A taste of things to come

Gala: Party for American Heart Association volunteers is prelude to October fund-raiser that Manor Tavern will cater.

July 21, 1999|By Suzanne Loudermilk, | Suzanne Loudermilk,,SUN FOOD EDITOR

By late afternoon, chef Jim Schumann of the Manor Tavern is putting the finishing touches on spicy Cajun chicken ten- ders, smoked-salmon tortilla pinwheels, miniature spinach quiches and other hors d'oeuvres for an evening cocktail reception in Havre de Grace.

The executive chef, who also oversees the preparation of meals at the Monkton restaurant, has been working steadily since 9 a.m., assembling roasted vegetables, rolling goat cheese in freshly chopped chives and wrapping pencil-thin asparagus in prosciutto.

Such is the work of a caterer.

The Manor Tavern joins a long list of Baltimore-area companies vying for the business of groups and individuals who want food and party preparations arranged for them.

For the past three years, the restaurant has put renewed energies into attracting customers for its catering operation. "There has been so much growth over the years," says Manor Tavern owner Mark Greene. "We got back into catering when we felt we could handle it more comfortably."

Now, the catering division provides a menu of soup to nuts for the most casual buffets to mega-events for hundreds of guests. Last Wednesday's party at historic Swan Harbor Farm in Harford County was held for 50 volunteers who have been working since January on a black-tie fund-raiser to benefit the American Heart Association.

The gathering was a prelude to the main event, the 10th annual Heart of Gold Gala, which will be held Oct. 2 on the grounds of Swan Harbor, a restored 18th-century plantation house that has a breathtaking view of the upper Chesapeake Bay.

The committee members, who have been handling myriad details from decorating decisions to selling tickets to selecting entertainment, were given an opportunity to sample some of the food that will be offered at the fall event. This is the first year the Manor Tavern is catering the gala.

"We considered a couple of different caterers," says Denise Lynch, co-chairwoman of the event. "The Manor Tavern put on a fabulous tasting. It was a great sampling of things they would serve."

The menu will include such dishes as pita crab dip, praline grapes, roasted baby lamp chops, chicken satay, carved beef tenderloin, crab cakes, chicken Florentine and desserts from Key lime tarts to chocolate mousse in puff pastry shells.

For Bill Dean, the Manor Tavern's catering director, orchestrating parties means lots of behind-the-scenes work. "It's organization, organization, organization. You need different checklists," he says. "Things do happen. The idea is not to let the guests know something is amiss. We always get through it."

Dean, Schumann and a server made last week's event seem effortless. Mingling guests were served hors d'oeuvres unobtrusively, dirty plates disappeared quickly and appetizers set up on a table garnished with purple pansies and ivy vines were constantly replenished.

Dean's preparations were paying off. "When you're out on the road, you've got to have your ducks in a row," he says. "That's where stress comes in. You're taking the restaurant somewhere else."

Kim Snee, area director of the Harford-Cecil County division of the American Heart Association, participated in the initial taste test at the Manor Tavern in February.

"We loved everything," she says. "They've been delightful to work with."

Snee has been involved in the heart gala since it began as a garden party for 150 people. This year, 700 guests are expected to attend the benefit, which raised $64,000 for the Heart Association last year. A sprawling tent -- 100 feet by 180 feet -- will be set up to accommodate diners as well as dancers inspired by the band Spectrum.

"It grew and grew," Snee says. "Everybody really seems to enjoy the event. It's a lot of fun. With the outdoor ambience, it's beautiful."

The Heart of Gold Gala will be held from 6 p.m. to midnight Oct. 2 at Swan Harbor Farm, 401 Oakington Road, Havre de Grace. Tickets are $150 per person. Information: 410-877-8440.

Pita Crab Dip

Serves 6 as an appetizer

1 pound cream cheese

4 ounces lump crab meat

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1/2 tomato, diced

2 scallion stalks, diced

4 (5-inch) pita breads, cut into triangles, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix cream cheese, crab and Old Bay. Place mixture in a casserole dish. Bake for 10 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Sprinkle tomatoes and scallions on top of dip before serving with pita triangles.

-- From the Manor Tavern

Praline Grapes

Serves 5 as an appetizer

4 ounces cream cheese

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon honey

20 large, seedless red grapes

6 ounces crushed pecans

Blend cream cheese, brown sugar and honey. Roll grapes in mixture and then roll in crushed pecans.

-- From the Manor Tavern

Pub Date: 07/21/99

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