Editor’s Note: Interview brought to you by Wayne Gurnick of Moments by Wayne. Wayne Gurnick interviewed Chris Brugler, Chris Brugler Catering and Challah King on Wedding Words of Wisdomtm
July 2, 2012
WG: Hello, this is Wayne Gurnick from Moments by Wayne and we are here for another episode of Wedding Words of Wisdomtm and today I have a phenomenal person, Chris Brugler, from Chris Brugler Catering and we are going to talk about all the aspects of catering and what goes into it. Chris, I’d like to welcome you to our radio broadcast today.
CB: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it and am looking forward to it.
WG: You have such an impressive background and resume, and coming from places like the Ritz Carlton and private cooking, what made you decide to start your own catering company?
CB: It kind of just happened from working with families as a private chef. Once people tasted my food, they wanted to know if I would cater for them on my days off. So I started growing the business that way without even really knowing that I was growing the business. And then, I got busy every weekend and started to develop more clients, and it grew into more events. So, I got out of the private chef sector and realized that it was time to start a catering company.
WG: So, it was really a matter of demand for what you do.
CB: Yes, exactly. I always wanted to have my own company. I started out at the Ritz Carlton and then became a private chef and now catering. So, I am on the third dimension now.
WG: What would you say is your signature and what sets you apart from other chefs and catering companies?
CB: One of my signature dishes would be the slow braised crème de cassis short ribs. I love cooking, especially braising. I would say that one of the things that separates me from other caterers would definitely be the attention to detail with the clients, whether that’s in the beginning of the process, listening to what they want regarding the menu and working with them to get the perfect menu together for their event, whether a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, or Bat Mitzvah. Most of that training came from the Ritz Carlton, where the motto is “Customer is always right!” and without the customer you have nothing.
WG: Most couples are pretty uncertain about using an off-site location, we find, and we do a lot of convincing. We certainly don’t push them to go off-site, but give them pros and cons. To most people, it can seem very overwhelming as far as logistics. What is your take on the off-site venues, whether it’s a private home or an estate or even the park or beach? From your perspective, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of being at an off-site location?
CB: I would say that 90% of my events take place off-premise. I actually prefer off-premise because for one, it keeps it interesting. Two, the client has a lot more freedom. When they go to a hotel, they are probably a lot more restricted. There are other events going on, you have the ballroom and you can only get married in this room. The prices go up. I don’t know all the logistics of a hotel. I know that when you are off-site, you pretty much have free reign to be as creative as the premise allows you. For instance, we just did an event for 2,000 people at LA Theater, for Ubisoft, the video gam company and that was amazing because we were able to build it out just the way we needed to make it happen. When you are at a hotel, you don’t have all those options.
WG: Right, and then there are all those rentals, bringing everything in and literally setting it up in a way that works best for you, as opposed to going into someone else’s kitchen and dealing with what’s permanently there. So, you get to build the kitchen out, correct?
CB: Yes, correct. And in a lot of the cases, depending on the size of the home, we can use the actual kitchen for a home base, if you will. For most of the events, you have to build out the kitchen. When we say “build out”, the client does not have to get nervous. It generally means a few ovens and some 8-foot tables to plate on. Lighting, too – it does not need to be a huge undertaking. Most caterers can get that done easily – that’s what we do.
WG: Can you still be innovative and creative with the menus when you are at an off-site location?
CB: Yes, of course! You don’t have all the equipment that you would have in a hotel, but it’s all the stuff that you can bring in from a rental aspect. You can be as creative as you want with the menus.
WG: Fantastic! Having a wedding or another celebration at home might be a good option for some couples and for others may be not so. What do you think is the most important thing that people should consider?
CB: It would pretty much be the layout – do you have enough room for your guests to sit and where the kitchen would be. We can build out a kitchen in any space – garage, side of the home, but the biggest factor would be how close the kitchen would be to where the guest tables are. If the kitchen has to be on the other side of the property, you would have to have a satellite set up of tables to plate the salad, soup, etc., that would save staff steps. We want to minimize the number of steps that staff has to take to get to the guests to ensure proper service. It would come down to spacing. We can work in any environment.
WG: One of the things that I mention to clients is that any time we are doing catering, we want to make sure that there are clear aisle ways between tables, that the location does not have lots of steps for your staff to be going up and down when they are carrying the plates. Those things all come into play, too, correct?
CB: Yes, of course. And if there were lots of steps, then maybe at the top of the steps we would have a satellite set up where the servers would plate the salad at the top and then go. Service is the key part in this. If the food is amazing, but the service is off, then it will be a big problem. Both have to work.
WG: When someone is selecting more of a non-traditional venue, would you say that these are the things that they should look at? Are there others?
CB: Yes, it’s something that the caterer and the wedding coordinator can figure out.
WG: If we talk a little bit about a residential kitchen, have you found that everything you would need for catering an event – space, equipment or supplies – is available to you? How would someone know what he or she would need and whether it’s feasible and cost effective for them?
CB: For most homes, depending on the size of the wedding, if you are having a small wedding for say 60 people, you could probably get away with doing it out of the kitchen. Just depends on whether the kitchen has an 8-burner stove and 2-3 ovens. Another way that would be fun is to do a buffet – that would help. Family style would also work to make it happen.
WG: You mentioned a key word, buffet. Most clients think that buffets are less expensive. Can you address how that works? There is always the issue of portion control that people don’t consider when they think that buffet is less expensive. How do you respond to those people who want to do a buffet to keep their cost down?
