Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cater for a Wine Gathering

I found it challenging enough to host a dinner for 4 at home on a Friday evening, and yet the week after, I doubled the challenge to help catering food for a fund-raising event for 70 people.

My good friend Mr Y owned this marvelous wine cellar/lounge facility in a harbor-side building near Tin Hau called Hip Cellar so I asked him whether he could lend us the venue for a charity event to raise funds for our church's growth project. We thought it would be great from a social gathering and fund-raising perspectives, entertaining a cozy crowd with people from church and friends. Once we were confirmed the date of the first Friday of August, we began to plan for the event.

One of our earliest biggest challenges was to decide what food to serve. It's a wine tasting event so we wanted to prepare food that matched well with wines. While this wasn't planned to be a dinner function, we wanted to serve substantial portion of food so people could stick around without the need to leave early for a proper meal. We were also handicapped by the fact that there's no proper kitchen available at the venue, so we couldn't do hot food and most of the preparation must be done in advance.

At the end we decided to adopt the theme of traditional pintxos. Pintxos was originated in the Basque Country north of Spain where we traveled to a few years back and had the first taste of this cool concept of food serving. At towns in the region, each bars will lay out all these unique open-sandwich type tapas to customers (pintxos in Basque language means small snacks) - traditionally, people will order a drink and a couple pintxos at one bar, hang out a bit with food and drink then hop around to other bars and do the same. With 4 to 5 bars along people's route, this could easily be their light dinner.

We figured serving pintxos is perfect since most of the ingredients could be prepared in advance and served at room temperature. We only need to assemble right before the event began. It's easy finger food so people could just grab a couple each time and eat with a filled wine glass in hand. And best of all, our dear friend Gregoire from Bread Elements was so kind to sponsor us the baguette slices that we could serve our pintxos with - for sure we can't source better bread to serve our food anywhere else in Hong Kong!

When we entertain at home I have the tendency of experimenting with new dishes, but this time I largely follow the formula for traditional pintxos with just a few variations. After a few iterations of considerations, I settled with the following types: caramelized onions and goat cheese; smoked salmon and cream cheese; roasted bell peppers, grilled shrimps and anchovies; tapenades and boiled eggs; chorizo and manchego; jamon iberico and brie; and slow-roasted tomatoes and olives. So I got a good mix of ready-made ingredients plus a few I could prepare in advance rather easily. I started cooking different ingredients one by one pretty much every evenings on the week prior to the event, and after a few days, our home actually smelled like a pizzeria after all these pepper and tomato roasting with aromas of olives and anchovies!

And we got a lot of help as well. Some friends from church brought back cheeses directly from Borough Market of London after their recent trip - there's a good variety - cheddar, stilton and brie - and a few kilograms of them altogether, and another friend from church made a gorgeous and rich chocolate-nut brownie bar.

For wines, we were making this a blind-tasting event in which guests did not know the types of wines being served - they needed to guess based on the tasting notes provided and whoever guessed right what wines they were drinking would receive a grand prize. I brought together a flight of wines with distinct characteristics and each typical of the region where they were produced - a Spanish Rioja, a Barbera from Italy's Piedmont province, an Australian Shiraz and a refreshing Pinot Grigio from Veneto. I think the Shiraz seems to be the most popular that evening, though my personal favorite was the more expressive Barbera.

We weren't used to organize events so obviously we ran into glitches and problems here and there, but we were thankful that quite a number of people turned up - more than we expected - to the extent we literally ran out of all food at the end of the event! That saved us the trouble of dealing with any leftovers. And everyone seems to have a jolly time and we raised a bit of money so we could finally breathe a sigh of relief when we finished packing up.

Let's hope to do this again in the future... love to see how food and wine bring people together and happy to be part of it to make it happen, and for a good cause too.

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