If the thought of cooking for friends and relatives over the festive season leaves you colder than a slice of leftover turkey, take heart. A number of local food stars have launched new catering initiatives that will make you look like Nigella Lawson in the kitchen, without all the pouting.
A restaurant experience in your own home
What better way to win friends and influence people than to invite one of the city’s best restaurants into your home (or boardroom) to serve up an intimate dinner or impressive pre-Christmas lunch?
Temporada is spreading the love beyond its Moore Street premises by hiring out its kitchen and front-of-house team for sophisticated dining experiences.
Owner Dave Young, who has cooked with the likes of celebrity chef Neil Perry and Aubergine’s Ben Willis, launched Tempo Catering earlier this month and the bookings are rolling in. He has already catered for a corporate rooftop barbecue (no snags in white bread at this soiree; guests enjoyed lamb rack with caponata and smoked potato, with an elegant dessert of jaffa mousse, mandarin, thyme and pistachio nougatine to follow). Tempo can just as easily cater in your own home for a dinner party for eight or more, or an intimate cocktail event.
There is no standard PDF menu, says Dave, who is adamant that Tempo clients should have an authentic Temporada experience.
“We want to be able to mimic the restaurant – it’s very much a collaboration between the chef and you as to what you want to eat,” he says.
Dave says the catering venture, born of having to think creatively due to the pandemic and a highly successful pop up at Campbell’s Intra café while Temporada was being refurbished, is a side gig for the moment – “the restaurant will always be our primary focus” – but he has big plans for the future.
“Our goal is to be the best high-end catering option out there. We’re never going to be the guys who deliver sandwiches and an urn of coffee.”
Temporada’s home catering tip: Do everything ahead of time. One of the biggest things that people don’t understand about restaurants is that when you sit down and order your meal, 95 per cent of it has already been prepared. It’s really a matter of assembling the dish. Eliminate the stress by preparing things in advance, having a glass of wine and impressing everyone with how relaxed you are.
Halfway to heaven
Want to make it appear as though you’ve slaved over a hot stove for the past 24 hours? Cue Three Mills Bakery and its very timely Entertainers Box, available from next Tuesday (1 December).
Designed to feed eight, this tasty selection is an extension of Three Mills’ successful Bake at Home frozen pastry range, comprising a curated selection of pre-cooked savoury and sweet dishes. The box includes baguettes, roast tomato tarts, sausage sizzles (sausage and caramelised onion wrapped in Pepe Saya butter pastry), quiches and desserts including passionfruit and chocolate tarts.
The savoury dishes need nothing more than to be popped in the oven for about 30 minutes; the desserts simply thawed and served. There are even images to show how you can arrange and present each course like a pro.
The Entertainers Box is designed to be complemented with a few simple, do-it-yourself items such as salads or charcuterie, meaning you can add your own flourish without breaking a sweat (the associated mess in the kitchen will only reinforce the “I did it all myself” vibe). Even better news is that if unexpected guests arrive (the horror!) you’ll never be caught short. Three Mills is open 7 days a week, 364 days a year.
Three Mills Bakery home catering tip: Presentation makes all the difference. Allow yourself enough time to carefully arrange the food on platters and boards. Think about displaying things at different heights on your table for visual interest, and garnish with something fresh that will bring the food to life and add a pop of colour.
New digital delicatessen The Merchant’s Feast is the ultimate cheats catering choice for those who love a share platter. Forget about traipsing around delis and markets looking for just the right addition to your grazing plate and the waste associated with all the leftovers. The Merchant’s Feast offers a variety of fully formed grazing boxes delivered to your door.
The Mediterranean-style platter is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, packed with ham, salami, mortadella, prosciutto, olives, cheeses, dips, chargrilled eggplant and zucchini, sundried tomato, dried fruit, freshly baked bread and more. There are also brunch, lunch and afternoon tea packages, or you can choose items a la carte from the online ‘pantry’.
The brainchild of siblings Marie and Dominic Vilardi and their mother Anne, a traditional Italian family who know a thing or two about good food, The Merchant’s Feast aims to make high-quality produce and products the focal point of convivial gatherings.
On top of their extensive grazing and antipasto options (cold meats are sliced to order, pastries and breads are freshly baked), they’ve also got a line of meals pre-made to order and ready to cook on Christmas day, including lasagnes, cannelloni, pizzas, sausages, meatballs, arancini and salads. Your input? Sit back and order online from the comfort of your own sofa.
