Her food is described as bold, flavorful and high concept. No wonder we are so enamoured by her menus, which also serve to transport guests through sight, smell and taste. Owner of one of the most highly esteemed catering companies in Chicago for over twenty-five years, Wendy Pashman of Entertaining Company not only knows delicious food, she holds rich insight into the event industry as a whole. We highlight her work in the first of our Crafted series called, “Secrets of Success,” confident her creative approach to culinary flavors and design will leave you inspired. (Photos of Wendy by Linda Bergonia | Chromacity Studios)
Taste of Place: Paris
Entertaining Company’s culinary mission mirrors our event design goals; to craft each event into a uniquely personalized and memorable experience. “The inspiration for a menu could be seasonal, the month a couple met, a place they met, a hobby or interest,” says Wendy. Such was the case for a bride pursuing an advanced degree in French literature whose vision was to capture the feeling of Paris and history through elegance with a touch of vintage. Here, Kehoe Designs and Planner Marina Birch transformed Chicago Illuminating Company into a marvelous romantic setting based on the Medici Gardens. The menu echoed the refinement of Paris with an elegantly eclectic entree: New Zealand baby lamb chops served with banana leaf wrapped sea bass and coconut curry sauce. With many vegetarians present, special attention was given to those guests with an opulent composed entrée of black lentils, truffle potato mousse, baby stem on carrots, parsnips, roasted beets and toasted crispy maple glazed brussels sprouts with oven dried tomato sliver garnish. All the details from dish-to-decor transported guests to an evening of open-air, european enchantment.
Photography by: David Wittig Photography
Creative Hockey Fare
Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties are another occasion where inspiration is drawn from what is special and distinctive to the client. For this Mitzvah celebration, it was all about their son’s love of hockey; specifically, Chicago’s home team, the Black Hawks. Kehoe Designs teamed up with Planner Reva Nathan to completely convert Cafe Brauer into an ice hockey rink. Entertainment Company’s waiters, decked out in Black Hawks gear, served delicious bites authentic to a stadium experience with an elevated twist. The kids’ menu included handmade potato chips with logo’d paper bags and toasted sandwich triangles of nutella, strawberry and banana. Adult guests dined on a whimsical first course of vegetarian sliders presented in a paper boat with pommes frites. The children also enjoyed handmade pizza which was served in an individual corrugated box, just like at the game! The culinary fun lasted late into the night with Entertaining Company rolling carts ferrying a variety of popcorn and later serving hot chocolate with a hockey puck “lid.” The event theme, threaded seamlessly through menu and decor, made for a night our ‘hockey fan of honor’ will never forget.
Photography by: Phil Farber
As an avid world traveler who specifically seeks out the nuances of regional cuisines, we asked Wendy why she thought ethnic fare was seeing such a surge in the event catering world. “Ethnic cuisine has become more prominent as America has become more diverse, global travel has increased, ethnic restaurants are popping up, not to mention a greater curiosity into foreign cultures accessed through the internet and visually through sites like Pinterest,” says Pashman. “Everyone can ‘travel’ now without leaving their home or office. We are curious about other people and want to understand them through their culinary. Clients are becoming more sophisticated about adventuring through food and this is reflected in their catering choices.”
And, why is she personally drawn to ethnic cuisine? “Travel is my number one inspiration! Whether international or local into Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods! We are always drawing on our knowledge of world celebrations, traditions and rites of passage from every culture and marrying them with a chic and modern sensibility through culinary design. Our creative filter is made up of spices that have traveled the continents and eating traditions that we pass down through the generations,” explains Wendy. With the rich cultural past of so many Chicago residents, their special celebrations create an occasion to remember those stories and journeys through food. “Every plate tells a story,” says Pashman.
Our next series of photos takes you to Southeast Asia where Wendy scouts out authentic recipes and ingredients that she will then re-envision into beautifully refined menus for three stunning Chicago events we collaborated on.
(1) Indian Wedding at Home Residence: Decor photos, David Wittig Photography | Food photos, Cassidy Photography | Planning, Birch Design Studio
(2) Indian Wedding at Union Station: Photos, Ira Lippke Studios | Planning, Birch Design Studio
(3) 50th Birthday Party at Chicago Illuminating Company: Photos, Soleil Media & Ryan Sjostrom
Our last question for Wendy was what food trends she’s seeing in the catering world? “We are seeing increased interest in Italian seafood, as seen at new restaurant, Nico Osteria. Almost all weddings, for instance, incorporate a creative fish entrée as solo or part of a duet.” Happily seizing the occasion to research this trend, Wendy and Chef Shawn headed to Amalfi, Italy last year to visit the markets and experiment with freshly caught seafood, pasta and the Amalfi lemon that finds its way to signature Limoncello…as well as tart lemon desserts, one of Wendy’s all time favorites. “Red meat is also enjoying a renaissance,” she adds. Beef tenderloin is being overshadowed by cabernet braised shortribs at formal events, as well as steakhouse preparations like peppercorn New York strip steaks (with steak knife, please).
For our final slideshow, we invite you to bask in the warmth of coastal Italy’s culinary world interspersed with vignettes of Almafi-inspired Kehoe Designs’ decor. Finishing off the set, a few trending mouth-watering menu items by Entertaining Company.
Decor images from Kehoe Designs’ master archive collection | Photography by: Ryan Sjostrom & Rena Brenner
Food Photography by: Cassidy Photography
TIPS FROM THE PROS: Wendy Pashman
What is the most valuable lesson you could give someone just starting out their career in the event industry? Read the children’s book “The Little Engine that Could”. To be successful in the event industry one needs inspiration, talent and even more importantly, the energy and persistence to work long hard hours to exceed client expectations.
What wise piece of catering advice do you wish you could give to everyone planning a large scale event? Have a budget firmly in mind and give all vendors a realistic place to start. Add on as you go.
What have you learned through the catering world that has made you a better at-home host? The value of preparation! When hosting at home, commit everything to a timeline like what we do in the event industry to minimize stress and give the most free time to enjoy your guests!
What’s your favorite, go-to recipe? Believe it or not….Captain Curry Chicken from the original “Charleston Receipts” Cookbook, given to me by a friend from South Carolina. In my original New York home kitchen back in the 70’s, this is the first dish I prepared by myself and used to entertain friends. Nostalgic!
What are your top 5 favorite restaurants in Chicago and why?
Avec (love the small plate concept, always an intimate dining experience)
Taxim (Chef David Shneider’s innovative “take” on Greek food, always delicious and unique)
Piccolo Sogno (“go to” place for Italian and love the patio in warm weather, could be in Tuscany!)
Nightwood (fantastic cocktails, bold flavors, artisanal, warm and inviting, Pilsen)
Gibson’s (sometimes there’s nothing better than kicking back with deliciously flavorful basic New York Strip Steak and Scotch after a long week)