In the room next to where I’m writing this week’s column hangs a large 5 ft. x 5 ft. oil painting called, “The Dinner Party.” It’s the work of a very talented St. John’s born portraitist named Jason Jenkins. Jason is a friend. He painted spouse and I in 2003. We are captured in our kitchen cooking at our island stove. (F.Y.I., since 2003 Jason’s career has blossomed. He lived and worked in Montreal, then Seoul and now lives in Philadelphia where he’s just completed two years of post graduate study at Studio Incamminati – School for Contemporary Realist Art. This summer, Jason was invited to become an instructor at Studio Incamminati.)
Jason’s painting came about after an enjoyable evening when spouse and I cooked dinner for him and his girlfriend. We’ve cooked many special dinners over the past 38 years. Many were small, involving six to eight guests, while others involved preparing a meal for 16 people or more. How it’s done – an informal self-service buffet dinner, or a formal three-course meal where you serve your guests – determines the cost and amount of labour you need to expend.
A few weeks ago, we cooked a Thanksgiving Day dinner for 16. Soon we’ll all be into holiday season entertaining, meaning more informal or formal dinners and parties. I’m capable of preparing a multi-course dinner for 16, or more, and could even come to your house and do it. I’ve earned a personal chef diploma, having studied the culinary and business side of the job for a year. But, there have been times lately when I’ve wanted someone else to do the cooking for me.
So, recently, we tried something we’ve never done before. We hired chef Gregory Bersinski to come and cook a dinner for us and 14 of our friends. It costs more than purchasing and preparing the ingredients yourself, but I found it worth doing based on the time it left us to enjoy our guests and a beautifully prepared meal. What follows is a description of the evening, from beginning to end.
It’s 5 p.m. and chef, Gregory Bersinski, has just arrived with the ingredients for tonight’s dinner party for 16. In one-hour guests will begin to arrive. Once boxes have been unpacked he’ll need to begin assembling an assortment of hors d’oeuvres and canapés to accompany pre-dinner drinks.
The dining table has already been laid. An extension’s been added so that everyone can sit together. Fresh, red roses give a dash of colour to a table dominated by white cloth, white candles and crystal wine glasses. Names have been added to each place setting to eliminate the awkward question of where to sit. Every detail’s been taken care of to provide a seamless dining experience, including champagne flutes for pre-dinner bubbly.
“Gouda, Swiss, cantaloupe and honeydew melon. It’s really nice with sparkling wines and whites,” says Bersinski about his first hors d’oeuvres.
In addition to their pairing potential with sparkling wine, being small and skewered, the cheese and fruit snacks will be easy to eat and mess free.
Colourful roasted grape tomatoes star in a canapé consisting of toasted bread, tomatoes and shavings of Parmesan cheese. Even picky eaters should like this choice.
“So, what’s this one?” I ask. “It’s a traditional Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish starter. It’s rice wrapped in grape leaves. It’s vegetarian, there’s no meat; but it can be made with meat as well. We normally do it with ground beef or pork.”
It’s 6 o’clock. Guests are arriving. Server, Angela Pittman, begins offering Bersinski’s hors d’oeuvres. For the next 65 minutes guests will sip sparkling wine, enjoy tasting the appetite starters and make conversation.
Chef Bersinski has shifted his concentration to the main meal: a shellfish starter, followed by filet mignon and chocolate cake. From now on the kitchen will see plenty of stirring and tasting.
Scallop with avocado, tomato, jalapeño, cilantro relish, and shrimp with ginger, soy, garlic and honey are first in line. After drying the shellfish in paper and heating two fry pans with sizzling oil, chef Bersinski quickly fills each pan, beginning with the shrimp. The shrimps are cooked with tails on. The tail adds colour and helps the shrimp keep its C shape. Tail-less shrimp will take on an O or coin shape when cooked.
Generous sized scallops go into the oil two at a time. Once browned, they’ll be turned to cook briefly, and then removed from the heat so as not to overcook. Next comes plating, where relish and sauce will be added. Angela Pittman assists with plating and once all sixteen appetizers are ready she heads for the dining room to deliver Bersinski’s delicious prélude to waiting guests.
A tray covered with colourful, cubed root vegetables is ready for the oven. The vegetables will be shaped – by filling a temporary round frame – into individual portions and served on a dinner plate next to a thick, tender piece of filet mignon. More sides are keeping the stove busy. Baby potatoes cook inside a simmering pot. Sliced bok choy is ready for the fry pan. Bok choy will be the plate’s green component.
Sixteen pieces of filet mignon are ready for finishing in the pre-heated oven. Chef Bersinski calculates exactly how long the beef will need to remain inside the cooker.
The steaks’ flavour will be enhanced by a reduction of Shiraz and veal jus. The concentrated flavours of a reduction add greatly to the enjoyment of red meat.
At 8 p.m. main plates are served and received approvingly by guests. “It looks attractive,” said one. “Looks fabulous. Cooked to perfection,” said another.
Dessert is a chocolate cake by chef Bersinski’s pastry maker, Jessica Winsor. Each piece of cake is carefully cut by Bersinski with a wet knife, to ensure all 16 pieces are perfectly equal. Everyone must receive a fair share of the magnificent dessert – a formidable ending to our catered dinner.
No doubt you’re wondering how much chef Bersinski charged us for the dinner. First, to be clear, we bought the wine and other beverages. We also provided our own stemware, cutlery, china, extra chairs and laid the table. We did not do the washing-up, except for the wine glasses left after chef Bersinsky and Angela Pittman had gone.
Chef Bersinsky’s price fluctuates depending on the number of guests – he can handle from five to 500 – the number of courses, the menu or choice of dishes, and the market price of ingredients. We wanted shellfish and filet mignon for 16, obviously a pricey meal. Chef Bersinski charged $55 per person, no more, no less. If we had wanted, say, a vegetarian soup, roasted chicken and chocolate cake, the cost would have been $40 per person.
It’s up to you whether you serve the meal yourself or hire someone. I paid our server separately – $150 plus tip.
If you’re interested in speaking with Gregory Bersinski about his personal services, please call him directly at (709) 727-8106.