Working with food today is an area of the wedding industry that is constantly changing and constantly an exciting challenge and learning experience. Enter Woolcott & Wright Event Catering whose enthusiasm for beautiful ingredients, beautifully presented food with fresh clean flavours, is evident in everything they create. Looking at their stunning gallery of food images at 9 o’clock in the morning had my tummy grumbling and me wishing I could dive right in and eat one of those amazing creations – now that’s saying something! Together Jamie and David are the team behind Woolcott & Wright, so let’s meet them.
Please tell us a little about your background?
After several years working full time in an office doing everything from data entry to I.T to project management and process improvement, I decided I needed to get out. I have always worked in hospitality, but just out of interest as a casual in the evenings as a waiter or barista. I started working 1 day a week at a café on Sydney’s lower north shore, then 3 days, then, after the bug had well and truly taken hold, I was working full time in hospitality managing a café! A couple of years later I decided it was time to open my own café and as part of that we started catering quite organically from customer requests.
How did you make the decision to get into event catering?
My business partner, David Wright, is an excellent chef with high end, fine dining training and background. He brings that refinement, skill and attention to detail to catering. David looks after all things food and kitchen and I take care of ‘front of house’. It’s a great balance of skills….and workload!
So after setting up and running a bistro together, event catering was a very natural progression. We started getting more and more catering enquiries and eventually left the bistro behind to focus on catering. There’s something pretty spectacular about event catering. Seeing an empty space transformed into something really special, working on the logistics of catering for 150 guests from a virtual cupboard, then everything gets packed down and looks like nothing was ever there – it’s particularly rewarding looking back over everything that was achieved to produce an amazing event and hardly seeing a footprint left behind.
Business partner David Wright
You are based in Sydney. Do you have a particular area your business covers?
While we are based in Sydney, we have really strong networks that stretch far and wide so we are available to cater throughout all of NSW- city, country, beachside, forests (as well as Queensland, Victoria and Canberra!) And as a Gold Licensed Caterer, we are able to cater for events in all the great venues!One of the great things about catering compared to a restaurant is that being mobile, you have the opportunity to work in some pretty amazing places and we can always bring everything along from power supply, marquees, tables, crockery to glassware and, importantly, dancefloors!
Do you have a particular food philosophy or influence?
Our overarching influence in everything we do is a focus on quality, whether service or food. Specifically though, David, with his enviable training and background, is to combine that quality with refinement. I was fortunate enough to be able to capture one of my favourite quotes from David about his food philosophy:
“…working with the freshest produce, I focus on highlighting an ingredients natural flavour, with a strong focus on seasonality and sustainable produce treated with care, presented simply” David Wright
Do the menus you produce for each client reflect seasonal, local produce as much as possible?
Absolutely. We always design our menus around what’s in season and a clients specific preferences and dietary requirements. It’s the only way to guarantee freshness and it’s important to keep the food experience in line with what’s going on around you- the location, the environment and seasons- otherwise it can end up a little disjointed. There are often times when David will hear of some particularly high quality produce in season that he will design a menu around- an amazing way to guide and develop a menu.
What is a favourite dish (yours, and/or your clients)?
One of my favourites is David’s swordfish! It’s grilled swordfish loin, saffron skordalia, roast capsicum, chorizo and green olive, with salt and pepper Southern calamari (see image below).
It’s such an amazing combination of flavours and textures with the soft swordfish and crisp crunch of the potato wafer, and the saffron skordalia is really quite refreshing, I love it!
We tend to get a heap of great feedback from clients, but there are a few items that always get great reviews whenever they are on the menu- scallop, duck, bugs and agnolotti! Here’s how we do them-
Scallop Seared scallop, pickled baby beetroot, crispy pork cheek and cabernet sauvignon dressing
Duck Thirlmere duck breast, horseradish and thyme gnocchi, sautéed bitter greens, fresh fig and port jus gras
Agnolotti Prawn agnolotti, fennel puree, crab and shaved fennel salad, chardonnay vinegar and eschallot dressing
Moreton Bay Bug Poached Moreton Bay bug, green apple, shaved fennel, watercress & basil salad with lemon oil
What will be on the menu for winter weddings?
Winter really does lend itself to the classics- roast meats, gravy and big comforting flavours, so we put our twist, influenced with those ideas. Here’s a couple for this season:
– Roasted Rangers Valley lamb rump with caramelised eschallots, spinach, raison roasted red capsicum and balsamic lamb jus
– Whole spit roasted suckling pig stuffed with ginger, herbs, lemongrass, cinnamon & clove
– Cream of celeriac soup, braised ham hock, salt cod brandade & celery salt (see image above).
Do you use certain food producers/suppliers to ensure your produce is top quality?
