“I’m going to be there at about two o’clock; but the event itself begins at seven.” Chef Barry Sexton is discussing a birthday party held at Greystone Manor House in Newtown. “The reason I get there so early is because the caterer is always on the hook. I have to make sure that everything is in the right place and if it’s not I need to have time to fix it.” Indeed, when I get there at five, Barry and the sous chef, Alyse are the only ones in the building. Each one is carefully, individually preparing hors d’oeuvres. Barry’s day actually began at four this morning when he started mixing ingredients and packing his van full of everything needed to serve 150 guests at his traveling restaurant.
The fact that his restaurant travels is a concept not lost on The Opinionated Chef. “I tell these guys, the chefs who own their restaurants, what I do is completely different than what you all do. When you leave your restaurant at night you know the next day it’s going to be there; they all know that everything is going to stay right where they left it. With me, I have to remember everything and think of anything. Each catering job is different.” Chef Barry tells hundreds of stories of the things he’s thought to bring to each unique location. Some without kitchens. Some without running water. “I’ll throw a case of bottled water in the truck just in case I get there and they tell me they don’t have good water.”
Today’s event is at Greystone Manor House in the lush suburbs of Bucks County. The location is a dream compared to others where The Opinionated Palate has set up shop. Very shortly after I show up, Andrea Vreeswyk, the owner of this fifteenth century colonial mansion, arrives and gives me a tour. The mansion was clearly a farmhouse in revolutionary times; however, it’s most recent incarnation was a restaurant. Andrea’s family, not wanting to continue operating a restaurant, but not wanting to sell the house, closed the restaurant and re-opened as a catering facility. So parties have the whole place to themselves. There’s a bar, a lounge, a dining room and a spacious and beautiful veranda. Chef Barry has a full kitchen and prep area with which he can ply his trade.
After almost ten years The Opinionated Palate is still going strong. When I asked Barry about the name, he replied, “Everyone has an opinion about food.” “You want things to be just a little different, something unique that stands out to intelligent people who know they want something unique. If I would have named this “Barry’s Catering” there would be no reason to remember that.” I can tell you first hand that the name “The Opinionated Palate” is not the only thing you’ll remember. Each hors d’oeuvre is prepared individually and cooked, baked or fried on location. The little triangles you see here are packed with artichoke, spinach, mushrooms and caramelized onion cheese. There’s tiny cheesesteak sliders; brie mousse with apple chutney and dried cranberry. This is shrimp bruschetta on toast. My favorites are the mini Beef Wellingtons and crispy crab wontons with Chef Barry’s own mango chili dipping sauce. “You can’t just bring something you got at the store. When folks taste this dipping sauce they know it’s something I made. They say ‘he didn’t just go out and buy that, you know he made that himself’” Indeed, the fruitiness of the mango make this sauce something you won’t find in a Asian restaurant close by.
For this party there is a very relaxed pasta station with your choice of alfredo or marinara. Each serving is prepared for each guest. Barry serves beef with chimichurri. We see him here rubbing the beef with salt, pepper and oregano to keep the meat fresh so when it is served it’s tender and perfectly juicy.
In addition to arriving very early to make sure everything will be ready for his guests, Barry runs a tight ship during the event. At six-o-clock his competent team of servers and bartenders are helping put all the pieces together. Things are constantly kept clean and when each course is done items begin to make their way back to the truck. “The people who own venues, catering facilities like this one, always appreciate when you leave things clean and as you found them,” Barry says while loading more items back in the truck. It’s after eleven and the desserts and coffee station are all that remain aside from the bar. Most of the dishes are already clean. It is important to note that Barry and his staff were very open and receptive to being photographed during all aspects of their work. They felt no need to control or discourage anything they were doing as unflattering. On the contrary, they generally found their proficiency something they hoped others would notice.
The Opinionated Palate certainly is a great name for a caterer. In order for one to have an opinion about anything, you first have to think about it; opinions need to be formed. So much food is made and presented to us without the expectation that you’ll think anything about it. And of course, there always the chance one might form a negative opinion. If you’re not trying, if you don’t “put it out there” that means you simply don’t care. So to have an opinion means you do care. What Chef Barry is saying, at the very least, is that he is going to serve you something you will care about. His guests care very much, and that’s a good thing. After gobbling up hundreds of delicious hors d’oeuvres they continued to come back for more pasta and beef and still made room for mini creme brulees and lava cakes. In my opinion, there is nothing more delicious and professional than an event catered by The Opinionated Palate.
You can view all of my photos of Chef Barry here. You can book Chef Barry and the Opinionated Palate for your next event here. Check all my photo galleries here. Take a look at my portfolio here. To stay up to date on my latest blog posts be sure to like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.