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The Proof of the Pudding contract with the Carter Center http://www.cartercenter.org encompassed the last five years of my involvement at Proof of the Pudding. For me, it was one of the most satisfying projects that I ever worked on.
The recent news of President Carter’s battle with melanoma reminded me how the relationship with the Carter Center began. One afternoon in the spring of 1986, I had gone home for a quick nap, one of the few things that sustained me in the long hours often required in the catering world. The phone rang and it was former President Carter’s secretary asking me if I could come to a meeting with the him in thirty minutes. I threw on a dress and a strand of pearls and hurried over to the newly built Carter Center. We had submitted a proposal to provide the food services there, which would include catering private events and running a small café for visitors. The President wanted to talk.
I was ushered in with my then new partner, Dave Schreck, and we took our seats in a circle that included President Carter and his wife, Roslynn, Jody Powell, Bert Lance and former Attorney General, Bob Lipshutz. I thought we were in a cabinet meeting. I tried not to fiddle with my pearls but was glad to have something to hold on to. We began by answering the former president’s questions and concerns about our proposal. It was mostly about menu. President Carter was already familiar with our offerings because we had been catering the box lunches served at his meetings for several years with the architect of the center, Henri Jova.
The ex-President’s requirements were simple and to the point. He had been given a Wendy’s soft serve machine and wanted us to offer that at the cafe and he wondered if visitors could have some “everyday” food like hot dogs and chili. His requests were in keeping with his lifelong simple and populist style. I was most agreeable, knowing that we could and would make a quality product for the cafe no matter what the menu.
But the “deal breaker” came when President Carter suggested that we do the services for a short trial period, after which they could break the contract. Having nearly bankrupted my company with an unfavorable contract at the Arts Center, I knew I couldn’t agree to that. I took a deep breath and said so. Everyone in the room froze as President’s Carter blue eyes grew steely and focused on me. After a moment that seemed to last forever, I took another deep breath and then explained why that would be difficult, my mind racing to come up with a solution to this impasse. Finally, I suggested that perhaps, if the former president was not satisfied with our services after 90 days, we would leave and the Carter Center could reimburse us for the expenses we would incur to gear up for the new project. We shook hands on the deal and began a relationship with the Carter Center that still exists thirty years later.
Not only did we get to cater for numerous heads of state, but I felt we were very much a part of the team that the Carters had created to support the issues of health and human rights around the globe. I remember meeting some of the former CDC staff and Emory University researchers who were brought on board to work at the Center. The goals set out to eliminate River Blindness and Guinea worm disease were but two of the missions of the Center. I was shocked by the breadth of these problems and the Carter’s commitment to actually do something about them for an enormous population. As of this year, Guinea Worm Disease, which had stricken 35 million people in 1986, has all but been eradicated. River blindness, another devastating illness in Latin America and Africa is well on its way to eradication as well.
We also gained the use of a first-class kitchen and exclusive venues for parties. It was a good deal all around. We provided private private dining services for President and Mrs. Carter, offered simple cafe fare for visitors overlooking the Japanese garden and had our share of sighting of royalty and celebrities. Barbara Petit and Vagn Nielsen coordinated these events flawlessly.
Because we had a business relationship with both the Carter Center and the Arts Center at the time, we were asked to cater the inaugural dinner at the Robert Shaw Room at the Arts Center. It was on the occasion of Robert Shaw’s 80th birthday and President and Mrs. Carter were among the honored guests at the intimate celebration. I met with Caroline Shaw to work on the menu. The bouillaibaisse “salad” that I had suggested as an appetizer, having dreamed up the concept on the spot, was spectacular creation in the hands of Chef Vagn Nielsen. It was followed by a tenderloin of beef, haricots verts and Marquis au Chocolat, a molten chocolate cake for the birthday finale.
Rummaging through my old files, I recently found this photo of the beautiful appetizer and the recipe follows. Sweet memories indeed.
This was one of those dishes that existed only in my head until Chef Vagn Nielsen created this masterpiece for a birthday party honoring Robert Shaw, the former conductor of the Atlanta Symphony. His guest of honor was President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter. The idea was to create a chilled appetizer with the flavors of a bouillaibaisse. This appetizer could easily serve as a luncheon or summertime dinner main course.
4 fresh lobsters, 1 ¼ - 1 ½ pounds each
4 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
For the sauce:
½ fresh fennel bulb
juice and grated rind of ½ lemon
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon champagne mustard
¼ cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon Pernod
¼ teaspoon Tabasco
1 teaspoon chives
a few threads of saffron
Prepare the lobsters by bringing a pot of water large enough to hold all of the lobsters to a boil. Drop the lobsters in head first and cover and boil for 8-10 minutes. (I prefer 6 minutes for the smaller lobsters.) Do not over cook. Remove from the pot and rinse the lobsters in cold water to stop the cooking. Gently crack the claws and remove the claw meat in one piece. Break off the tail and turn it upside down. With a fork, grab the tail meat and pull it out of the shell. If this is not easy, use a very sharp knife and slice through the spiny underside to open the shell to release. Set the meat aside.
Boil the shrimp for about 3 minutes and refresh in cold water. Place the mussels in a skillet with enough white wine or water to cover the bottom. Bring to a boil and cover. As soon as the mussels pop open, in about 3-5minutes, remove from the pan and chill in the refrigerator.
To prepare the sauce:
Dice the fennel bulb and boil it in the cream until tender. Place the fennel cream mixture in a food processor with all the remaining sauce ingredients, except the chives, and process until well blended. Chop the chives.
Spread sauce to cover the bottom of chilled plates. Arrange one lobster tail and the claws, one jumbo shrimp and 2 mussels on each plate for an entrée portion. For an appetizer portion slice the tails and shrimp in half lengthwise and use one mussel and one lobster claw for each plate. Sprinkle with chopped chives for garnish.
Serves 4 for entrees or 8 for appetizers.