Our focus is always to produce the best quality and flavour possible. To do that, you have to use great suppliers who you can trust. We have worked hard at developing and maintaining relationships with only the best suppliers in the industry. We have a terrific network of suppliers and can arrange everything from red carpets and audio to chairs and photo booths!
Regarding food, if David isn’t at the fish markets himself, he is speaking to Andrew, owner of Martins Seafood (who also happen to supply Sydney’s best restaurants). Another favourite supplier is Feather & Bone Providores. Their focus on provenance and sustainable farming is inspiring!
Are you able to offer wine matching for each course?
Matching wine with the food can really take the food experience from great to amazing! We have a consultant sommelier who can design a beautifully balanced wine list for any menu.
At a wedding, is the most current and enjoyable way to serve meals as shared platters, or is alternate plating still requested?
One of the great things about catering is that every event is different and so is each couple. I think what’s really important, is that the food experience is driven by the couple and not directed by the caterer or venue. The trend for share platters has definitely grown in the last couple of years. Alternate drops are still popular but usually for the larger weddings. For smaller weddings, we have observed really strong growth with couples requesting a single menu (ie. where everyone has the same dishes) but with shared sides. Food is generally prettier served as individual plates, but you are still able to incorporate that shared experience with the sides so it’s a great balance.
What is the process the bridal couple go through with you to choose their menu?
Choosing a menu can be a daunting process so we try to keep it as simple as possible. Generally we will have a chat about food preferences and dietary requirements (including things couples definitely DON’T want on the menu!) as well as budgets, the style of the wedding and location etc. David, our executive chef, will design a menu for the couple to provide feedback and adjust it from there. We really want the menu to reflect the couple so while most menus get agreed to with only minor adjustments, the bridal couple should be comfortable asking for as many changes as they like- after all, it is their day!
Korean fried chicken with kimchi mayonnaise and Asian coleslaw
Are the bridal couple able to do a tasting of their preferred menu options prior to their wedding?
Food is generally 1 of the top 3 things people walk away talking about and remembering from a wedding so getting the right menu sorted is pretty significant.
We definitely offer tastings to couples and it’s often a great chance for us to talk through food as well as service, and a terrific way to get to know the couple. Surprisingly though, we don’t get a lot of requests for tastings. You need to be confident in your caterer. We tend to talk through ideas with our couples to finalise the menu more so than requests for tastings – which is very validating for us!
Do you work out of preferred venues, or will do go anywhere in Sydney?
We prefer to work out of any venue! We do have connections with some spectacular Sydney venues but no preferred venues. We can go where ever the couple have dreamed to celebrate.
W&W have catered in all kinds of venues from outdoors in parks, tiny kitchens at a private house, large halls and big venues. We can work in a fully fitted kitchen, or bring a complete mobile kitchen with us. So if couples want a destination wedding in the rainforest, we can bring all the equipment we need. If they are getting married in kitted out venue, then we can slide in smoothly.
We are fully insured and as a Gold Licensed Caterer, we are able to meet even the most stringent venue requests.
What is your favourite aspect of your career?
I love the energy and the variety in everything we do. Each event has its own requirements and nothing is the same, even when we cater at the same venue.
We might be catering an intimate dinner for 20 at someone’s house by the harbor one week, then an event for 400 in the middle of the city the next week!
How do you gather fresh ideas – both food and otherwise, for your business?
Probably a lot of the typical stuff – eating out at restaurants and cafes, produce markets, following various people and organizations on social media and that sort of thing… but also it’s often from couples.
We have had some really interesting requests from couples that encourage us to look at food a new way. Whether it’s a combination of cultures that we need to integrate flavour profiles (for example the bride might be Greek and the groom Chinese), requests for ‘savoury’ desserts or simply working with a tight budget, we only produce food that’s consistent with our philosophy and vision so we are forced to look at what we are doing, how we are doing it and coming up with a food solution that meets the brief.
As a business, we are pretty involved with local business groups and industry networks, and often get inspiration and ideas from mates within the industry just from having a chat over coffee or a wine. But to be honest, it’s probably the best ideas that are devised over the wine!
What do you love about Sydney?
It’s a little cliché, but I am going to have to say it’s the beaches! I’ve surfed for past 20 or so years and I still get excited like a little kid when I’m on my way, especially if it’s been a few weeks since I last went.
I am also loving the growing events and culture focus in the city. Events like Vivid Sydney and Biennale of Sydney are really showing off Sydney’s harbourside location in a pretty spectacular way. Just like any venue, it’s amazing how a bit of imagination and a few pretty lights can transfer a space!
Thank you Jamie for sharing your food philosophies with us. To find out more about Woolcott & Wright Event Catering visit the website.
Images courtesy of Woolcott & Wright Event Catering.