The best laid plans…

There was a point when I thought today’s event would never happen, but with some quick thinking (not mine) and good friends (mine) we pulled off lunch for 80 in the September sunshine.  When I was asked some time ago if I would cater lunch for the Lady Colgrain, Lord-Lieutenant of Kent (or Bella as I now know her), I didn’t hesitate with my answer.  Actually, she was the organiser and the lunch was in honour of her husband’s 70th birthday: 3 courses, 80 people – no problem.  Everything was arranged, menu planned (mixed canapes, warm ciabatta with dipping oil and balsamic vinegar, roast butterflied leg of lamb with accompaniments and plum frangipane tart), service planned, even the weather forecast changed from rain to sun.  Perfect.  Then it all started to unravel….  On Saturday morning, with just over 24 hours to go, 3 of my 5 staff dropped out and Bella and I realised that, due to a misunderstanding, we weren’t going to get any of the kitchen equipment hired from a local events company.  This included 2 large ovens to cook all the food and a number of other very useful items.  A double bombshell.  Not a great morning.  But sometimes things have a way of resolving themselves where you end up with something better than you started with and that’s what happened here.  Bella came up with the genius idea of borrowing the village barbecue, used for fetes etc, to cook the legs of lamb on.  Previously, the lamb was going to be cooked in the oven, but what could be nicer on a warm afternoon than meat from the barbecue?  First problem solved.  For the second problem, I put out a mayday call to my friends asking if they could help with staffing.  I was inundated with suggestions and support and was able to replace the 3 who couldn’t work.  So a big shout out to my team on the day: Rowan, Molly, Ella and Owen – thank you, you did an amazing job!  Between us we made and served canapes by the pool (walnut shortbread biscuits topped with roasted butternut squash, feta cheese and toasted pine nuts; crostini topped with fillet steak tartare, Parmesan shavings and truffle oil; quail’s eggs with celery salt, salt and pepper and nigella seeds; pancetta discs topped with goat’s cheese and fig chutney).  Then the guests moved to the welcome shade of the beautiful marquee (from Best In Tents) with the sides fully open to reveal the stunning views and we served barbecued leg of lamb (from Doughty’s in Doddington) with warm potato salad, roasted vegetables (a lovely mix of butternut squash, fennel, mixed sweet peppers, red onion and garlic cooked with honey, nutmeg, oregano and lots of salt and pepper) and salsa verde.  The potato salads, vegetables and salsa verde were set out at intervals along the tables and then the lamb was taken round on platters and served to guests individually (note to self: brush up on your silver service skills!).  Finally, we served up the plum frangipane tarts (I used 3 different local plum varieties) and to accompany them, creme fraiche and double cream.  Everyone enjoyed the food and we got some lovely comments, so in the end, it all worked out rather well.

Photography by Molly White