Rocco DiSpirito

Rocco DiSpirito explains the differences between Natalie's and Vanessa's French-inspired dinner parties.

on Jul 21, 2011

Finally, French! While some of you may be intimidated by French food, it’s really not that unusual at all. You get to eat soups, salads, seafood, beef, and more in a variety of preparations that will please just about anyone. The French are the best when it comes to making great sauces or, heck, anything made with milk, cream, eggs or butter. Hell, I moved to france when I was 18 to learn how to cook from the French, I should totally be French. Pass me a beret and a baguette, please.

The party last night was wilder in the kitchen than in the dining rooms when I invited not one, but three caterers to compete -- a first-ever for the show. Think about it though: when you throw a dinner party, you typically hire a caterer. So I was really psyched to stack the deck with pro dinner party people.

The caterers were Daniel Rader, the executive chef of his own catering company, Daniel Rader Fine Catering; Vanessa Contave, owner of Yum Yum Catering; and Natalie Stone, mother of five, homemaker, “occasional caterer” (uh-oh, what was I thinking?), and entrepreneur (she recently started her own biscotti company). 

Daniel caters to the famous: Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Bette Midler, to name just a few. I felt like the competition would be a cake walk for him. He’s in this celeb milieu all the time. Vanessa is grad of the French Culinary Institute -- a good thing since the party theme was French Cuisine. She’d be in her element. Then there was Natalie. OMG, she was manic, zany, and going in so many directions. She didn’t even know how to use some of my cooking equipment. Could she stand up to the heat? I liked her attitude: she affirmed that she wanted to not just meet but exceed my expectations for the party And I believed it was more than just her fronting for the camera.

The Signature Dish Challenge went from panic to plate in 30 minutes. Daniel’s Chicken Ballotine was something he cooks all the time for celebs and they swoon over it. Not me. All he did was stuff a chicken breast with some cheeses and vegetables. It sat on a potato pancake, white asparagus, Tarragon Buerre Blanc, and a signature-dish-within-a –signature dish of Daniel’s, Panko Forofa (a Brazilian dish made with tapioca starch). He had a lot going on the plate, much less going on on the palate.