One of my favourite things about weddings is the food, so I am always beyond excited to talk to caterers who come up with the most delicious ideas for wedding meals! Joining us today is Simon Ruffell of Byron Bay catering company EatDrink Catering. We’ve been lucky enough to feature the weddings of EatDrink Catering a few times on the Polka Dot site and the couples have always raved about the food. So with a delightful squee, Simon joins us on Polka Dot Bride to share his background and catering tips and tricks!
Please tell us a little about yourself? Did you grow up in a family where food was important?
I grew up in NZ, the country I still call home. Interestingly it’s often affectionately referred to as the land of milk & honey.
My upbringing was humble, my parents young and initially my Mother was inexperienced at raising and feeding the family. My earliest memories of mealtimes were awful – a battle of wills between my Mother and her healthy plate of meat & vegetables, and me and my unwavering stare at the chocolate biscuit tin.
As I got older my mother’s repertoire expanded, as did my “will eat” list. I still remember the day I was 8 and realized I actually liked mushrooms, and when I was 12 and discovered that spaghetti isn’t just out of a tin.
Where my mother excelled (and relinquished to my sweet-tooth) was at our birthday parties – everyone themed & in fancy dress with the food styled to match– my 8th birthday was a horror party, complete with a giant spider cake, jellyfish, maggot crackles, baby chocolate bats, and a revolting plethora of other goulish treats.
Meat & 3 vege used to give me the shudders, but catering for a party transformed the dining table into one of my favourite and most magical places in my childhood!
Who or what inspired you to go into the food?
Clearly my birthday parties were the first and most fantastic of inspirations.
As I got older I remember heading into the city and discovering new cuisines – Chinese, Italian, then Thai, Greek, Middle eastern…. My explorations through exotic menus were one of the highlights in newfound city life. At 16 I had saved up to go on my first overseas adventure to Java, and so began my love of travel and exploring cuisines at their source.
I moonlighted through my university years at the Regent hotel and found I had an instant love for the hotel food industry. I quickly worked my way up into their fine dining restaurant and realized I much preferred my after school job than studying.
After a year of corporate post grad work, I defaulted back to restaurant management and happily dropped a career in law. I’ve never looked back.
What was the catalyst for setting up EatDrink Catering?
After a 1 ½ year sojourn in Europe, I returned to Australia discontent with the thought of resuming my Company as a caterer and stylist to the well heeled Sydney sect.
I had a work offer with a film catering company in Byron, and jumped at the chance.
My time with this Company was invaluable, and it showed me the fantastic and developing wedding market that Byron is now renowned for. I realized that with my top-end Sydney background in catering & food styling, and my love of service and all things food, I was well suited to the world of weddings. And so 2 years later Eatdrink began.
What is it about catering (as distinct from ‘just’ owning a restaurant) that inspires you?
Catering to me is a melting pot of all things I love about food, service, presentation, and good customer relations. It’s also so varied – no day is the same, we travel far and wide, continually create new dishes, and get to work in some truly stunning venues.
Catering really begins with the first chat with the client. Hearing their first thoughts, talking through options, seeing them start to place their trust in me, and a great working relationship starts to grow. Menus are then tailor made and their wedding day starts to take shape and develop its own personal style. This is the real beauty with Eatdrink catering – its not a carbon copy menu, its designed completely in line with the clients’ style, and makes for an unforgettable event for the bride, groom & all their guests.
Hand-made menus means regularly researching for new ideas, studying whats hot in the industry, testing new recipes, and nutting out the logistics for cooking “onsite”…. Its challenging, stimulating, and a great way to develop & expand the teams’ & my skills.
On the day of course I then get to see months of planning and design unfold into the event – I’m always reminded of our first meeting as I see the bride walk down the aisle to her husband – it never ceases to affect me.
When you look at it this way, with months of work leading up to the day, you can easily see how different it is to the restaurant industry.
You are based in Byron Bay, NSW. How far and wide do you travel to cater for events?
Have knives will travel. I’ve been flown back to NZ several times, have catered for the Australian Nudist Society on Hinchinbrook island for 2 years running, (sausages on the barby always a laugh), and many more local jobs see me travel between the sunshine coast and the Hunter valley. Our next adventure is a beach wedding on Stradbroke island – the bride is Brazilian so we’re going with a carnivale feel, with home cooked Brazilian favourites mixed in with the classic gourmet Australian BBQ.
What is it about Byron Bay’s food scene that inspires you?
Byron Bay is a natural food basket. The subtropical climate is perfect for growing almost anything and everything, with a conscious & discerning community who are proactive in organic-style farming and permaculture. Many of our local meat products are nationally regarded, such as Sweet Bangalow Pork and Casino Beef. Our local fishmonger has one of the best seafood shops I know. Providoring and developing relations with suppliers is a pleasure, and weekly visits to the farmers markets ensures the freshest and best produce is sourced for our events.
The net result – many of our dishes aren’t clever or overworked, we let the beauty of the food and the clean fresh flavours speak for themselves.
What sets you apart from others?
An absolute dedication to professionalism, thoroughness, and the pleasure I find in developing a great working relationship with my clients.. Many of my events are the culmination of hours of meetings, phone conversations, quoting and menu design. To ensure the event runs perfectly means a high level of detail goes into the organization of the event, well above just the service of the food. All aspects of hire need to be considered, and running schedules need to be designed and managed to ensure the day goes like clockwork.
Combine this with my demand for first class service, beautiful produce handled with care and respect, and a creative flair for menu development and food presentation, has always resulted in seamless events and extremely happy customers.
Do you have a ‘food miles’ philosophy? And, organic versus non organic – do you have a preference?
