Last week, Christine Robinson wrote about creating a dish for a themed party. Well, we’re on a roll with this topic because I recently got an email newsletter from APPCA member Nancy Cordi of Mediterrania Personal Chef Services showing off her “Sandals & Sangria”party that she organized for the VeriDiva Business Group. The newsletter so intrigued me, with it’s beautiful food photos and interesting description that I asked Nancy if she could explain to members how to create these kinds of themed parties for clients. Here’s what she created for us. I hope it inspires you!

So it wasn’t long ago that I recently joined a local women’s club, Veridiva, a networking group in support of female entrepreneurs, in the Temecula area.  I was chosen as a member as well as their personal chef to represent the group. Rather than just showing up and being one’s personal chef, I decided to get even more creative and create themed parties and to really enjoy building fun and exciting menus around each theme.
Recently I hosted a “Sandals and Sangria” party which was the theme chosen to showcase one of our newest member’s products that she sells. At this party, it was very tropical and beachy so I decorated in bright floral prints using fabric I purchased on sale and used this material as my tablecloth, used real coconuts and pineapple for table décor, and broke out my tropical straws with various fruit on top which decorated each wine glass that would soon be filled with my homemade sangria. With great excitement, I created a tapas menu which consisted of bright, fresh flavors both savory and sweet, using fresh herbs mixed with fresh fruit topped on my open-faced empanadas with crab and chicken, cauliflower pancakes with fresh mint topped with a Saffron cream sauce and sweet and chewy Mejdool dates stuffed with Stilton blue cheese wrapped in smoked bacon.
And to swish all of this authentic Spanish food all down, I made a juicy fruity sangria which consisted of rose wines, Prosecco, peach brandy and a little bit of Grand Marnier that marinated overnight with chunky pieces of pineapple, strawberries, slices of orange and lime. Adding to that, I made beautiful mango and fresh raspberry purée ice cubes that beautifully enhanced and complimented my sangria in both flavor and presentation. And what ends a nice evening of savory tapas and juicy sangria? My creamy coconut flan topped with buttery caramelized pineapple.
Prior to this themed party, another that recently comes to mind is “Cocktails at Tiffany’s.” For this party, I also did finger foods which consisted of mint chicken and curry satay with a thai peanut sauce, garden fresh tomato, avocado and basil bruschetta on garlic crostini but the big hit of the party were my white and dark chocolate mousse and vanilla cake Tiffany cocktail desserts, each layer representing the classic Tiffany colors of black, Tiffany blue and white with edible silver pearls, and a black fondant bow on top.
And one of my MOST exciting events was my “A Journey to the Mediterranean.” This was my grand showcasing at my first themed part as a Veridiva member. I walked my guests through a culinary journey beginning with palate cleanser of a Moroccan black tea spritzed with orange blossom water. The guests then feasts on various dips, starting with Lebneh, a creamy, soft cheese made my draining the water from Greek yogurt over night, topped with excellent olive oil and fresh herbs, as well as made-from-scratch classic hummus with toasted pine nuts and roasted red pepper hummus. Then, they moved along the journey reaching for fragrant basmati rice made with cumin and cinnamon and fresh herbs which will soon be topped with braised beef and apricots, a succulent lamb meatball slider topped with a creamy whipped feta spread on a toasted brioche bun and a nice cooling side of fresh, citrusy taboulleh.

After they were done feasting on the savory food, I ended their journey with two authentic and decadent desserts, one from Italy, one from Greece and the Middle East. I wowed the guests with my lemon panna cota topped with chopped pistachios and pistachio oil and layers-deep of buttery baklava drizzled with chocolate ganache. I complimented these desserts with a strong Middle Eastern espresso with freshly grated cinnamon on top and even a hit of freshly grated black pepper.  This culinary journey through the Mediterranean was filled with many tantalizing surprises.

Doing themed parties is very exciting and it takes being a personal chef to a whole new level. It is so much fun to create a menu around a themed party as it is based on your inspiration and allows you to be as creative as you want with both food and decorations. It’s more than just showing-up and cooking. You get to experience the fun that you give your guests as well. I would suggest encouraging your client to do a themed party for the person they are celebrating or as a group to make the time and the culinary experience that much more memorable. You can increase your cost per person when doing this as you will provide fun, beautiful table décor and many other creative surprises, which you can provide at a very low cost to you.  Many of the items you can use for themed parties can be purchased at a grocery, fabric, thrift, or hobby store. Gather these party decorations and keep them to use over and over again for similar-themed parties.

