-Photography by Jonathan Hanson
The Food Affair
Let them eat cake . . . and heirloom tomatoes and burrata cheese.
Ke vin Miller and Jen DeVos go way back. Both began their respective careers in the mid-'90s at Baltimore's popular Ze Mean Bean Café—Miller as chef and DeVos as general manager. Prior to the cafe, Miller, a graduate of Baltimore International College's culinary program, served as personal chef aboard Amway Corporation's corporate yacht (cooking for the likes of former President Ford) and worked under French chef Roger Vergé at Le Moulin de Mougins. Over the past decade in Baltimore, his culinary skills have shone at Gertrude's and Ixia. DeVos, who studied business at Towson University, lost her job in the mortgage meltdown of 2008. "So, I just decided to start a company—during a recession," she jokes. Her personal-assistance company, Widespread Concierge Services, opened the door for Miller to become a private chef for her clients after Ixia closed in 2009. DeVos's organizational skills and Miller's talent in the kitchen quickly led to demand for dinner parties and cooking classes. "Suddenly, we kind of looked at each other one day and realized we were catering," she remembers. The pair made it official in March of 2010 with their catering company Copper Kitchen. DeVos handles the details and day-of planning, while Miller is the expert in all things culinary. "We started with small parties, and, through word of mouth, this thing has evolved and snowballed in ways we couldn't have imagined," says Miller. "And here we are today, busier than ever." DeVos fills us in.
Q: How can couples find a good caterer?
A: When looking for a caterer, it's important to shop not just menus, but people. Couples need to find a caterer who is interested in their needs and preferences and is willing to listen and get creative. It shouldn't be a matter of just picking a few dishes off of a list. This is their big day, and they should be made to feel part of the process without having to do any of the worrying involved in making their ideas come to life. Budget is also important. Different companies specialize in different scales of events. The numbers can seem daunting, but remember, this isn't the same as cooking for you and your 10 closest friends, or even a celebration dinner out in a fancy restaurant. There are a lot of elements that go into creating this special day and, realistically, it has to be expected that this is going to be reflected in the cost. If a caterer is out of your price range and isn't able to work with you to create a menu that fits your price point, don't get disheartened. However, it may mean you need to readjust your expectations, but that shouldn't mean compromising on flavor or quality.
Q: Does the couple choose from pre-set seasonal options or can they create a menu from scratch? What are your recommendations for couples as they choose their menus?
A: We customize every single menu from scratch. This keeps us fresh and inspired. When choosing a menu, you need to consider your budget, the season, and a well-balanced menu for all guests to enjoy. We are finding that, in today's market, the trends of dietary restrictions/profiles are increasing: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and organic. We can consider all these aspects when we plan a menu.
Q: How do you incorporate the wedding theme or couple's personality into the meal?
A: Like any other wedding vendor, we ask a lot of questions of our clients initially. Then, based on getting to know the couple and their wedding style, we will have several team brainstorming sessions to create an inventive menu that fulfills their vision. We have done everything from brunches and farm-to-table to different international flairs and elegant formal affairs. It's important that the flavors and style of the meal are cohesive and fit not only the couple's personality, but the season and feel of the venue as well.
Q: What is your favorite dish to prepare for a wedding?
A: That is a hard question since we are both so passionate about food. There are too many options—frankly, we love it all. Passed hors d'oeuvres can be one of the most fun ways to serve things like sweet corn and shrimp beignets or heirloom tomato tartlets with burrata cheese. You get to be creative and hand-deliver a guest a perfect bite that reflects the flavors of the season in one attractive and delicious package. For the dinner portion of the wedding, the more open the client, the more enjoyable the menu planning. It's always nice to do something out of the norm, like Magret duck or a succulent short rib instead of the usual chicken or tenderloin.
Q: How early do you begin prepping the meal on the big day?
A: We prepare for a big day several weeks ahead of time. You have to keep in mind, it's not just the meal, but everything else that comes with it: the beautiful display pieces, the dishes, the silver and French copper need polishing, and everything besides the meal needs to get packed up and ready to go. Packing for the event is at least a two-day preparation and involves many moving parts. The food, however, is always freshly prepared the day of the event.
Q: Do you cater both buffet-style and seated dinners? Do you have thoughts on waiter service versus buffet?
A: We are equipped to serve both styles. The seated, served dinner involves significantly more labor, both in the kitchen and on the floor, as extra staff must be hired. If a client is looking for a more social atmosphere, the buffet or heavy hors d'oeuvres party is the way to go. Once again, we always go back to our clients and their particular vision for their big day.
Q: Any creative ways to dress up that universal chicken entree?
A: We keep the preparation simple but use flavorful, fresh, seasonal ingredients and prefer organic free-range chicken. Chef Miller's favorites are a thin filet of chicken grilled with a Sicilian caponata or a pistachio-crusted breast of chicken stuffed with fresh goat cheese and peach butter sauce.
Q: Have you seen any new trends in catering?
A: We are finding relaxed, family-style to be one of the newest trends. This is the way even we prefer to dine. Also, we have amazing desserts at Copper Kitchen, so instead of getting a big wedding cake, we prepare a ceremonial cake for the bride and groom to cut and serve our mini pastries or desserts for the guests.
Q: How do you handle the inevitable day-of disasters?
A: We think of everything that could possibly go wrong and have a plan for it in advance. Then, just for good measure, we have a contingency plan for the first back-up plan as well. We were thrown a major curve ball at our first wedding. There ended up being about 30 more people in attendance than what we had been contracted for. Fortunately, since it was our first wedding, we over-prepared to accommodate for any errors in estimating portions per person. We were able to get everyone fed, even if we couldn't give them somewhere to sit. Nothing that drastic has happened since, but we do always ensure that we are prepared with a few extra portions, as well as able to accommodate any food allergies or dietary restrictions that the host may not have been aware of prior to the event.
Q: Any suggestions for those who'd like to save money without sacrificing quality?
A: A full seated dinner is undoubtedly one of the most expensive parts of a wedding. In order to maintain a budget and the quality of the food, opt for a heavy hors d'oeuvres or tapas-style stationed party. This creates a very social atmosphere, differentiates your wedding from the traditional, and keeps the cost down.
Q: Are couples choosing specialty cocktails versus open bars?
A: Yes, absolutely. We are finding that we do more wine and beer with a few crafted cocktails—a his and hers—for example. Once again, this keeps the cost down and adds another element to the theme of the event.