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Chef Jenay Gibson Dishes On How To Cater On A Dime

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She's only 21, but don't let the young age fool you. Chef Jenay Gibson, a native of California, who worked with the world-famous chef Wolfgang Puck and has cooked for the likes of Michelle Williams and other stars. Here, she shares how to cater a special night on a tight budget.  Read more:   ESSENCE.com: How did you get started in the catering business? JENAY GIBSON: I got started cooking for my family and friends. I eventually started working in restaurants and catering small events. People started to notice me and I got more exposure. I built my contacts. ESSENCE.com: How do you develop an inexpensive menu? GIBSON: I try to stick with seasonal foods like chicken and turkey. For instance, this winter for one of my clients I insisted on Mussels in an Herbed White-Wine sauce, Miso Glazed Cod, and Roasted Pineapple Chicken. For sides, I love using rice. Rice is very versatile, yet very cheap. You can flavor rice in so many ways to fit your cuisine. Always have juice like a strawberry lemonade, or some sort of punch. And most of all water is important, preferably bottled.   ESSENCE.com: What types of foods are festive yet not costly? GIBSON: For a party I like to do a Mango Salsa with Lime Tortilla Chips, Pita Bread with Hummus, Chicken and Vegetable Kabobs, and BBQ Chicken Quesadillas. These low cost appetizers please the palate and the pockets. If you want to impress your guests without spending too much, then try doing something different with fresh juices. Get about three different juices such as blood orange, orange juice, and lemon juice. Add a little sugar and sparkling water to make it a little festive and a sparkling twist at the end. Garnish with thinly sliced fruit and serve them in martini glasses with sugar around the rim. ESSENCE.com: What about desserts? GIBSON: It's best to use what fruits are in season to save to the most money. I like to make my famous apple tarts with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel sauce. Since we are in strawberry season, I would make a nice strawberry cake or chocolate covered strawberries. ESSENCE.com: What are some important foods you should have to cater a successful but cheap event? GIBSON: Salads should always be an option at every party. Make sure to always have a mayonnaise-based dressing like a Ranch or Bleu Cheese. It's great to have a platter filled with raw vegetables for your guests to dip into sauces. As well as freshly sliced fruit with a honey mint yogurt to take your party to the next level. We all want to look fantastic, but as we are eating well, we also need to eat healthy. Stay away from fried foods--grill or bake them instead; they taste just as great. As for dessert, instead of having an ice cream, try using flavored sorbet. Half the calories, yet the same great taste.   ESSENCE.com: Can you give us any catering tips? GIBSON: Always have a vegetarian option like an eggplant parmesan or something more edgy like a grilled tofu salad in a sesame ginger vinagrette. Make sure your food is ready when your guests arrive. Always inform guests on what dishes include nuts. Always use fresh products.Make sure your food is always hot. ESSENCE.com: Will cheap catering ruin your event? GIBSON: Don't think cheap, because you will end up getting what you pay for. You want to impress your guests, try and look for a reasonable caterer but with quality food. Check out a Quick Muffaletta Rice recipe from Hillshire Farm! Read more:
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