When promoting these themed parties, aside from the promotion that comes from my women’s group, I also do email blasts through my website builder such as godaddy.com as well as share the events and details of each event via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I take many photos of each event, including the people enjoying themselves, décor, and especially the food, and promote them across as many social media outlets as possible. The response to these themed parties is so positive and people just love the experiences they see that I am providing my clients and want to know more about what I can do for them!

My Delicious Juicy Sangria
Serves 12-15
from Nancy Cordi
(please use quality wines)
2 bottles of good rose wine
1 bottle Dolce Vita Prosecco
1 750ml bottle of Christian Brothers peach brandy
1/2 cup of Grand Marnier
2 cups cubed fresh pineapple
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
2 limes cut into thin slices
2 oranges cut into thin slices
Add all ingredients to large container or glass pitchers with lids and let sit overnight (at least 12 hours).  Serve with mango and raspberry ice cubes.
Mango and Raspberry Puree Ice Cubes
from Nancy Cordi
1 cup of fresh raspberries
1 cup of cubed mangos
1/2 cup of blackberries
3 cups water
1 cup of cane sugar
1 tspn of lemon zest
1 tspn of lime zest
4 silicone ice cube trays
2 baking/cookie sheets
In two sauce pots, separate the mangos and raspberries.  In the pot with the mangos, add lemon zest and the pot with the raspberries, add the lime zest.  Now add 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup sugar to each pot.  Stir separately on medium heat for about 10 minutes until mangos become soft and water turns yellow and until raspberries break apart and sauce becomes thick and red. Remove from heat and let cool.  Once cooled, for the raspberries, pour through strainer and press puree through with a spatula into another pot, removing all seeds. Now, add blackberries and stir.  In separate silicone ice cube trays placed on baking sheets, pour the mango and raspberry puree into each tray almost to the top of each block.  Carefully slide baking sheets into freezer and allow the puree to freeze for at least 6 hours.  Once cubes are frozen, twist ice cube trays and place in stainless steel ice cube bucket and serve with sangria!

Have you had requests from clients to create a themed party? How did you go about it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

Chef Nancy Cordi

Temecula, Calif., has long been farm country. And where there are farms there’s bound to be good food, especially in Southern California, where the weather and crops take a page from the climate of the Mediterranean. Nancy Cordi, who grew up north of Temecula, just outside of L.A. in Torrance, comes from a Middle Eastern family. “I was born and raised around happy, beautiful people who surrounded themselves with laughter and, of course, fantastic cooking,” she says. “I was always drawn to cooking at a young age and as I got older, I wanted to carry on the traditions of Middle Eastern cooking, which later evolved into Mediterranean foods.”

Nancy found that many countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea use quality, healthy ingredients in their foods, bringing life into their dishes without masking the flavors. Since she couldn’t travel as often as she’d like, she decided to bring the Mediterranean to California, focusing on the foods of Greece, Lebanon, Israel, and Italy.

Like many people who found their way into life as a personal chef, Nancy originally was working the traditional 40-hour-a-week corporate job and catering on the side. That lasted for about five years. Then less than a year ago, she and her husband Edouard relocated to Temecula. After 21 years of corporate life, Nancy liberated herself and dove into cooking full time, “proudly becoming a certified personal chef through the APPCA,” she says. Her new business is Mediterranea, a Personal and Private Chef Service.

“This catapulted me to a whole new level,” she marvels. “Within a year I have gone from personal chef to also being the chef at a shop where I prepare fresh, healthy, grab-n-go lunches in their kitchen. I am now specializing in vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and paleo diets, all with that fantastic Mediterranean flare! I’m finally living the dream of making a positive impact on people’s lives by creating dishes using fresh local produce and focusing on reducing sodium levels while keeping my food vibrant and healthy by eliminating preservatives as well.

“I’m very thankful to the APPCA for offering this opportunity to become certified and giving me the boost I needed to take my skills to the next level. I’m a blessed woman and now proud chef!”

Nancy has given us a couple of refreshing summer recipes to share here for her Stuffed Grape Leaves and Classic Middle Eastern Hummus:

Nancy Cordi's Grape Leaf Lunch

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Yield: About 50 pieces

Ingredients

50-60 fresh grape leaves or 1 16-ounce jar of brined grape leaves (Note: brined grape leaves are packed by weight so the quantity will vary from jar to jar.)

