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CATERING: Party makers

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A group of Dallas bankers wanted something different for a dinner party honoring their out-of-state colleagues. The guests were served the usual banquet fare on tables set with sterling flatware and fine china. Tuxedoed waiters brought forth the typically tender cuts of deftly carved roast. But the setting wasn’t the standard ho-hum banquet hall-the bankers enjoyed their elegant continental meal in a barn, amidst sawdust, horses, cows and, most likely, a few flies. On a warm summer evening down in front of City Hall, waiters and waitresses bustled about Henry Moore’s moonlit sculp- ture, serving beef tenderloin to a hungry horde of 5,000. That morning in North Dallas, a young couple was deliciously decadent. The new-1 lyweds stretched and yawned before a cozy, romantic breakfast in | bed: rich, chocolaty coffee and flaky croissants. And at the opening of Forestwood Bank, King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table came back to life. In the bank’s lobby towered a 3-foot, tiered castle a cake surrounded by a moat of chocolate; the Round Table was draped in burlap. These events may seem a bit outlandish, but Dallas caterers are accustomed to unusual requests. They handle the biggest, most-bizarre bashes and the most-traditional, budget-minded cocktail parties. But if you kept your name on the social register this season by throwing the expected open-house party, and nearly wrecked your budget, marriage and mental well-being in the process, organizing another bash is the last thought in your mind. Playing hostess to throngs of canape-consuming conversationalists can be frustrating. The perfect party atmosphere is certain to be lacking

when the hostess spends all her time running to and from the kitchen, replenishing fresh caviar and making sure champagne glasses are brimming. Little time is left for conversation; and halfway through the “perfect” party, the overwrought hostess collapses from exhaustion.

Letting someone else do the legwork at your next shindig may be the best way to ensure your guests’ first-class treatment. Often a caterer turns an ordinary party or business luncheon into something to be remembered – favorably. A catered event can be a capricious informal breakfast with pastry or a splendid seven-course meal with after-dinner liqueurs and cigars. As the client, you participate as much or as little as you wish.

Many caterers agree that people rarely have any idea of what they want when they engage a caterer to handle a special event. Keeping this in mind, Dallas caterers work directly with their clients to provide everything for a party-from sterling flatware and draped tables to flowers, entertainment and valet service.

Catering costs vary according to the size of the party and the services needed, but contrary to what you may think, hiring a caterer for an important event can actually be cheaper -and certainly more fun – than trying to do it yourself.

Here is a brief sampling of some of Dallas’ most established caterers and some others who are up-and-coming. It may help when spring comes around and you find yourself giving yet another (yawn) open-house party.

DiPalma, 1520 Greenville, 824-4500. Although this Italian food store/restaurant has been catering for less than six months, it has quickly attracted a large following. Owners Christine and Jerome Feder attribute their success to their specialized menu. “If you have a specialty, it’s much easier to please people. Italian cuisine is well-accepted, and very few women want to stand around and cook pasta,” Christine says.

DiPalma offers all colors of pasta: red (made with tomatoes), green (made with parsley) and brown (using chocolate). The ingredients do not alter the flavor; they just add color.

DiPalma will cater small cocktail an-tipasto trays and Italian dinners for as many as 75 people. “Our service is personalized; we don’t have a standard menu, and we try to be available at any time,” says Christine.

The store recently acquired its liquor license and now carries a good selection of Italian wine and beer.

Karen Kahn, P.O. Box 20411, 351-0197. In 1976, Karen Kahn was an art student at North Texas State University and a part-time waitress at the Lancer’s Club. After attending a food show, she found her true love: food. She quit art school and worked toward a degree in food service preparation at El Centro College. After winning the 1980 Kraft Culinary Competition for Apprentice Chefs in New York, Karen began to get calls for her catering services. “I never intended to open a catering business,” she says. “The demand forced me to. I really wanted to own a restaurant.”

Karen’s art background has made her popular in the catering business. Some of her best work is displayed on wedding cakes that she has helped design -dainty marzipan flowers on wedding cheesecakes and elegant, lacy, sugar butterflies perched atop white cakes with creamy frosting. Karen is also one of the few caterers in Dallas who carve their own ice sculptures.

For a seated meal, Karen cooks on the premises; for cold plates, she brings the food ready-to-serve. Karen can provide everything, including linen, china, flowers, waiters and other kitchen help. “I’ll even get violins,” she says. “And when the party is finished and we tear down and go home, you’d never know a party had taken place.”

Marty’s, 3316 Oak Lawn, 526-4070. Marty’s has grown from a neighborhood liquor store to a European-style gourmet food store with a fine selection of wines, beers and liquors. “Our function is to give great food and wine,” says owner Larry Shapiro. “You can come in and get a really complete meal -p?t坢, duck a l’orange, saut坢ed vegetables and wine for two -for no more than $30.”

Marty’s is geared toward catering functions for fewer than 100 people. In fact, Marty’s forte is picnic baskets for two or more. A typical basket includes fruits, cheeses, meats, pastries and wine. And if a customer requests extras such as crystal or a linen tablecloth, Marty’s will supply it. “If someone is willing to spend the money, we’ll accommodate him,” says Marilyn Slater, Marty’s fresh-foods manager.

Marty’s caters all kinds of foods: Greek, Italian, Spanish -even North African. But Shapiro is most proud of his pate chef. “There’s really no p?t坢 maker [as good] in the United States,” says Shapiro. He incorporates fruits into the p?t坢s and has created pates made of sweetbreads and all kinds of game.

