It has been over 5 years since I sunk my teeth into a Durham Catering Co. basil & bacon wrapped shrimp skewer. Once that first hors d'ourves hit me, I knew that DCC had something special.
Gather Together had the opportunity to connect with the Jennifer Shepherd, DCC's General Manager, to learn a little more about the creative catering company, their exciting new menus and much more!
GT: Jennifer, could you provide a brief history of Durham Catering Co.?
JS: Tom’s love of cooking started in high school, when he threw parties and cooked for friends. He realized that he could, in fact, make his living throwing parties – as a caterer.
After leaving the Army in 1988, he started cooking. He then went to the Culinary Institute of America, and after that worked his way around the country in restaurants, hotels and catering companies, honing his skills and absorbing everything he could be taught.
It wasn’t until working for Scott Howell (at Nana’s and Pop’s) and seeing his enthusiasm and commitment to food, that Tom saw a foundation on which to build a catering company. It would still be a few years before this came to fruition, but in May of 2000, the Durham Catering Company was born. He knew the food would have to be of consistent high quality, so he mined the local culinary community for chefs and managers who shared his vision. The roster of Durham Catering Company alumni reads like a “who’s who” of food in the Triangle. They now have four very talented and experienced professionals who share a vision of throwing great parties for many years to come.
In addition, Durham Catering continues to evolve while Tom’s passion for other foods grows and expands through RISE biscuits and donuts as well as an upcoming hand-rolled pasta restaurant. We are currently craving a chicken biscuit from RISE.
GT: We love all of Tom's innovation in Durham's lively food scene! Tell me more about the type of events DCC caters?
JS: We have this new motto; “Do the parties we like, advise with ease, while cooking the foods we love.” We’ll really cater any party that allows us to embrace this mantra. Ultimately we like celebrating; and want to work with people who enjoy savoring the good times in life with good friends and good food. More often than not, we cater wedding receptions as this is a great way to bring people together. However, we’re also incredibly fortunate to work with the local universities for reunion events, retirement celebrations and university functions. Then, perhaps one of my favorite kind of parties (beyond weddings), are private parties that people host in their homes such as going away parties, birthdays, cocktail receptions and more.
GT: What is your favorite type of event?
JS: Weddings are truly my favorite kind of event. I get the opportunity to know my client over the course of about a year. I get the chance to bring two families together over food and be a part of an event that will last a lifetime. Runner-up is a private party. I love when people open their home and bring their friends and family together in an intimate space.
GT: We love planning private parties too! Buffet, plated or family style? Why?
JS: Our vote is for buffet first and foremost, then family-style. We’ve actually just nixed plated offerings altogether. They’re just not our schitck. We want to do parties where we can focus our strengths from beginning to end. Also, in noticing that less people are wanting plated dinners, it just gave us the extra push we needed to cut them out. Instead, we really want to focus on what we’re GREAT at. That’s always going to be a buffet (gasp!). But buffet is not a dirty word and they're are great for a variety of reasons. We feature seasonally guided menus and think through the cooking techniques thoroughly so that we’re creating a buffet that not only tastes beyond delicious, but looks nice too. We’re flavor driven, and buffets are a great way to provide a variety of delicious items at a lower cost. Plus, guests can pick and choose what they want. It’s also less labor, less rentals, and often less stressful on planning (no dinner response cards, seating charts, etc.).
Our second favorite is definitely Family-Style. This still allows us to bring the food to the tables, in case anyone is “line-phobic” and it’s less expensive than plated. With Family-Style we do a maximum of 4 platters on the table and then people must pass the platters around and serve themselves. This is primarily great because is fosters conversation and forces people to interact – it’s building community at the tables. I love it because the food becomes the centerpiece and it has a “dinner party” intimate feel.
GT: Top three tips to give to a bride about F&B or a fact that they usually don't know before they walk through the DCC doors.
- Unless you’re planning on doing keg stands, nix the keg. It’s not more cost efficient and it’s often more complicated than one originally thinks. Instead, shoot for growlers of your favorite local or homemade brew or bottles. It allows for quicker service and saves on rentals.
- Want liquor, but don’t want the cost of a full bar? Just have one or two signature cocktails. This really cuts down on the amount of glassware you need to rent but also all the mixers and various kinds of liquor you might otherwise purchase. All while still giving your guests options and ensuring everyone has a good time.
- Do not underestimate the need for the appropriate amount of service staff. In order for us to efficiently and professionally pull off an event and all it’s details it’s incredibly important to have a sufficient amount of staff members. Not too mention, hiring a day of coordinator at the VERY least. Oh my – that is the best money ever spent and often brings the stress levels down substantially.
- I can’t just do three; perhaps most importantly – For a substantial, beautiful and flavorful meal – plan a seasonal menu. Not only the proteins and vegetables that are offered, but also within the cooking techniques. For example, braised items in the fall/winter and grilling in the late spring/summer. This brings out the flavors so much more and really sets the tone for a great meal.
Favorite DCC creation? Mine (as meniotned above) is the shrimp wrapped with basil & bacon. Do you still have do that?
JS: Ha! YES, of course we still offer that delicious gem! MMmmmm… Bacon. :) My absolute favorite creation is simple but soooo tasty. It’s our Hand-Rolled Potato Gnocchi with Pesto and Fried Baby Artichokes, topped with Parma Grana. It’s slightly pan-fried, so it’s a bit crispy – but the flavor is right on and the colors are gorgeous with the fresh green pesto and sometimes light purple artichokes.
GT: One thing that is exciting and new at DCC?
JS: Oh! There are several right now, but I guess one most related to food is our Small Plates. While they’re not entirely new, they’re definitely gaining popularity and becoming a favorite for large parties who want stations. It’s like having stations of tapas, these beautiful and flavorful creations individually plated at each station – allows for easy mingling and you don’t need full seating for everyone. It’s a perfect way to move a room full of people.
GT: How would you describe DCC in three words?
JS: Simple, Flavorful, Approachable.
GT: Any last thoughts and contact information!
JS: We absolutely adore Chelsey Morrison and Gather Together Events. You cannot go wrong when booking her services. Chelsey bends over backwards to ensure everyone is accommodated in the best way possible. From her clients first and foremost, to each vendor – it makes a party so enjoyable when everyone is taken care of, and Chelsey really embodies an accommodating spirit.
Oh and… It’s Always a Pleasure. :)
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