On my way to a recent four-day retreat catering, I noticed the brakes on my Jeep were going out. Not a big problem, just drive slower and time the traffic lights to make it through the intersections on the green light. Of course I had enough to stop in an emergency and for stop signs. (I’m not that crazy to drive with totally zero stopping power.) The scenario reminded me metaphorically how I can cook sometimes and how that drives creativity in the kitchen.

Caterings are especially subject to thinking on your feet. Changing a recipe at the last minute because the on-site stove burner just quit working, the sheet pan is an inch too wide to fit in the oven, or your assistant that you just sent to the store brought back the wrong ingredient or only half of what you needed. When I am at a catering it’s like driving without breaks, there’s no time for kitchen stop lights or traffic jams.
I am constantly observing obstacles and skating around them like an Olympic slalom skier. It brings with it an awareness that otherwise is overlooked. That’s when creativity kicks in: What am I going to do with all these extra Asian Eggplants? What about the chopped tomatoes and onions left over from yesterday’s meal? Knowledge of what ingredients might go well together and a good imagination is what creates new dishes. Here are just a few as an example:

Roasted Asian Eggplant Tapas

Makes 36 tapas


3 Asian Eggplants
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 TBS ea. Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
1 Pkg. Fresh Basil Leaves
4 Slices Mozzarella, Muenster (or any mild cheese) 1/4” slices
2 Pints Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
36 Frilly Picks


Pre-heat oven to 400f. Peel and cut off the ends of the eggplants. Make sure you have 36 pieces of fresh basil leaves whether small whole leaves or the bigger ones cut smaller. Chop the leftover basil and use it in the marinade. Cut eggplants into 1/2” coins and marinade in olive oil, salt, pepper and basil for at least 20 min.

Place the eggplant coins on a sheet pan and roast in the oven until the bottom side becomes crisp. Turn the eggplant coins over and continue roasting until that side is now crisp. Remove from oven and let cool. Pat off excess olive oil with paper towel.

Cut 18 of the tomatoes in half lengthwise and hold. Cut the cheese into nine pieces per slice. Assemble on the frilly pick in this order:

Whole cherry tomato
Cheese square
Basil leaf
Eggplant coin
Half tomato (flat side down)

Serve at room temperature.

Spicy Gazpacho

Makes 6 servings (about 1 1/2 cups each)


3 LG red tomatoes (about 3 cups)
1 LG cucumber
1 Colored bell pepper (the more variety, the more colorful)
1 LG red onion
½ Cup Sliced green onion
1 LG Jalepeño
3 Cloves Garlic
1 1/2 12-oz. Can hot-style vegetable juice cocktail
1/3 Cup Chopped fresh basil
1/4 Cup Fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
1 TBS Extra VirginOlive oil
1/4 Cup Fresh Lime juice
3 TBS Balsamic vinegar
1/4 teas. Sea Salt
1 Dash Fresh ground black pepper
1 Dash Hot sauce
Thin slices of cucumber


Peel, seed and dice the cucumber (saving some thin slices for garnish), seed and dice the tomatoes, dice the bell pepper and onions. Seed and finely mince the jalapeño and garlic. Chop the basil and parsley. Add the vegetable juice cocktail, olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and pepper sauce. Combine all the ingredients in a non-reactive (stainless steel or glass) bowl and mix. Add half the mixture to a food processor bowl and blend until nearly smooth. Add that back to the bowl. Cover and chill at least 1 hour before serving.

To serve, place thin slices of cucumber on top each serving.



Chef Trusan