‘The changing face of wedding catering’
Where the idea came from.
As a couple with a passion for food we attended four weddings in a single year which was pretty exceptional for us. Amongst them a reception in one of London’s finest hotels, and another at one of Staffordshire’s most popular wedding and conference venues. But in each of the four cases the food was memorable only because it was so awful.
We spent most of the meals hiding the lumps of anonymous meat in tasteless sauces underneath limp vegetables. We had to do something to disguise the fact that we weren’t eating very much.
We asked ourselves - what is it about simultaneously serving food for lots of guests that reduces good cooks to producing anonymous and ordinary food? The restaurants at these institutions are all perfectly acceptable, even quite good – so why can’t they replicate an intimate, freshly prepared meal for lots of people?
My passion for cooking.
For my husband Richard and myself with my lifelong love of great food, it was a turning point. My collection of cookery books is as huge as my collection of scrap books of torn-out magazine recipes. I’m a Delia, Jamie, Nigel Slater, Ottolenghi fan, but certainly not a clone. Rustic, simple and colourful - I adapt, experiment and add.
I'm Italian in inspiration, but with plenty of Anglo-French influence. My main expression for this creativity (apart from a brief dabble at catering for other people with a girlfriend in the 1990’s) was my own intimate dinner parties.
Making tarts and pates.
At the time, I had recently begun my own food business, making and (with Richard) selling savoury tarts and pates on Farmer’s Markets in the West Midlands (‘The Local Tart Company’). I’d already mastered the ability to turn out 300 tasty tarts and pates, commanding a decent price for each and retaining strong customer loyalty.
However, the ‘tart regulars’ had begun to ask me if I could cater for their party, Christening, or birthday lunch, and tentatively I began to branch out a little, expanding on my core offer and presenting a tasty series of buffets for between about 10 to 30 people.
Richard, an accomplished project manager in the heritage attractions industry, continued to re-build heritage attractions, during this period for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (re-building and re-launching three of their attractions in two years), but in 2010 funding dried up in this sector and Richard was made redundant and found himself looking for a new position.
Leaving the security of employment.
We had both always wanted to run our own business, but we had always had the luxury of jobs, with sickness benefits, paid holidays and (apparently) security – not something one easily gives up on a whim. 2010 was different however, with falling pension prospects and a ‘raggedy’ jobs market in a failing economy, it occurred to us that this was the time to invest in the two of us… and whilst Tarts and Pate were fun at the outset, they didn’t stretch my culinary creativity.
Getting into wedding catering.
With the memory of those four terrible wedding meals in mind, we decided that wedding catering was an area where we felt we could make a big difference. Initially ambivalent that we could do it, I worried that the responsibility was too great. Richard’s perspective of running enormous and complex projects however reassured me, and the die was set for ‘Kemp & Kemp Catering Ltd’.
The approach was to replicate the intimacy of a dinner party meal but in a mass catering situation. With no knowledge of the ‘rules’ about how to simultaneously produce huge numbers of identical meals, I was effectively released from all the trained-in limiters that apparently prevent professionals from straying beyond tasteless chicken in an anonymous sauce.
My approach was hardly revolutionary. As with my dinner parties I started with raw and seasonal ingredients – testing, adjusting and perfecting. I hate microwaves and don’t believe in freezing anything very much. I was confident I could cook anything, so this meant there were no constraints on what could be offered to clients. From the outset the offer was based on ‘No packages’ and ideas like ‘We don’t do Menu A, Menu B – we do your menu’.
This approach of course is designed to chime with people who were like me – food lovers getting married who didn’t want to be packaged up. They had a hate of poor wedding food; they valued real, properly cooked food with taste; presented beautifully.
With a passion for food and my understanding of combinations of flavours, textures, colours and even shapes, means I can advise and steer customers to a balanced, seasonal complementary menu that works. I will reluctantly do a Boeuf Bourguignon in August of course (it’s my favourite winter dish), but prefer to steer towards a lighter, appropriate dish. A particular summer-wedding favourite is my flattened chicken – a fresh bird, de-boned by my butcher, with handfuls of herbs pushed under the skin, roasted whole and served on rustic wooden platters (made by Richard) with more fresh herbs, lemon and olive oil. Guests effortlessly carve themselves a piece with no waste and fussiness and everyone can be served at a similar time. The act of eating is a way to engage with those around you, it’s not just about ‘fuelling up’.
Fresh and local ingredients.
I always strives to make food fit the locality, the season and the occasion – local, individual, unique, sociable, happy.
That’s not to say it’s always been plain sailing. In the early days I found for example that the steam let off by 20 roasting chickens meant the potatoes didn’t crisp up. However, by not following any rules of taught formulas, and persevering I developed a system to cope, and can now replicate the intimacy of my infamous dinner parties for upwards of 160 guests.
The demanding clients this approach brings forth can be scary. When the Wedding Coordinator at one of the UK’s biggest stately homes approached me as she was getting married, her father (who is paying) is a first generation Italian and a totally passionate foodie, and he cooks himself - - so you know it has to be more than just ‘right’. He wrote the following after his daughter’s wedding and it quite literally brought tears to the eyes of both Richard and myself…
“When we first started to look for wedding caterers for my daughter and her new husband to be, I believed we were up against it because I have never had acceptable food at any mass catering event. Furthermore, it had to be good enough to please the many Italians in our family who insist food has to taste good and be presented in the best possible way.
I will say again - you achieved everything we asked for and more. Thank you for making the wedding so memorable.”
Richard and Karen
Kemp & Kemp Catering delivered 6 weddings in 2010, 28 in 2011, and 43 in 2012. Bookings for 2013 and 2014 are rolling in.