CB: Well, it’s totally not true. With the buffet, there is no way to manage the portions. You may have uncle Bob that comes in and fills up the plate and then goes back a second time. As a caterer, you have to account for that. I think the best way is to do plated and that way the caterer has 100% control, knowing how much food is needed for each course. There are some fun different ways to do this. You can start out with a plated first course and then can switch it up and go into family-style for the main course, and then go back to a plated style for the dessert. This is fun and different and switches it up for your guests. It’s another way to control starter and dessert portions. For family style, I feel that people don’t take as much as they would on a buffet. When people get up to a buffet, they tend to load up as much as they can, like when they are in Vegas.
WG: Part of the reason that they load up on a buffet is that they really don’t want to get up from their table and go back for more. So, they figure, if they fill up their plate they won’t have to come back.
CB: That’s true! I never thought about it that way, but it’s true. That’s why I think that family style can be fun. We do a lot of events for Disney and one particular client likes us to serve family style, but we also walk around with two or three different proteins, starches and vegetables, offering people these choices. And then, once people get served, we put platters in the center of the table, so that they can help themselves to more. This way, the guests get high level of service and then at the end they don’t feel limited and they can serve themselves.
WG: That’s a phenomenal way to provide a little bit more service, take care of your guests on the initial go around and then make it easy for the guests to have more, without having to ask for it.
CB: And when you are doing a large event for a couple hundred guests, it gets awkward to offer more in the flow of service, so with the platters in the center of the table, you are making it easy for your guests to help themselves. The guests then feel comfortable enough to take more. So, that particular type of service does require a few more servers.
WG: The cost goes up a little more, relative to the overall size of the event. It’s a lot less expensive to serve 50 people than to serve 300, right?
WG: You do have a little more expense in labor, but then you are able to offset it with the food cost, as compared to the buffet.
CB: It also depends on the level of service. If you have one person with fish, one person with meat, one person with the starch and one with the vegetable, then you need four people to serve one table. It depends on how many tables you have and how quickly you would like to serve your guests.
WG: What should a prospective client ask the caterer before hiring them?
CB: The most important thing would be the menu, to find out if the caterer can cook to the style that the client wants. Another important thing would be to look at photos of food presentation and finally, the customer service and personality. You should find out if you will be dealing directly with the chef. In large catering companies, you may not be dealing directly with the chef. In my company, you would be dealing with me. I will be the one making changes and creating menus for you. And getting back to customer service – that’s very important.
WG: So, just to repeat – you want people to take a look at the photos of caterer’s work, so that they can see presentation, the design of a plate, which is just as important as the way the food tastes. You want them to talk about menus and find out about the diversity of the menu items available. And then, it’s customer service, the personality of the staff to make sure that it’s a click. I would agree with you that these are the most important things.
I just pulled up your web site and I need to mention a few things before we go on, because this will lead into my next question. Under food, you have a Spring Garden Book Club Dinner, which would be very different than the next one, the Oscar Screening Party, which would be very different than the event you did for the Ray Charles Foundation. These are three incredible and very different events. How do you help a client decide on a menu, choosing each course, or doing something different? How do you lead them, how do you guide them?
CB: Well, in the first conversation, I get an idea of what they envision, their likes, dislikes, allergies, etc. Then, I would create a huge menu with 20 different passed Hors d’oeuvres, 10 different first courses, etc. and then I turn that over to them and let them come back to me with the scaled-down version. This process takes a bit longer, but once again, going back to customer service, I feel that it’s important to give the client more than just three options. Many other catering companies will offer a choice of a chicken dish, a meat dish and a fish and you have to pick from there. I like to give more ideas than you probably need. But it gives the client a sense of something nice to pick from.
WG: Where do you find your inspiration to come up with some of these combinations listed on your web site?
CB: Over the course of my years at the Ritz Carlton, I saw hundreds of different menus. I took those ideas and what I’ve learned and put my own twist on it. In LA, people entertain a lot and put out a lot of food. We go out to eat a lot and I experiment with different ideas in my kitchen.
WG: What is your favorite restaurant?
CB: We live in the Marina, so we go to Gjelina often.
WG: What was your all time favorite meal that you’ve created? Tell me what your inspiration was and why it’s your favorite.
CB: One of the most favorite and challenging meals was when I worked for a client in Beverly Hills a few years ago. He had 15 guests from India over for dinner, all very wealthy and successful businessmen and women, who were working on some kind of a business deal. My client asked me to do the meal and I did Indian traditional style of dishes, but put my spin to it. It was very nerve-racking! It’s like trying to make meatballs for your Italian grandmother. I made the traditional dishes with my flair and everyone was blown away. They said that it was the best meal they ever had in the States. It was extremely rewarding.
WG: As you know, our show is called Wedding Words of Wisdomtm and I would like you to tell our listeners your Wedding Words of Wisdomtm. It can be anything; it does not have to be about catering.
CB: My Wedding Words of Wisdomtm would be that you only get married once, so enjoy the experience of planning the wedding. A lot of people get wrapped up and stressed. If you have people on board like Wayne and myself, this will alleviate a lot of the stress of the planning process and you can actually enjoy your wedding day. That is the most important factor and many people that are not in the industry don’t realize it.
WG: Thanks for joining me today, Chris. I know that people will find this interview informative and fun to listen to. This is Wayne Gurnick from Moments by Wayne and I would like to thank all of our listeners today. Make sure to check out Chris Brugler Catering at chrisbruglercatering.com and his sister company, Challah King at challahking.com and feel free to join us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Thank you for listening.
Chris Brugler’s Bio:
Chris Brugler is the owner of one of Los Angeles’ premier catering companies, Chris Brugler Catering. Chris combines his culinary passion with experience gained while working at the Ritz Carlton and as a private chef to create amazing dining experiences. Chris also owns Callah King, a sister company producing the traditional Jewish food, with a new “twist.”