1 cup olive oil, divided into 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1 cup dried garbanzo beans
1/2 cup julienne sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons dried mint
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Juice of two lemons

Preparation

Soak  garbanzo beans in salted water overnight or simmer beans for 1 1/2 hours until they are twice their size. They must be soft and tender before draining.

Rinse brined leaves well to remove brine and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1/2 cup olive oil. Add rice, garbanzo beans, sun-dried tomatoes, cumin, mint, salt, garlic powder and juice of 1 lemon. Stir for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the filling to cool.

Line the bottom of a heavy saucepan with 2 or 3 grape leaves, using the broken or torn ones for this.

Rolling the grape leaves: Place a leaf with the stem towards you on a flat surface. The underside of the leaf, with the raised veins, should be face up. Using the point of a sharp paring knife, cut out the stem of the leaf. Overlap the bottom 2 sections of the leaf toward the center.

Place a tablespoon of filling in the bottom center of the leaf, just above where the stem was. Fold the bottom section up to cover the filling. Fold in the sides toward the center. Continue rolling the packet upwards toward the top of the leaf.

Place the rolls in layers in the saucepan, seam side down. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil over the grape leaves and enough water to cover them by an inch. Place an inverted heat-proof plate on top of the rolls to keep them submerged in the water. Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour or until leaves are tender and the rice filling is cooked through.

Before serving, squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the grape leaves.

Nancy Cordi's Stuffed Grape Leaves

Classic Middle Eastern Hummus

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 cup dried garbanzo beans
1/2 cup grape seed oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon tahini (optional but recommended)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup raw pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

Soak  garbanzo beans in salted water overnight or simmer beans for 1 1/2 hours until they are twice their size. They must be soft and tender before draining.

In a food processor, add drained garbanzo beans, grape seed oil, lemon juice, tahini, cumin, and garlic powder. Blend until smooth. Taste and add a pinch of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice if needed. Set aside.

In a small skillet, toast pine nuts on low heat until slightly golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Add hummus to a bowl or platter and sprinkle smoked paprika and pine nuts on top. Finish with olive oil. You can also garnish with chopped parsley.

  Nancy Cordi's Hummus

———–

Pitch

It isn’t every day that a personal chef gets this close to hitting the big time. And, yet, APPCA member and personal chef Nicole Gaffney has made it to the final three in Food Network Star. It was a nail biter of an episode. Still in New York at the Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen, each of the four remaining contestants were tasked with creating a 30-second video promo of their proposed show. Food Network execs Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson would review the promos and greenlight three of them to go on to produce a pilot. This pilot would be viewed by all of us at home. Then we get to vote and select the competition’s ultimate winner.

Nicole was up first with her promo highlighting her proposed show on global coastal cuisine. Susie like the camera comfort and down home style Nicole showed, but worried that without global expertise, which Nicole admitted she lacked. Bob, too, was concerned that her concept was too broad, and thought it should be narrowed to American coastal cuisine, which Nicole knows.

The moment of truth came after the other three contestants faced Bob and Susie with their promos and Sara was eliminated. That placed Nicole with Lenny and Luca in the final three and off they were to film their pilots, which were to feature their point of view and expertise.

And who was the Food Network director of these pilots? Robert Irvine. “I hope this isn’t going to be an episode of Pilot Impossible,” Nicole joked.

Nicole focused on Louisiana coastal cuisine for her pilot, “My Coastal Kitchen.” She got off to a shaky start by nervously reciting recipe ingredients and Irvine stopped her cold. He wanted more of her, not an ingredient list. More stories. And, importantly, he asked her if she was having fun, to which she retorted, “Not as much as I should!” This is about fun, Irvine reminded her–and that simple tip revved up her energy levels. By the time we saw the actual pilot, Nicole had fully mastered her presentation of New Orleans-Style “BBQ” Clams, telling charming family stories, taking swigs from a bottle of beer, and offering some terrific cooking tips. She was on!

With Robert Irvine

And now it’s up to us. Nicole has two formidable challengers in Lenny and Luca. So, here’s the deal: go to the Food Network Star website and vote, vote, vote. Yes, you can vote up to 10 times. But it has to be done before Wednesday, Aug. 6 at 11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Do it! Let’s see one of our beloved APPCA members showcased on the Food Network with her own show!

What’s your culinary perspective? What dishes do you love to brag about?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.