‘Try to keep it new, interesting’ Six Star Catering aims for fresh food that is prepared on site
Posted: January 30, 2013
The Winchester Star
Winchester — Kim James and Tricia O’Leary want their food to stand out visually on the plate and have an even bigger impact once it hits the taste buds.
The friends and co-owners of Six Star Catering in Winchester have three main priorities when it comes to their food — it needs to be fresh, creative, and knock the guests’ socks off.
Whether they are preparing a large wedding buffet or an intimate dinner party, as much of the food as possible is prepared on site and all of it is made from scratch, said James of Frederick County.
“A lot of catering companies will prepare food at their commissaries and take it with them,” she said. “Our goal is that the food, when it hits the client’s plate, is as fresh as if it were coming off the grill.”
James and O’Leary of Strasburg started their business in 2002, taking their combined catering experience and funneling it into a new venture. They have a commercial kitchen in Strasburg in a building next to O’Leary’s house and a Winchester office at 328 W. Boscawen St. where they meet clients by appointment.
Unlike a restaurant, which has a fixed menu, the nature of being a caterer means the types of meals Six Star serves is limited only by their client’s tastes and willingness to try something different, O’Leary said.
Their menu covers an array of tastes, including dishes such as honey and chipolte marinated grilled flank steak, stuffed chicken breast with havarti, spinach and fresh herbs, chicken marbella with apricots, scented prunes, olives, capers and white wine, and crab and corn fritters with curry mayonnaise.
“We just try to keep it new and interesting,” O’Leary said. “You always have to venture out there for new ideas and new recipes just to build a bigger and better business.”
Whenever Six Star is hired or about to be hired for a job, the owners like to send clients to the company’s website to see a sampling of the dishes they have prepared in the past. But they never want them to think they are limited by those options, O’Leary said.
Being creative with food is part of the reason she loves the business, so it is exciting when clients bring suggestions to the table.
“A lot of times people give us a family recipe that we do,” she said. “We always like to try them out first to get them down, so it is going to have a good flavor to it.”
They also like to keep an eye on food trends around the country to not only broaden their knowledge but expand the tastes of people in the area, James said. For instance, tapas-style events are popular where a wide variety of small plates with snacks, finger foods, appetizers, or just a small portion of a special dish, often Spanish cuisine, is served.
It is a social way to eat that is about getting together, spending time around food and “having these little bites of something,” James said.
“A lot of times we eat to sustain our bodies, but when people have catered food, they want it to be fun and memorable,” she said.
The bite-size approach also works for desserts, especially when they are really rich, she said. Some of the caterers’ more popular desserts include baby coconut cream pies, tequila key lime tartlettes, and homemade brownies laced with Grand Marnier.
One of the caterers’ more popular dishes is a chicken breast with locally grown and roasted tomatoes, baby bella mushrooms and a white wine fresh herb cream sauce, James said. The béchamel sauce is the basis for many dishes, including a vegetarian pasta.
“It is just the bomb,” she said with a grin. “It is so creamy and flavorful. Then you add the tomatoes, which are so juicy, and all those components together make a phenomenal dish.”
Once you find a few really good sauces you love and become good at making, you can continually put different spins on them and experiment, she said.
Another pasta dish that a cream sauce tastes wonderful in is the lasagna, which can be adapted to suit many tastes, O’Leary said. One of the interesting versions Six Star offers is a seafood lasagna that involves folding in scallops, shrimp and crab meat in the layers of fresh pasta and cheese. The last layer before the top pasta and cheese has spinach in it, “which adds a nice little touch to the end of the dish.”
The caterers make a roasted beef tenderloin with olive oil, fresh rosemary, garlic and cracked pepper that is served with a horseradish sauce, which catches some people by surprise, James said.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, though, she said. People know what they like and are sometimes afraid to test the waters, but experimenting can reveal great new discoveries.
Another surprise for people is a whole lemon and kosher salt poached salmon with cucumber scales. They start with a whole 8- to 13-pound salmon that is poached, and on the day of the event, skinned. Then the chefs add cucumbers shaped to look like scales and garnish with fresh herbs and flowers, she said.
“People really love that dish because salmon is a really healthy choice, and it is cost effective,” she said.
Among the full dishes the company makes is one of its signature dishes, which might be a surprise to people — a salad with local greens, fruits and nuts, and a nice vinaigrette dressing, James said. Rather than a straight iceberg and romaine lettuce salad, they get different combinations of greens, even sometimes including edible flowers.
Then they add fresh fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, pears, navel oranges or strawberries. One of the top-selling salads has local greens, craisins, toasted almonds, and gorgonzola, topped with a white balsamic vinaigrette dressing, she said.
Six Star is a certified green company, which means it strives to make as little impact on the environment as possible. That involves committing to buying at least a certain amount of its food locally, something that is usually the best choice anyway, James said.
The other part of being a green company and something Six Star did even before it became certified, is recycling on all of its catering jobs. Anyone who has been in the catering business long enough has seen plenty of waste, James said. They minimize that impact with measures, such as using recyclable and compostable products when disposable products are called for and even carpooling to events.
Six Star also does personal chef jobs, and James teaches classes at Nibblins at Rutherford Crossing once or twice a month. She handles more of the business end of Six Star, while O’Leary and sous chef Angel Louzonis handle the bulk of the major kitchen work.
James, who graduated from James Wood High School in 1998, got her start in the kitchen at an early age. Her mom, Murray McKnight, was a sous chef for another caterer, Joy Lokey, and as a little girl, James was allowed to help.
O’Leary and James met when they worked at another catering company and decided to open their own business in 2002. They have been working to build their business and their reputation ever since.
“We are extremely well known for fine cuisine, whether it is barbecue or white glove service,” James said.
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