Guilty Pleasures & The Hors D’Oeuvre that Wouldn’t Die
Buying condoms, watching Real Housewives, & putting franks in a blanket on the menu. Things we have to have, want to have, but are embarrassed if caught doing them. Guilty pleasures indeed.
I know, none of you watch Housewives. Bravo just rolls out a Housewives series for every zip code for kicks. For me, though I admit to watching the NYC version from time to time, my true guilty pleasure is . . . Tabitha’s Salon Takeover. Also on Bravo.
Haven’t seen Tabitha? She’s this tough-as-nails British chick who comes into a hair salon in disarray, whips the owner into shape, scares the crap out of the employees, and turns the place around. Having run an event company for 20 years, I secretly would have loved to have her come in and show me and my staff some tough love. (No jokes please.) But alas, I digress.
Across the nation, every upscale caterer I spoke to says mini hot dogs simply refuse to bow to food trends. Clients continue to ask for them, and the stylish ones who are too embarrassed blame it on someone else. Like the caller on a radio advice show who says, “my friend has this problem.”
Paul Neuman, owner of Neuman’s Catering in NYC, confirmed, “Excuses range from, ’My father insists on them’, to ‘The kids have to have them’. Somehow it is always someone else besides the client who needs them.”
Joann Roth-Oseary, owner of Someone’s In The Kitchen, of Tarzana, CA agreed. “The truth is, no matter where you serve them or how many we send out on trays, those trays will come back empty. It’s so funny, sophistication out the window, gimme my dogs!”
That hasn’t stopped caterers from trying to jazz up these perennial favorites. Carl Dean Hedin, Director of Sales, Off-Premise, for Abigail Kirsch of NYC, has made lollipos out of them. “Pigs in the blanket is the perennial guilty pleasure,” Carl said. “So many people want them but don’t want to ask. We solve this dilemma by reinventing our Pigs so that they appear contemporary, maybe unrecognizable, and then surprise people with the familiar flavor. They are always a favorite!”
Neuman’s has tried a retro twist by going back to the original hot dog nestled in a bun, only in miniature, “so it looks like a doll-house sized hot dog,” Paul said. “At least everyone knows we’re trying to do something creative with it.”
And for those food professionals who may moan that they didn’t go to culinary school to serve ball park food, remember, it’s all about the guests.
Sara McGregor, owner of Capitol Catering of Washington, DC tells this great story: “Last week we did the Wine and Spirits Freedom Fest. It is 400 people and needless to say it is all about the “wine and spirits”. The food is important because we want to make sure it is food that will soak up a lot of alcohol and will be universally liked. Well this year we did Pigs in the Blanket (as well as Shoestring Fries with different dipping sauces, and Miniature Sliders) and they were a huge hit. Especially the men loved them! One guest said to me, ‘This is heaven’ and he had a big martini glass in his hand and a plateful of Pigs in the Blanket!”
As for me, my best frank in a blanket story is about the one event I got yelled at for NOT serving them. It was a major society charity gala that charged $1,000 a plate. The gala chair was this hedge fund wife just dripping affluence and fashion. When we reviewed the hors d’oeuvres list at the tasting she looked at me and said, “I don’t want to see any of those mini hot dogs, ok?” The words, ‘you idiot’, were understood at the end of her sentence.
Fast forward to the event, when John Milton (OK, I’m changing his name, but this really happened), the 75 year old guest of honor, walks up to me. “You the caterer?” he asks.
“I’m the event planner; I hired the caterer,” I respond. I just made a distinction that people like Mr. Milton neither understand nor care about. Several close relatives of mine fall into that category.
“Where’s the mini hot dogs?” he presses me.
“I’m sorry Mr. Milton, the gala chair chose a menu that did not include them.” Almost on cue, a waiter rolls up with a tray of sushi, the one item he is 100% sure not to eat; Milton is old school. [And ‘on cue’ is exactly what it was too. Because as soon as the event started I alerted the Maitre D’ who the two uber-VIPs were and he made sure they were always shadowed by a waiter. Milton might as well have had one of those red laser marks on him like he’s being targeted by a sniper.]
Milton looks at the tray, snarls, then looks back at me.
“What does that sign say over there?” he says as he points behind him toward the Coat Check without looking. That’s ok, I know what he meant, so I oblige.
“The John & Gloria Milton Wing,” I said.
“That’s right. Now, you think I can get some food around here? Real food?” He turned around and walked over to the gala chairwoman, where he started what looked like a very animated discussion. I can’t vouch for what he said, but based on his hand gesticulations, I’m pretty sure she’ll never keep pigs in a blanket off the menu again.