The more local our menu is the better, right down to me growing my own herbs and sourcing as much as I can from my garden. There’s an enormous satisfaction in heading to the vegie patch to collect some of my ingredients!
Trips to the farmers markets have created great working relationships with various suppliers, ensuring I get hand picked perfect produce for the day.
My weekly chats with Byron’s fishmonger often results in a last minute change to the menu if a fresh delivery and better product is caught last minute off the coast – all subject to the thumbs up from the client of course.
Although I support the organic movement and try to do as much as possible organically, its not viable cost-wise to do all our meats this way. If a client wants organic meat we are more than happy to cook it, but as always this comes at a higher price. Bangalow pork, Casino beef, & Alstonville free-range chickens are not organic, but they follow excellent farming practices and all have an excellent reputation.
Our main philosophy is to handle our ingredients with respect and appreciation. Food always starts as a living thing, so to convert it into a dish for celebration needs acknowledgement and a happy mindset. I’ve dedicated a specific food philosophy to this, which you can read about on my website.
How do you keep on learning?
My love of travel is a great excuse to research food and do cooking classes far and wide.
This year I have already done french/thai fusion cooking in Bangkok, worked in a Michelin 2 hatted restaurant in Paris for a week, and dedicated a little too much time to the Normandie cheese, wine & seafood markets.
It’s a great reason to also experience first hand some of the worlds best judged restaurants, and best food markets I can find.
I always try to cook when traveling as well – providoring local and interesting ingredients keeps it exciting and the learning curve fun.
I also regularly travel domestically to industry shows and restaurants so I keep abreast of the local food movements and trends. I also force myself to try different foods I might not necessarily serve up to clients, nor naturally feel inclined towards choosing – such as the sauteed lamb testicles in Paris last month; I have to say they tasted great!
What services do you offer the Australian Bride?
Eatdrink offers a one-stop shop wedding service, where we can co-ordinate as much or as little as you require for an off-site event. By offsite we mean we travel to venues, and can recommend many.
First and foremost we’re a catering company that designs menus specifically to the clients’ requirements. With this comes all aspects of food and beverage service, and complimentary co-ordination of hire and running schedules associated with the menu. We also often work with other event co-ordinators in the area to simply create the perfect menu.
Should you require further co-ordination in regards to non-catering related matters, advice & recommendations for other suppliers, and event styling, we offer these services also.
Do you have any tips for brides to consider when booking a caterer? What are the pluses in having your wedding catered?
The beauty of having your wedding catered, as compared to going to a reception centre, restaurant or hotel, is the ability to completely personalize your event. It makes for an unforgettable and extremely special day which everybody remembers forever. Selecting your venue, whether it be at your home, on the farm, or at a magnificent rented property, sets the stage for a unique event. The catering and bar service is then a very large part of how you entertain your guests, for what often ends up a long day.
My philosophy is that there should never be a dull moment – that there are well spaced “wow” moments to keep your guests interested and occupied.
I believe your caterer should be passionate about what they do. Many of my clients stress how important their menu is to them, and recognize that the wining and dining is the main way to entertain all their guests after the ceremony.
A passionate caterer is going to ensure a menu that stands up to expectation and lasts the distance.
As already discussed, there is also a massive amount of organization to ensure a seamless event, so the bride and groom never need be bothered with any issues which may arise on the night. A good caterer will step outside the role of just cooking, to make sure the bride and groom can simply sit back and totally enjoy themselves on the day.
Lastly I believe a caterer needs to be flexible – menus need to be adapted to budget, running schedules and individual styles, not to mention being able to adapt to last minute issues that may arise – running schedules can run over, client wishes can change, power can drop out and then there’s the weather.…..
Do you offer flexibility in your menus to each couples’ requirements?
Eatdrink prides itself on custom-made menus designed around the requirements of our clients.
This takes into account budget, personal style, dietary requirements, as well as ensuring the brides’ and grooms’ dream day is exactly what they had hoped for, if not more.
I have 5 basic styles of menu, each created to best serve a certain style. From there we then begin the process of tailoring the appropriate menu to the event; ensuring there is the right amount of food served at the right time, that the dishes selected reflect any suggested theme or style, that its well balanced and that there is something for everyone.
Are you able to accommodate vegan, vegetarian and food sensitivity requirements?
We cater for all dietary requirements, and go to the effort of creating specific dishes for those who need it. Its one of the questions I ask when initially consulting with my client. Not only does this mean that people with dietary requirements are catered for, but they are on the receiving end of some extra special service. We go to the effort of determining who these people are, where they are located in the room, and that they are personally served their special dish at the same time as everyone else. It always blows them away….
What are your favourite wedding food ideas?
My favourite ideas are always those that allow me the opportunity to personalize the event all the more. Brainstorming with a client who is passionate about food, and creating menu ideas together, is incredibly rewarding and fantastic to see unfold on the day.
We recently created an Italian Tuscan alfresco lunch with big wheels of parmagiano on the table. Staff then helped cut chunks of cheese for guests who could then doctor up their risotto using our Milanese parmesan graters. Mini bottles of extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic, and fresh Italian herbs, added to the interaction.
On another occasion I researched the family tartan of the Scottish groom and served a mini haggis on toast canapé on his family tartan runners.. We then wrote a story on how the bride and groom met, typed it up under in newsprint font under the Glasgow Times banner, and wrapped up mini serves of fish & chips…
I have another Sydney based client who wanted her Maltese aunties to do a dessert bake-off. Eatdrink will personally host the cooking day and organize all the ingredients and equipment needed to pull it off, then set it up and serve the creations on the day.
These touches are always incredibly well received and helps to make the day feel totally about the bride, groom, their families and friends.
Images from Kate Belle & Christina Calathas and other unknown photographers