“The gourmet department allows us to do a lot of things that other caterers can’t,” Ms. Slater says. Marty’s imports fresh crayfish and oysters from France (instead of from the nearby Gulf), and the store stocks prime beef from Iowa. Marty’s also carries a varied selection of pastries.

Bertha Spiritas, 4422-B Lemmon, 358-2113. Bertha Spiritas is the Jewish mother of Dallas caterers, but her food isn’t just kosher. She also serves up Mexican, Chinese, Greek, Indian and Italian food.

Although she works out of a compact, but efficient kitchen on Lemmon Avenue, Bertha is accustomed to catering large, elaborate functions (most of Bertha’s catering events are for more than 25 people). “I’m a real party planner. I like to set a beautiful table; and the food must taste good as well as look pretty.”

Bertha prepares most of the food in her kitchen, then adds the final touches on the party premises. She doesn’t have a set menu, but works closely with her clients to plan a special occasion. Bertha designed the castle-shaped cake for the opening of Forestwood Bank.

When she isn’t busy in the kitchen, Bertha likes to collect cookbooks. But she says she doesn’t use any of the recipes she finds: “We don’t copy; we improvise.”

Chow Catering, 5621 W. Lovers Lane, 352-3390. The name “Chow” may sound like the kind of food eaten by cowboys on a cattle drive, but the food and service (most of the servers are moonlighting models) provided by Chow Catering is far above beans and franks. Mike Hearn and his partner, Mark McCoy, opened Chow Catering three years ago. “We wanted something catchy and easy to remember,” says Hearn. “It means food.”

Chow uses no frozen and very little canned food. Hearn’s philosophy is if you can’t get something fresh, don’t use it.

“We’re a creative caterer,” Hearn says. “We try to change things up.” Chow’s more artistic endeavors include a butter-sculpture peacock with a snow pea-and-parsley body and a 2-foot tail of assorted vegetables; several hollowed purple cabbage heads hold the dip. Chow also uses exotic fruits as cheesecake toppings. Hearn says the preparation of their food usually costs more than other caterers, but “the final result is well worth it.”

Hearn and McCoy say they will make just about any kind of rental arrangements for their clients. When one West Texas oil baron decided to throw a party, the innovative caterers got down on their hands and knees and planted geraniums. They felt the landscaping was essential in order to create the proper party scenario for a New Orleans-style bash.

Marriott Market Center, 2101 Stem-mons Freeway, 748-8551. Marriott, like most hotel caterers, is known for catering conventions and banquets. But Marriott is trying to develop a reputation for smaller events as well. “The key to our catering is flexibility,” says John Daw, marketing director at Marriott Market Center. Each menu is customized price-wise and food-wise. “We do everything from champagne in the beginning to cigars at the end,” says Daw. “When people come up with unusual ideas, we have to overcome obstacles. Sometimes it’s a lot of headaches, but the customer sees the shine and glamour.”

Marriott Market Center gained recognition for its catering facilities in the early-Seventies when it catered the Mary Kay convention. “We became known for feeding large numbers,” Daw says. “It’s a different experience getting 7,500 people seated and fed in 45 minutes,” he adds. “It’s really a science.”

When Marriott caters a function outside of the hotel, the staff is equipped to provide everything from napkins to after-dinner mints. And when the party is over, Daw says, “our goal is to leave a place as we found it, whether we are in someone’s home, a warehouse or the convention center.”

Goodies from Goodman, 12102 In wood Road, 387-4804. Goodies from Goodman has boomed since the days when Grandfather Goodman sent out fruit baskets to all his friends and business aquaintances. The store has remained a family operation since its founding more than 50 years ago.

Chuck Goodman, president and Goodies’ best salesman, is proud of the fact that Goodies is family-owned. He believes that the family touch makes the difference between his company and other caterers. “Each catering is treated as if it’s a dinner at my mother’s house,” Goodman says. “There is no room for error.” All of the recipes used by Goodies are created by Chuck’s mother, Ruth. She also designs all of Goodies’ packaging.

Although Goodies’ reputation has been built on fruit baskets, Goodman says, “Catering is what we’re headed toward; fruit baskets are so seasonal.” Goodies also supplies flowers, entertainment, tables, valet service and whatever else their clients request. “We’re capable of doing big parties and lots of them.”

Wall’s, 10749 Preston Road, 691-4444. Wall’s may be a catering company, but president Ron Wall thinks he’s in the entertainment business. He likes to boast that Wall’s does not specialize in any one area of catering: “We have to be prepared for everything; we have to be able to do it all.”

Wall says his clients can call one number -his -and get everything: photography, valet service, invitations and, if they’re really out to impress someone, Rolls-Royce service. “We brainstorm; we’re creative and we enjoy it,” Wall says.

As one of Dallas’ largest caterers, Wall’s owns all its own silver, crystal and other catering gear. The company even does its own printing. “We eliminate the middleman and keep our prices down,” says Wall.

Because of the company’s size, Wall’scan handle last-minute parties. “We canpull off a huge party with 24 hours notice,” says Wall. “We always have an extrawedding cake for emergencies. We’ve beenable to convince people that we can put ona wedding cheaper than they could do itthemselves,” he adds. “We don’t feed people; we impress them.”

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