By Donna Cornelius
There’s no such thing as too many spoons. Always keep a goat cheese log on hand. And just for fun, top your elegant silver candelabra with Chilton County peaches.
Those are just a few of the practical and imaginative bits of insider information in a new cookbook by one of Birmingham’s best-known caterers.
In “Food, Fun & Fabulous: Southern Caterer Shares Recipes and Entertaining Tips,” Kathy Mezrano of Kathy G and Company presents not just recipes for her favorite dishes but instructions on how to give your kitchen creations a star-quality setting.
“Presentation is just as important as the food,” Mezrano said.
While she’s been in the catering business for more than 30 years, this is her first cookbook.
“It was one of those things on my bucket list,” Mezrano said.
A beach trip last August with old friends from Mobile’s Spring Hill College spurred her to action, she said. Her former roommate helped her come up with an outline for the book.
“My concept was to have big ‘wow’ shots to introduce each chapter and to tell you how to do things yourself,” Mezrano said.
With that plan in mind, she divided her book into chapters including “Tuscan Table,” “Asian Buffet” and “Tailgate Party.” In the “Autumn Fare” chapter, for example, Mezrano tells readers how to make paella – and also how to roast a pumpkin to serve it in.
On one of the book’s first pages is a glowing endorsement by Chef Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega Café and Chez Fonfon.
“Kathy is one of those rare individuals who creates recipes that anyone can produce – each packed with personality and all arranged with a keen eye for beauty that go together to make a party an unforgettable occasion,” Stitt wrote.
Readers will see more than 200 color photos, some from the posh affairs Mezrano has catered over the years and other photos made just for the cookbook.
“We had to do some tight shots of food,” she said. “Mo Davis of Arden Photography was a great help.”
Even those who have attended many events catered by Mezrano may not know the origin of her company’s name. The “G” in Kathy G and Company is for George, her maiden name.
“Food has always been a big part of my life through my parents,” she said.
She pays tribute to her father, A.B. George, a wholesale produce buyer, and to her mother, Mary Ann George, in the cookbook’s introduction.
“Growing up, my parents made the dining room the center of our lives,” she wrote. “They loved good food and made everyday meals feel special through their creativity, thoughtful presentation and attention to detail.”
Mezrano worked in television before starting her catering business.
“I started giving parties, and people asked, ‘Why don’t you go into catering?’” she said.
When Kathy G and Company took off, it quickly became a family affair. Mezrano’s husband, Louis Mezrano, left his law practice to manage the business. He passed away a little over a year ago.
“I wish he could have seen the book,” Mezrano said. “He always pushed me to get it done.”
Her son, Jason Mezrano, is Kathy G and Company’s executive chef. Her niece, Natalie Andrews, is the company’s senior event coordinator.
“Jason worked at Highlands Bar and Grill and at Hot and Hot Fish Club,” Mezrano said. “He went to culinary school in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then worked in the Napa Valley.”
Her staff also includes employees who have been with her long enough to qualify as extended family.
“Some have been with me 15 to 20 years,” she said.
For big events, Mezrano has to bring in extra help.
“Not too long ago, we catered a Mercedes event for 1,000 people at Sloss Furnaces,” she said. “We had a Southern-themed seated dinner served family style. That’s one of the most difficult things to do, when you have to pass the food. We had 120 waiters and 20 captains. We did three different training sessions for the staff for that event.
“Having great servers is part of the whole experience with the food, atmosphere and music. They’re your ambassadors.”
In addition to having The Gardens Café by Kathy G at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens as its main venue, Mezrano’s company for the past few years has been an exclusive caterer to the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Alys Stephens Performing Art Center, Park Lane in Mountain Brook, the Historic Donnelly House and the Birmingham Zoo Lodge.
Birmingham isn’t the only place for Kathy G events. She recently catered a University of Alabama President’s Cabinet dinner at The Zone in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“We served pistachio-crusted halibut served hot – and without having a kitchen there,” she said.
“Food, Fun & Fabulous,” published by Inspired Intermedia, is $39.95. It’s available at The Gardens Café and through the company’s website, www.kathyg.com.
Mezrano will sign copies of her book at Birmingham Bake and Cook in Cahaba Heights on Jan. 28 from 4-7 p.m.
The hard-working businesswoman said that she’s stepping back a bit from her company’s day-to-day events and that her son is “taking over.”
“I’d like to travel more,” she said. “I went to Italy in September.”
But Mezrano didn’t leave her love for food behind during that vacation.
“A friend and I did a cooking class at a little farmhouse there,” she said.
Chicken Artichoke Lasagna
Mezrano said this recipe from “Food, Fun & Fabulous” is one of her staple dishes. It’s ideal for entertaining, she writes in the cookbook, because it can be made ahead of time and frozen.
⅔ cup butter
⅓ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon minced garlic
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups milk
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 cans water-packed artichokes, drained and shredded
1 teaspoon dried thyme
9-12 lasagna noodles, cooked
1½ cups parmesan, grated
9-12 slices of fresh mozzarella
In a saucepan over medium heat, make a roux by melting butter and stirring in flour. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and ground nutmeg. Once it cooks to a smooth consistency for approximately 5 minutes, slowly add milk. Bring just up to a boil and then lower to a simmer for another 5 minutes, until sauce is thick. Take sauce off heat and check seasoning.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 13 x 9 baking dish, layer 3 pasta sheets, a third of the chicken, a third of the artichokes, a third of the roux, and sprinkle with parmesan. Repeat to use the remaining ingredients, and finish the top with mozzarella.
Cover and bake for 35 minutes, then uncover and cook an additional 10 minutes until bubbly around the edges.