The Merchant’s Feast home catering tip: Use throw-away aluminium trays (save time on that clean up). You can make a tray bake full of meat and vegetables early in the morning and put it in the oven. When guests arrive, the cooking is already done.
It’s in the bag
Former Sage chef Thomas Heinrich had long been thinking about launching a business that filled a gap for quality homecooked meals for busy households. When his wife Larah was pregnant, it reinforced the need for something better than supermarket offerings. Larah and her mum were already running a small business turning out gourmet Filipino sausages and when COVID-19 hit Thomas joined them and broadened the offering.
Today, Canberra Gourmet offers pre-made Filipino family staples such as pork and chicken adobo and afritada, alongside luscious comfort foods such as braised beef cheek, crispy pork belly and eight-hour braised lamb shanks. They even take the hard work out of making deep and flavoursome soups by supplying 15-hour pork or beef broth, the perfect base for ramen or pho. “We also make sauces, salts and rubs, so something that would ordinarily take 12 hours to make can be done in a matter of minutes at home,” Thomas says.
Those who can’t bear the thought of even switching on the oven can book into Thomas’s Table By Canberra Gourmet, a chef’s table that offers a multi-course meal for just eight people in the Canberra Gourmet kitchen. Such is the desire for a personal touch that the table is sold out until the end of the year.
Canberra Gourmet home catering tip: Don’t try to cook things you’ve never done before or you’ll stress yourself out. People will just enjoy having a meal with you rather than having fancy food that you’re going to feel embarrassed about if it doesn’t work out. Keep it simple and do things you are comfortable with.
Bringing the Gan Jees to you
Popular Bruce restaurant Gan Jees has decamped to Braddon to spice things up, offering a chef’s tasting menu with 32 dishes on rotation. The modern Indian restaurant was keen to reach a new audience with its more central location, but it’s a moveable feast.
Gan Jees owners, husband and wife team Puneet Bhatia and Neetu Dhawan, have a catering offshoot that can sort out events large and small in the location of your choice. Buffets, banquets or a chef’s tasting menu of seven or nine courses featuring chef Puneet’s signature dishes are available. And don’t expect the traditional Indian fare.
“To us, Indian food in Australia has become boring. We want to change perceptions, evolve with the times and make the food more health-conscious with a lighter touch,” says Puneet. “We are using extra-virgin olive oil in the kitchen over ghee, steering away from creams and added sugars and complementing dishes that would usually be gravy and meat with fresh produce.”
Lamb rogan josh is reimagined in a croquette with papadum crumb, chaat is stacked with avo and pomegranate and charcoal salmon evolves into a charming pakora.
Gan Jees home catering tip: It’s really important to outdo the last party you went to! Being the host of an event is a direct reflection on you so it’s good to take notes at events you go to so you’re organised for when it’s your turn.
Take the stress out of shopping
If it’s not so much the cooking, but the shopping for ingredients alongside unruly pre-Christmas crowds that sends you into a flat spin, Canberra’s biggest fresh food wholesaler Alpha Fresh has the perfect panacea.
When the family-run business needed to look to new pastures as COVID-19 hit sales to the hospitality industry, Alpha diversified into delivering fresh produce direct to consumers. Five months later, the new offering is still going strong for sibling co-owners Frank and Giuseppe Ianelli.
Pity the crowds jostling for space in front of the meat counter at the supermarket, or ferreting through the fruit and veg displays that have already been picked over by early-bird shoppers at the market, as you effortlessly order your fruit, vegetable or meat boxes online.
High-end meat assortments or pre-prepped barbecue packs offer good choices for the home caterer, alongside Asian, Euro and Aussie veggie boxes, or an enticing selection of summer fruits. Order your eggs and other bits and bobs while you’re at it. All deliveries are a flat rate of $5, with local orders placed before 9:00 am delivered the same day. With all the time you’ll save on your shopping trip, stay online to search out few fab recipes in which to use all that produce.
Alpha Fresh’s home catering tip: The main thing to remember this year is that there is a huge ham shortage. So once you see hams available, don’t wait to purchase one thinking you’ll get it closer to Christmas because you may miss out. Buying fresh bulk meat, roasts and turkey well in advance and freezing them can really help you to get prepared. It also means you might be able to take advantage of any specials.