Strategies we may find overwhelming are second nature to caterers and when the event is a picnic, and geography (and weather) come into play, what may make most of us cower in confusion has these pros getting through another day at the office. “We had a customer just last weekend who wanted two staff, a couple of racks of champagne flutes and a glazed leg ham delivered to the Botanical Gardens”, explains Sophie Cookes of catering company Cookes Food, “they had set up a long table covered in picnic rugs and filled it with breads, relishes and mustards and everyone made their own rolls, it was great. We get requests like that all the time but it was a bit Fawlty Towers, trying to find the client in the gardens!”

It’s the flexibility of the job that has seen Cookes Food grow over the last five years since Sophie Cookes and her business partner, Nicole De Bono, set up their catering business. Being flexible with the concept of the picnic is one of their most popular requests - leg ham in the Botanical gardens or not. “We do whatever people need,” says Cookes, “some companies have limits on numbers and orders but we do what our customers need and that works for us.”

Kirsty Low, owner of Malvern cafe and catering business, Sissi & Co is also an advocate of flexibility when it comes to picnics but the constant theme in organising a picnic is all about packaging. “You need to put the food into containers where it will keep well for six to eight hours,” says Low. “You need to choose flavours that work well together and that’s not too messy. Tastes that can be eaten with your fingers and that stay fresh.”

Nahji Chu, the rice paper roll queen from Misschu in the city also caters to outside parties and events and has a nifty way of creating a disposable platter. “Take a pizza box, a white, unbranded pizza box, and line it with cling wrap and then with baking paper,” she continues, “fill it with the rolls or whatever you’re preparing and when you get to your picnic, flip the lid over and you’ve got an instant platter.”

It’s these tips that make a picnic great and speak for each one of these caterers who will go the extra mile for any client; providing staff, or just the food and (almost) meeting every request. “I once had someone call me,” says Cookes, “who wanted a hot meal delivered to the races! I said no, imagine fighting through the crowd to get the meal to them, it wouldn’t be hot by then.”

Kirsty Low had a long table for 80 on a regional property where the owners supplied their own quinces, red wine and venison for her to create a main course. Chu was once employed by a very well-known celebrity to cater on Christmas Day. “I was picked up on a boat, and taken to another boat where I had to sit in the hull so I didn’t know where I was going. I was then delivered to the servant’s quarters of a home,” she continues, “I spent the day in the kitchen and then was taken back with no idea of where I had been.”

If your budget doesn’t allow for private catering, each caterer has a picnic tip or two up their sleeve they’re happy to share. “A suggestion which is always popular and really delicious is chargrilled rare fillet of beef with a herb and seeded mustard crust or crispy citrus, honey and rosemary roasted chicken breasts sliced are perfect,” says Low, while Sophie Cookes takes a more separatist approach. “Don’t make up sandwiches, make them at the picnic,” she explains. “Take a chicken ballotine, some relishes, bread rolls and make them there. Also, cheeses are genius picnic food! The longer they are out the better they are.”

Nahji Chu says to get the checklist going, “Think like a caterer,” she says, “rubbish bags, tea towels, napkins, cups, rain jackets from the $2 Shop,” she laughs. “And fill your rice paper rolls with anything you have, they’re great for leftovers, just don’t overfill them and line the rice paper with Vietnamese mint and a rocket leaf, the green will look great.”

cookesfood.com.au
sissiandco.com.au
misschu.com.au