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Lovely Eats

Tasteful wedding tips from a private chef

By Liz Gastiger

Ever have a good job for years but your passion was for something else? Well, I’m Liz Gastiger, who managed an accounting firm in Central California for 10 years, hoping for that anticipated promotion until I researched culinary schools on the west coast from San Diego to Seattle.

In April of 1977, after choosing the California Culinary Academy (CCA) in San Francisco, I stepped into my first of many classes that immersed me in the cordon bleu (French for “blue ribbon”) standard of cooking. The average age of my classmates was 30 years old, and their former occupations ranged from undercover detective to grocery clerk. I graduated second in my class in the summer of 1979 after 18 months of courses encompassing every aspect of the food industry.

With confidence gained from an excellent staff at the CCA, I accepted a chef kitchen manager position at a catering company near Santa Barbara with regular local clientele. Most of the catering involved weddings and special events with up to 1,000 people attending. This experience provided the fine tuning competency I needed to achieve the best performance from the staff of personnel needed for large catered events. Careful planning and averting potential problems produced consistent elegant evenings for clients and their guests.

After 10 years of catering to the appreciative social society of Santa Barbara, a classmate and best friend from CCA – who works for a successful director in Los Angeles – encouraged me to look for a private chef position in Santa Barbara or Montecito, where I was familiar with the local vogue and variety of entertaining.

I took one interview offered through a private chef placement agency. During the 30-minute interview, I was hired as a private chef by famous author and “foodie” Sue Grafton, a Louisvillian, and her husband Steve Humphrey for what would become a dream job and my life’s work.

Entertaining soon became the favorite part of this new position, cooking for Kirk and Anne Douglas and my childhood inspiration, Julia Child. I prepared filet mignon with Béarnaise sauce for Julia Child and will never forget hearing her say, “That girl sure can cook!” from the kitchen. It was a teary moment that certainly reinforced my decision to leave accounting. Now, after 15 years as a private chef, I can handle any large special event or small elegant evening. I’ll gladly give you my success tips, event advice and favorite recipes to help your passion for food and entertaining.

With the new year here, planning turns to yearly holiday events, new vacation venues and for excited couples, wedding days. To prepare an inspiring wedding event with memories to last, here are a few thoughts to consider in choosing the best caterer and lovely fare for your guests.

First, make sure the caterer can help you in all aspects of your wedding event – from rice to rentals, including possibly a “day-of” coordinator or overall event planner. Don’t be afraid to ask your list of questions, including when to taste all the menu items you desire for your event.

One fond memory you can plan for is a wonderful wedding cake tasting. Order this separately from your caterer with a bakery you love and trust. Think about the theme and appearance of your cake by looking through your bakery’s cake design photos online or in-person to ask questions. Make sure they can accommodate the cake flavors, fillings and icing flavors for each level of your cake. This is a fun and important tasting to ensure you love your cake and eat it, too.

One final thought on planning this memorable event with catering, rentals and cake, oh my, is take your time, think big picture priorities and enjoy the journey. Just before the big day, I’d say, stay relaxed and watch the wedding scene from the movie, “About Time.” But seriously, let the day-of coordinator guide you so you truly enjoy your family and friends on your day. Don’t pursue perfection if things go awry as that’s what makes those memories. V