How to feed hundreds of voracious readers? Ask Jennifer Cornell, chef-owner of Small Chef at Large, now in her fourth year of catering the Key West Literary Seminar. If you missed the food before she took charge, you’re lucky. The plucky and petite Cornell has brought the sustenance up to par with the seminar itself. And she knows it.
With a menu as nourishing and interesting as the ideas shared on stage, over breakfast, and at all the cocktail receptions and parties, Jennifer has become a key character in the story of KWLS.
What considerations do you factor in to feed this crowd?
It’s a different menu every seminar. I try to invent new recipes every year. No one will ever eat the same dish twice. The seminar brings lots of vegetarians, or at least, people who don’t eat much meat. We mainly focus on seafood and poultry.
What about the recipes, do they reflect the seminar?
I try to consider it, but actually…no. The best part of catering is the creativity. It’s not the same damn thing after the other. We don’t work with recipes. My chefs and I read magazines. We get ideas, and then play with them until we land on something great. Most importantly, we make everything ourselves, the sauces, the dressings. All made from scratch.
What are some standout dishes this year?
We did a lemon-thyme-risotto cake topped with a grilled Key West pink shrimp and a mango aioli for Friday night’s cocktail party. Those were great. I also really liked the cranberry-pistachio pate we did this year, and the Asian crab salad with crispy wontons. For Saturday’s dinner at the Truman Little White House we did a sour orange Yucatan chicken with cashews, chili powder and cumin, with crispy achiote potatoes. A few years ago, a New York Times food writer asked me for our conch chowder recipe. I gave it to her, minus one ingredient.
Big events like this must be hard work.
I sleep in the summer.Tags: 2013: Writers on Writers