I recently had a chance to talk with award-winning Chef Conrad Gallagher. Chef Conrad, fresh from his consulting role in getting the kitchen up and running at the new Ways and Means Oyster House in Orange, has opened his own catering company, Vanity Catering and Events. Chef Conrad, in his 20 year career as a chef, has been awarded two Michelin stars, one of the highest accolades a chef can receive. He has worked at one of the top restaurants in the world, Alain Ducasse's three-star Michelin restaurant Louis XV at Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Conde Nast Traveller has awarded him the prestigious honor of Top Irish Chef of the Year for the years 1998 to 2011. In New York, he refined his culinary talents at such top venues as Restaurant Daniel, Le Cirque and the Plaza Hotel. “I started off my career in the Edwardian Room at Donald Trump's Plaza Hotel”, Chef Conrad said. “I later went to the Peacock Alley restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria where I was sous chef”, he further explained. “Later, I went back to Ireland and opened the first ever Michelin-starred restaurant there, the Peacock Alley in Dublin”. Eventually, I moved to South Africa with my wife, who is South African and worked with a hotel group down there as Group Chef. I returned to the United States two years ago”.
Chef Conrad broadened his horizons during his travels. “I think my style of food has been very much influenced by my experiences. Where I started off, it was very much French influenced, but now I think very much about new world fusions. We definitely felt there was a huge gap in the market here in Orange County. I feel that catering companies don't usually offer a real restaurant experience. A lot of catering companies here are really busy, but I felt that there is a gap in the market for me to come in and offer real Michelin-starred quality cuisine. We offer a real restaurant experience. We want to be the people who do a small wedding of people, maybe 200 foodies, that really want to feel like they are sitting in a high-class, four-star restaurant. They want it to be romantic, they want it to be in a motif, small and beautiful. I actually believe that just because you are doing numbers you can't do great food There is no reason why you cannot have great food at an event”.
Vanity Catering and Events has a menu ready to go for their potential clients. Many dishes consist of the Chef's Signature items. “I think our first initial menu has all of our signature dishes. We have some really, really exciting signature canapes that we do at a really high level”. He continued, “We do various things like Skuna Bay Salmon, dipped in licorice, lightly smoked and served in a little bowl. We have a pretty electric style of cuisine. A lot of our entrees, pastas, risottos and appetizers are items that have been tried and tested and people have used in the past. We have restaurant quality food, adjusted slightly to meet the demand of numbers”. Signature dishes from the extensive menu include Tuna Tartare with Quail Egg, Harissa, Cilantro and Pine Nuts; Rack of Lamb with Dijon Breadcrumbs, Grilled Caesar Salad, Casserole of Peas, Girolles, Baby Carrots and Mint; and Espresso Duck egg Crème Brûlée with Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate Sorbet and Sable Cookies. Other specialties include raw bars featuring the freshest sustainable seafood, vegetarian and vegan dishes, gluten-free fare and more. Chef Conrad concluded, “We've definitely tried to stay true to our concept of being really a premier catering concept specializing in extraordinary cuisine, flawlessly executed to provide a world-class dining experience”. While the quality of food and execution is high, Chef Conrad stressed that his aim is to keep the pricing for events very affordable.
No matter how small or how big the event is going to be, Vanity Catering and Events will invite potential clients to a tasting to taste the menu. “We are all about integrity of ingredients. We are not going to do anything where the food is pre-cooked. A lot of preparation will be done on our own premises, however the cooking will be done as close to order time as possible, with no pre-cooking or cooking in advance. Everything has to be fresh! It is the same sort of idea as if you walked into a fine a la carte restaurant. That's were we want to be”. Chef Conrad is very big into using sustainable seafoods and locally sourced foods, saying “it's something that's very close to my heart. We try to build relationships with local farmers and fishermen. We tend to use diver scallops and locally caught sea bass. I can call up someone and tell him that I need 15 beautiful one and a quarter pound lobsters and he'll overnight them express to me. My suppliers will go to the ends of the earth to satisfy me. I realize at the end of the day that if you start with the perfect ingredient, it can only go up”.
For a home-based event, Chef Conrad said, “We go to people's homes, anywhere from 10 people on up. We had a gentleman tonight that wanted a romantic dinner for five couples. He gets everything; a six-course tasting menu with ingredients like scallops and tuna tartare, an entree like Muscovy duckling, vegetables like fresh asparagus, a dessert such as a soufflé or cheesecake, a chef and a server. He will be getting beautiful plates, glassware, a professional waiter and feel like a lord. We want to go into people's homes that have a decent kitchen and allow them to entertain at home while not having to be in the kitchen slaving for days. We just arrive one or two hours before the dinner party starts and set up everything, we cook everything, we clean everything, we tidy up, pack up our boxes and then we leave”. He described it as a pop-up dinner in someone's house, specializing in having a team of professionals come in the house and do the dinner at a very affordable price.
Chef Conrad summed it up by telling me, “If you use beautiful ingredients, skill and craft and you are not afraid to think outside the box, we'll push the parameters of what we can do such as giving the customer sea bass instead of the usual salmon. We've got cooks and chefs on standby that will cook the fish fresh at the event. That's where we are going to position ourselves, to provide the meal and experience that others can't. With unparallelled vision and a 'nothing is impossible' approach, Vanity Catering ensures that every occasion pushes the boundaries of creativity and excellence, whether from ten to a thousand people”. With an attitude like that and a Michelin-starred background, Vanity Catering promises to bring food that is a gastronomic delight to their client's special events, providing a reasonably price experience that cannot be matched.
Vanity Catering and Events
Tel: (714) 359-1459