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Cookes Food's Oyster Tower


5th November, 2013
Sophie Cookes & Nicole de Bono
Tuesday 5th November 2013
Ever since meeting the fabulous Sophie Cookes and Nicole de Bono of Cookes Food in 2011, when we were stupendously lucky to have them join us and cater the very first TDF Open House event, I have been completely in AWE of these two talented ladies.  After launching their boutique catering and events company in Melbourne around six years ago, their business has gone from strength to strength.   For Cookes Food, no challenge is too great, they work so incredibly hard to produce the most beautiful events for clients both big and small, and - added bonus, they are so much fun to be around.  In the lead up to summer, we're thrilled to have Cookes Food join us with 'Catering 101' - a crash course in feeding a crowd, without losing your marbles. - Lucy

Oyster Tower by Cookes Food!  Flowers and greenery by Michael Strownix at Where the Grass is Green.  Props from Place Settings.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Sophie Cookes and Nicole de Bono of Cookes Food!  They don't like having their photo taken but we insisted :) Custom table by Anthony Storen (Sophie's talented hubby!) at CIP Creative.  Flowers and greenery by Michael Strownix at Where the Grass is Green.  Props from the incredible kitchen of Sophie's generous MUM, as well as Place Settings. Blue Bentwood dining chairs from Thonet. Photo - Eve Wilson.

We often get asked how we manage to cook for so many people at once.  It's not really a mystery - if you can cook for 6, you can cook for 6o, pretty much!  It just takes a bit of careful menu planning and preperation to ensure you can actually enjoy your own party, without losing your marbles.  This month, in the lead up to summer, Lucy and Lisa have asked us to come up with a fail safe menu and some tips for feeding a crowd at home... here goes!

Catering need not be difficult, it’s my advice to keep it simple and easy! Stepping out of a steamy kitchen, rosy cheeked and a little damp under the arms defeats the purpose of catering your own event. It’s the host’s job to be relaxed and it’s important to simplify an idea so that you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew.

The 'grazing table' as we refer to it, is really just a modernised version of the classic 'buffet', less the jellied meats and retro fish moulds! By setting up a grazing table for your upcoming event you can avoid the cost of hiring staff to hand out platters, and keep the help limited to some good barmen to keep champagne topped up and the party looking good!

As the summer months get warmer we get a little cuckoo for oysters. There really is a profound difference in taste between pre-shucking and then shucking fresh, gulping them down and tasting the ocean. While serving them natural is really the best, it’s also fun to offer a little variety, and if you can shuck a couple for show that always gets everyone pretty excited.

To shuck an oyster

Sophie Shucks!  Photo - Eve Wilson.

What you will need

Fresh oysters, un-shucked
An oyster shucker
Old tea towel

It’s really more precision than brute force. When you go in all guns blazing, trying to jam your shucker aggressively into the side or end – the oyster says NO!  Plus you are liable to pierce the oyster, crack the shell and making them dirty, or worse stabbing yourself in the hand and running from the party screaming. NOT IDEAL! I would also suggest watching a YouTube clip or a trip to your fishmonger for a bit of a demo!

Give the oyster a bit of a scrub prior to opening, it’s important to remove excess sand, dirt and ocean grit. Oysters have a flat and a round side, place your tea towel in your hand, folded, and place the rounded side of the oyster in the palm of your hand – the narrowest part of the oyster pointing at you. Slip your knife blade between the flat top of the shell and the bottom of the shell about a centimetre from the hinge (there is debate about whether you hit from the hinge but that is where the meatiest part of the oyster is, and if you’re not a fish monger you’re likely to stab the oyster). Angle the knife carefully and with some pressure angle it back and forth until you get the tip in. Once you’re in run the knife around the oyster, using a twisting motion, pry open the top and bottom of the shells.

Once the lid is removed, cut the muscle off the bottom of the shell without piercing and then check for any little pieces of shell and discard of them.

To serve the oysters we have used a large tiered cake stand that can hold between 50-100 oysters. Laying ice or salt down to display them can work well, but, keep in mind ice condensates and water could end up pudd’ling up somewhere on your display. On our table photographed, Michael Strownix (our go-to florist) created an amazing bed of moss to lay the oysters down on, giving a different look altogether.  (We were actually planning to keep this shoot styling a little more 'DIY dinner party', but Michael must have missed that memo... !)

To accompany your oysters

In either bowls or jars, it’s nice to offer guests a couple of accompaniments to the oysters, some people can get a little freaked out about the natural slippery suckers served straight up! Lemon cheeks are the norm, shallot vinaigrette is a French classic, finger lime is a seasonal treat and blood Mary salsa is, well, FUN!

Bloody Mary Salsa in the making.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Bloody Mary Salsa

5 ripe tomatoes, chopped finely
1 small chilli
1 shallot, finely diced
Sea salt to taste and a pinch of smoked salt
2 shots of tequila (whatever is in the cupboard)
1 shot of extra virgin olive oil
A few drops of tabasco to taste
Cracked pepper
Juice of 1 lime

Combine all ingredients and create your own version based on your tastes. If you like it hot, make it hot – be confident in this and make it your signature! Keeps in the fridge for a couple of days and if there is some left over the next day – throw it on your eggs and bacon for a REAL hair of the dog.

Shallot vinaigrette

1/2 cup very finely minced shallots
Sea salt to taste
4 tbsp of the best red wine or sherry vinegar you can find (use rose if you don’t like the acidic taste)
A generous pinch of sugar
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sophie minces the shallots.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Finely dice or mince shallots with the salt (salt works like glass and helps cut it down). Chop through the pile a few times, until you end up with a consistency that you like. In a bowl combine the vinegar and sugar then throw in your very impressive shallot pile. Set aside for at least 15 minutes. Slowly add the olive oil to the shallot mixture. Taste and add more salt, sweetness, or rosé wine, like all these recipes, make it your own.

Huge thanks to Sophie and Nicole of Cookes Food for sharing their wisdom this month!  Stay tuned next week for another culinary crowd pleaser from this talented duo, and keep your eyes on their website and Facebook page for a squizz at the fabulous events these girls create around town with their brilliant team.  They make it look SO DAMN EASY.

Oyster Tower amazingness!  Custom table by Anthony Storen at CIP Creative.  Flowers and greenery by Michael Strownix at Where the Grass is Green.  Props from Place Settings. Blue Bentwood dining chairs from Thonet. Photo - Eve Wilson.

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