The dinner at this year's Caterer and Hotelkeeper Awards - held on Tuesday (5 July) in the Great Room at the Marriott Grosvenor House hotel, London - certainly mirrored the calibre of the award winners.
"We served the best of the best," says Grosvenor House's executive chef Fabrizio Cadei, for whom this was the fifth Cateys dinner. "We worked hard to source only the very best seasonal produce available."
"Best of the best" was the theme that ran throughout the presentation evening, which celebrated the achievements of some of the leading personalities of the hospitality industry and offered entertainment from top-class performers such as rising star Nicola Benedetti, the 2004 Young Musician of the Year.
For Cadei, the theme provided an inspiring challenge - but it wasn't straightforward. "You'd think July would be an excellent time for sourcing ingredients, but it is at the point where spring produce is just finishing and summer produce is just starting, so it has not been as easy to plan the dinner as we initially thought."
Cadei used the availability of the finest ingredients as his starting point in planning the menu. He then devised dishes to show off the produce at their best and, in doing so, kept things simple. "When you have got the best ingredients, you don't need to do too much to them," he says.
For the starter, he contacted his supplier Simpson's Fisheries to find out which fish and shellfish would be at their peak in early July. "It was our job to speak to all our contacts on the coast around the UK to come up with the best choice of produce," says the company's fresh fish buyer, Stuart Boyd.
Cadei then decided to use the suggested ingredients - squid caught off the Cornish coast; lobster from the clear, cold, deep water off the Scottish Highlands; and Dover sole fished from the English Channel; together with the finest beluga caviar from the deepest waters of the Caspian Sea - to make a refreshing summer salad.
A light lemon and dill dressing with celery, mango, spring onion and basil cress allowed the freshness of the fish and seafood to taste its best.
To accompany the starter, a signature Chardonnay from one of Burgundy's leading wine makers, Louis Jadot, was served. A blend of grapes from the Cte d'Or and Cte Chalonnaise provided structure to the wine, while Mconnais fruit brought freshness.
As an intermediary course, Cadei opted for a sparkling pear and tarragon shot, made using Forelle pears, famed for their distinctive sweet, fresh flavour. "We wanted to steer away from the usual sorbet course," he says.
English lamb, naturally farmed in Devon to high standards of animal husbandry, was the centrepiece of the main course.
"The ideal accompaniment to English lamb is, of course, mint, but we wanted something different from a traditional mint sauce," he continues. "So we came up with a minted pea pure, which was given an intensity of flavour by cooking fresh peas with mint, which was then pured with some extra fresh mint."
Cadei had initially hoped to serve Jersey Royal new potatoes, but by July they are past their best. So he selected the best new potatoes available, which were the flavoursome Noirmoutier variety from Brittany. The baby carrots and Petit Pan squash were also sourced in France.
Partnering the lamb was an Estancia Pinot Noir - Pinnacles Ranches - made using grapes harvested from vineyards on the western flanks of Monterey's Cavilan Mountains in California, where the boutique style of winemaking and the use of only native yeasts increases the aromatics.
For dessert, Cadei wanted to work on the perfect partnership for early July of strawberries and cream. The result was a rich panna cotta, made using Cornish clotted cream, accompanied by strawberries picked in Kent just before the dinner.
"The panna cotta was full-flavoured and was almost like a cheesecake consistency," says Cadei. "The strawberries we selected were so juicy and sweet that they cut through the richness of the panna cotta perfectly."
Such a rich, sweet pudding needed a dessert wine to match up to it, and this was found in a Vigna della Fortezza from the volcanic island of Pantelleria, Italy's most remote DOC, just off the coast of North Africa. Here, in extremely hot conditions, the Moscato d'Alessandria vine produces small yields of intensely flavoured grapes which are used to make this citrussy dessert wine with a natural alcohol content of more than 14%.
To finish the meal, coffee was served with chocolate discs emblazoned with the Cateys insignia using couverture from three of the world's leading chocolate makers - Valrhona, Callebaut and El Rey.
Cadei was supported by 16 chefs in preparing the dinner for the 890 guests, and up to 28 chefs were involved in service on the big night.
"Preparation began the day before the event with the arrival of the produce in the kitchen," says Cadei.
The lamb was marinated overnight in olive oil, thyme, rosemary and black pepper, before being roasted in the oven just before service the following day.
The lobster, Dover sole and squid were also marinated, once they had been prepared and portioned, this time using olive oil, lemon juice, dill and coriander. "Not only did the marinade provide flavour, but it also tenderised the fish," says Cadei.
Meanwhile, in the pastry kitchen, pastry chef Ernie Curson led his team in making the 890 panna cottas and tuile sugar baskets to hold the strawberries, along with several thousand chocolates.
The day of the Cateys itself was long and challenging for Cadei, but one that he and his staff had looked forward to.
"We cater for many top jobs here in the Great Room, but the Cateys is definitely one of the most prestigious, and we were all motivated and excited about doing a good job and creating the best of the best."
5 July 2005
Taittinger Brut Reserve NV