October 21, 2013

Expert Interviews: Ethan Mantle of Componere Fine Catering

We're excited to launch a new series--Expert Interviews, featuring some of the very top wedding professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area in different categories, from catering to photography to makeup/hair styling. Each interview will give you some insight into the company, as well as a tip or two from the experts themselves.

To start, we are thrilled to present Ethan Mantle of Componere Fine Catering, one of the finest and most innovative caterers in the San Francisco Bay Area!

Photo by Lisa Lefkowitz

Jubilee: Ethan, we've worked on so many fabulous weddings together. Our mutual clients tend to be well-traveled, self-proclaimed foodies, and knowledgable when it comes to food and ingredients. They're very much about supporting local farmers, the "farm to table" concept, and creating one-of-a-kind custom menus for their guests. You seem to always nail it with the very first proposal, and you always surprise us with new items. How do you create such unique menus that speaks to each couple?

Ethan: Well, it starts with finding out information that allows us to truly customize the each menu, such as what the couple's favorite foods are, what their favorite restaurants are, where the majority of their guests are coming from, and so on. After gathering that information our next step is always to look at what ingredients will be in season at the time of their event. We look at seasonality in four week blocks instead of the typical four seasons so that we can use ingredients that have short peak times, such as green almonds when they have a perfect green gelatinous center.

We're developing our own Marin farm right now which is going to take seasonality and fresh to the next level. We look at the best restaurants as benchmarks and have really been inspired by places like Manresa and their amazing farm.

As you mentioned, we're constantly developing new menu items. I do most of the menu writing but we're fortunate to have an incredible culinary team so it's also a collaborative process. We've all worked at top restaurants so we bring a solid culinary foundation and our different experiences to the creative process.

You know our top event managers, servers and chefs from our work together over the last several years but we're really excited about a couple recent additions to our full-time culinary team. Rob Dort was named an Eater Young Gun last year while he was the Executive Chef of Daniel Patterson's Plum restaurant, and before that he trained at several top Michelin starred restaurants including at the French Laundry, where he worked all the stations as Chef de Partie. Kayla Vennard has also come on board as Chef de Partie, she just moved here from Seattle where she worked for at Tilth, a very farmer-centric organic restaurant named one of the Top 10 in America by the New York Times.

Jubilee: One common concern that clients have is the quality of food on the wedding day. The tasting may be fantastic, but cooking for 2 is very different than cooking for 200, especially when you're working at sites like museums, historical buildings, and private estates. How do you maintain the high quality for your food when cooking for so many people at such logistically challenging places?

Ethan: There is so much involved in producing the level of food that we do at challenging venues that it could probably be multiple blog posts all on it's own! That said, people are key and without an exceptional team it's impossible to consistently produce the kind of special experiences people will really remember.

Logistics are crucial so our event producers work very hard to anticipate potential problems at each event site and have contingency plans. The menu has to be designed specifically to work in each venue taking into account the space, equipment, and restrictions. We do our plating to order, instead of ahead of time and topping with plate covers, so we set up our kitchen like a restaurant line instead of like a typical catering or hotel banquet operation.

Jubilee: You were the first caterer here to offer the liquid nitrogen ice cream station. How did that idea come about?

Ethan: We first started doing liquid nitrogen ice cream in 2007. I saw Heston Blumenthal making bacon ice cream with it at The Fat Duck in England, when it was the number one ranked restaurant in the world, and thought we could take that concept with different flavors and turn it into a dessert station for catering. The liquid nitrogen freezes very rapidly, resulting in minimal ice crystal formation and exceptionally smooth ice cream. I had no idea how popular it would be. We were also the first caterer in the country to get an Anti-Griddle, developed by Alinea's Grant Achatz and Polyscience, which freezes food on a griddle instead of cooking it.

Jubilee: I know you have a wonderful pastry chef, Erin, who makes the best macarons we've ever tasted. What other desserts have been her specialty, and how involved are you in the sweets department?

Ethan: Yes, she trained in Paris and makes awesome macarons. She is very good at everything but especially chocolates and different petite desserts for buffets. The dessert menus are often a collaborative effort. I might have a general idea and then let her run with it, or she'll bounce ideas of me and we'll refine it together.

Jubilee: Can you name a few menu items that have been the most popular amongst wedding guests? 

Ethan: It's hard to say because menu items change frequently but the aforementioned liquid nitrogen ice cream station is still one of our most requested items. We also have several hors d'oeuvres that we have done for a while and are often requested, like the Kona Kampachi Tarter with Avocado, Macadamia Nut, Lime, and Crisp Purple Potato.

Jubilee: What is one great tip that you can give our readers, in regards to creating their wedding menu?

Ethan: Hors d'oeuvres are a great place to push the boundaries a bit because guests can always pass on something if they don't like it. If you love spicy food or sweetbreads but aren't sure if all your guests do, make it an hors d'oeuvre! Then, be sure to have a few crowd pleasing bites as well.

Jubilee: Lastly, can you share one of your favorite Fall recipes with us?

Ethan: Yes, check out this technique for fall root vegetables:

Be sure to "Like" Componere's Facebook Page to get more fantastic recipes and tips! 

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