ginger 1 1/4 tablespoons salt, or less to taste 2 tablespoons paprika 1 tablespoons cumin
Cover peach slices with vinegar and brown sugar. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until well blended. Cook peaches separately for several minutes, until peaches are tender but still hold their shape. Add spice mixture and cook together for 3 to 5 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. OATMEAL-APPLE CRISP (12 servings) Topping: 1/4 pound butter, softened 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup quick oats 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 cup dark brown sugar Filling: 12 tart apples, or enough to fill a 9-by-13-inch baking pan 1/2 cup water 1 teaspoon vanilla-extract 1 teaspoon nutmeg
Mix topping ingredients together in a bowl with your hands. Reserve.
Peel and slice the apples. Melt sugar with water. Add vanilla and nutmeg, then mix with apples. Pack into the greased baking pan, cover the crumb mixture and press down firmly. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes covered, then an additional 20 minutes uncovered.
Serve warm topped with vanilla ice cream, or at room temperature with a topping of whipped cream flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon.