It was the holiday season of 1979. Ready to usher in the new decade, my parents were gearing up for their biggest party yet. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, it would also be their last and most memorable party.
Alcohol was consumed. Weed was smoked (not by my parents, of course). My dad's friend, Carlos, brought his new 21-year-old boyfriend, causing quite a stir. Mr. Bristol slid off the hood of his car and cracked his head open on our driveway. And my mom food-poisoned all of the meat eaters.
Oh, yes, it was eventful. Particularly the food poisoning part.
Memories of that party still haunt me and I have anxieties surrounding dinner parties -- especially large ones come holiday time. Yet every year, I continue to carry on my parents' tradition of the mega-holiday soire, complete with food, booze and eclectic people. A few years back, we even made a trip to the hospital with a friend who managed to break a thumb and a finger during a game of Twister.
I have yet to poison anyone and I'd like to keep it that way. But because I'm hyper-aware of the potential, the food at most of my parties -- unless others contribute -- is pretty boring. This year was no exception. Only the finest cheese, crackers, nuts, bean dip and deli turkey for my guests.
As the saying goes, hindsight is 20-20. If I'd only known before the 25th of December what I know now, I could have had one heck of a millennium food extravaganza. But I had not yet discovered the Prep Kitchen and Chef Walter Ruttimann.
"We Make It -- You Bake It" is their slogan and, apparently, a whole slew of folks subscribe to it. They make food; you take it home and throw it in the oven. The house smells good, the food tastes wonderful, your friends are impressed and, if you follow the recommended baking instructions provided with each dish, nobody gets sick.
The Prep Kitchen differs slightly from other catering companies in that you can actually walk in, place your order and leave with appetizers or dinner in hand. Items are always in stock and available singly or in quantities. (If you're planning a party for 16 or more and wish to offer more than just appetizers, Chef Walter recommends calling in advance, just to be on the safe side.)
I also recommend planning at least a day in advance, because most of the stuff comes frozen and requires defrosting and bake time. Not much leeway is needed, however, if you're planning an appetizers-only cocktail party, a small dinner party, a quaint dinner for two or you're just a hungry person with gourmet tastes.
The menu is not extensive, but it's large enough so that it offers nice diversity. Individual Wellingtons -- beef, chicken, salmon and vegetable -- and five varieties of stuffed chicken breasts are some of the main entres. Assortments of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and canaps are also available, as well as a variety of homemade soups and sauces.
The Wellingtons, of which I have tried the salmon and vegetable, are excellent. Both are encased in a delicate and flaky yet crisp crust with tender, steamy insides. Cooked properly, the salmon Wellington ($5.20 per piece) consists of a layer of medium-rare salmon which sits atop of a layer of fresh spinach. Drizzled with a delicious pernot sauce ($3.20 for 16 oz. -- I recommend freezing the rest for later use), it is absolutely delicious. Note: A meat thermometer is recommended for the preparation of this dish. Having the healthy fear of raw meat as I do, I adhered to this suggestion.
The vegetable Wellington ($3.20 per piece) is just as rich and tasty. It boasts similar crust, and harbors fresh, steamy vegetables on the inside. No meat thermometer is needed, and, though it was not recommended for the dish, the pernot sauce worked well.
I also recommend the soups, many of which are made fresh each morning. Chef Walter spares no ingredients for any of his soups, with the end result being full on taste and flavor. The wild mushroom soup, for example, is a cream-based soup, chock-full of garlic and a variety of fresh mushrooms. I actually used a whisk to ensure proper creaminess and no separation. The lobster bisque required similar cooking measures. It, too, was fabulous, with bits of fresh lobster and a rich tangy flavor.
Don't fret when everything comes out boxed. There is a book with photographs of all of the food that accompanies the menu, so you can see in advance exactly what you are ordering, what the approximate cooking time will be and the ingredients in each dish. With all of the weird food allergies out there, this is a handy feature.
The Prep Kitchen has only been open since November, but in that short amount of time, they appear to have gained a loyal following simply through word of mouth. And why not? The food is excellent, prepared daily and presented beautifully. Portions are healthy in size, prices are very reasonable (between $3 and $8 per item), service is great and the fact is, the Prep Kitchen has tapped into our busy culture's need for convenience, instant gratification and good food.
I know I appreciate the Prep Kitchen for many of the above reasons. I only wish that my mom had a Prep Kitchen to appreciate back in 1979.