Paula LeDuc is one amazing woman. She single-handedly set the bar for caterers across the country. And she set it high. I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Paula and her amazing staff at Paula LeDuc Fine Catering for the past 15 years. Even after countless events together, I am always impressed by Paula's passion for excellence. It is evident in everything from the taste of her food to its presentation. Paula is a true innovator and I am very excited to share her insights with all of you!
As an innovator in catering, what keeps you going year after year coming up with new visions and menus?
I’d love to take credit Laurie but truly it is our clients and their events that inspire us and take us to the next level. In that no two clients or events are ever alike and our events are so customized, this creates a rich soil for non-stop innovation. Each event has its own distinct terroir blending the client’s vision with the venue, the season, and our own creative engine and vigorous commitment to creating one-of-a-kind events.
Our bar is set pretty high to begin with and it is simply in our DNA to continually think outside of that proverbial box. Nothing is more inspiring than to create an event that is a reflection of the client while showcasing the best of who we are. We consider that the ultimate win-win!
Your food has been mostly from small local producers in the organic arena from day one. Why was it so important to you so early?
I can still remember being among a small group of chefs meeting in San Francisco in the late 80’s to discuss the newly budding Slow Food Movement – connecting plate and the planet. It was led by Alice Waters and hosted at Joyce Goldstein’s Square One Restaurant. These were the formative years of this notion of supporting our local farmers and growers by buying local and supporting sustainable agriculture and being stewards of the earth. This shift in thinking has stayed with us to this day. Once our community became aware, the need was created, the farmers markets blossomed and spoiled us all to what just picked, real food tastes like and there was no going back.
You were just awarded the prestigious green certification. Can you tell me more about the program and its significance for Paula LeDuc Fine Catering?
For years we have been conscious of the impact an organization of our size has on the environment. Most of what it takes to be green certified we were already doing so it was not much of a leap to certification. Credit goes to our Green Team for bringing the certification to reality. If you visit our website we have a newly launched Green Certification section explaining the details. In general, we have incorporated the required environmentally responsible practices into our business to reduce our carbon footprint. We even offer carbon-offsets to our clients for their events through the Climate Trust.
I can remember in the 1980’s our client Susie Tompkins, founder of Esprit, hosted an all day retreat for the 2,000 employees and we catered a box lunch in 100% recyclable packaging. I was shocked that every morsel of the trash was personally recycled by each employee and my staff was left with nothing to do but breakdown the tables and chairs. It was at that moment it hit me that it was my responsibility to embody the same principles within our company.
Are there any new trends you are loving (or not liking?) in catering right now?
Trends come and go. What is important at the end of the day is creating events with soul designed to delight and intrigue clients and their guests. Trends by nature of what they are imply following and if you are following you are not leading. I prefer to do something once and move onto the next idea rather than repeat to the point it becomes a trend. If a client comes to us with a trendy idea for their event we prefer to take that idea to a new place creating something not yet seen, tasted or done. This gives us great new opportunities to re-invent an existing idea.
What is your most proud moment at Paula LeDuc Fine Catering over the last 25 years?
There have been so many Laurie and many of them have been events we have collaborated on. If I can only pick one it would have to be our 25th Anniversary Gala at Lucas Digital Arts Center in the Presidio. It was the celebration of 25 amazing years in business and a fund-raiser for The Hatlen Center for the Blind (formerly The Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired) an organization I helped establish in 1972 as a founding teacher and one I continue to support. We raised over $400,000 for the organization giving them the funds to launch a national program.
Speaking of anniversaries, 2010 marks our 30th year so stay tuned...
I’ve always resonated with your slogan, “Perfect will be just fine.” Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?
Not at all, but I do hold myself and our company to the highest standards of excellence. After catering several events for a client, he said, “You know Paula, your tagline should be “Perfect will be just fine.” I loved it for its playfulness and for its message. Why not strive for it and take delight and pride in getting close?
Ken Wolfe, my mentor chef instructor in culinary school instilled in me the notion that if you walk by something that is not up to your standards the message you send is that this is the new standard. This has resonated with me for 30+ years. Today, these high standards live in the DNA of every individual. I believe that if you surround yourselves with like minded people who share a common vision and values and hold one another accountable you can achieve any goal. Besides it is truly easier to make it right the first time than try and make up for something produced that is less than your best.
Can you tell me about the most inspirational meal you have ever had?
Hands down, it was at Alinea in Chicago. From the moment I sat down, I was engulfed in a sensory dining experience the likes of which I had never experienced. No linen, silverware or glassware at the table that was to be the palate for the 13 course pre fix menu. I declined the 23 course menu option! Chef Grant Achartz, the master of molecular-gastronomy in the U.S., where scientific techniques and cooking tools are applied to food, creates surrealistic flavors and presentations to boggle the mind. Each course was theatre delivered seamlessly using never before seen service ware and service concepts. Most items were one or two bites yet the meal takes four hours. Every course was more fanciful and delicious than the one before and touched all of my senses. One of my favorites was seafood course, barramundi, artichoke hearts and carrot pearls in a delicate orange sauce served in a white porcelain shallow bowl set atop a 16” fully inflated white linen pillow. As I ate the pillow deflated surrounding me in the aroma of orange! Another course was a delicate stainless steel skewer with a cube of lamb, a nicoise olive and fava bean brought to the table standing up in bowl buried in smoldering eucalyptus leaves. I was instructed to slowly lift the skewer out of the leaves and enjoy the “smoked” lamb! Then there were the frozen madras curry coated orbs, the size of small melon balls, floating in a delicious celery juice filled with liquid pear juice that exploded in your mouth as the exterior melted. It was such a surprise and total sensory overload, I loved it! Talk about raising the bar, this experience took me to the heavens! It’s worth a trip to Chicago for nothing more!