Chef Talk: John Walsh The Classic Catering People

By Martha Thomas



John Walsh
John Walsh

Born in the French city of Orléans and raised in Switzerland, England and Belgium, John Walsh is now vice president of culinary for The Classic Catering People in Owings Mills. He’s worked at Chef’s Expressions and Rouge Fine Catering among others, once owned a restaurant, Chez John, in York, Pa., and appears in “Fifteen Chefs: Inspiring & Innovative Recipes from the Leading Caterers of America.” Walsh has been honored by Chefs of America and has been published in industry magazines and newspapers, including Where to Eat in America and Country Magazine.

>> When did your career begin? My French grandfather, Pepe, had a catering business. I’d go to the farm in the summer and help him out a bit, just chopping. I was so young. He did country-style catering, simple stuff, small weddings, private events.

>> How do you feed 3,000 and ensure chicken doesn’t dry out? We cook the food on site so it’s fresh and plate it up. Then we have warm boxes. It stays in there for five minutes at the most. Before each dish goes out, we sauce and garnish it.

>> And how do you make sure everyone’s plate arrives at the same time? At our last big one, we had 1,300 seated. We served roasted plum tomato soup with toasted fennel seed and crème fraîche, a European seedless cucumber circle with white balsamic syrup and cherry tomato brulée. I think the main course was seared black bass with lemon verbena beurre blanc, potato pavé and peeled asparagus with roasted tomato butter. We had eight convection standup ovens, three stoves. We set up lines with four people on each side to plate it up. Each plate has to look identical.

>> I’m cooking for 12 and want to enjoy my guests. What should I serve? In winter, do a roasted tomato soup with a little manchego grilled cheese on the side for starters. For the main course, it depends on the crowd, but I like something braised. We do boneless short ribs provençal with roasted plum tomatoes, basil, thyme and mirepoix (celery, carrot, onion). Sear the beef, portion it and reduce the liquids to make the sauce. If your guests are going to be 15-20 minutes late, you have a braised item in the oven; it’s not going anywhere.

>> Do you have a horror story to share? This was with another company. We had a seat-and-serve dinner for 250 or 300. It was at one of the top universities; it was a really big deal. I had another event, so I got there an hour before we’re serving the dinner and found they’d ordered the wrong ovens. They were domestic ovens. Everything I had was on sheet pans that didn’t fit. It was rockfish… I always carry grapeseed oil, so I took the sheet pans and sautéed all the fish on site on sheet pans. It was nerve-wracking, but nobody in the front of the house had a clue.

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