By Hillary Harris
Come join me at the table with Andrew Spurgin! I first met Andrew at an event in San Diego where he had been the big name in town for years. He had been the director of catering at Pirets and several other high profile, and highly respected, catering firms. But what I loved about him was his history working in London, specifically his time as a cheesemonger at the legendary Neal’s Yard Dairy. Call me a Gordon Ramsay lover, yet there is something about an English chef.
Andrew’s taste is not only on his palette but in his eye. His plates are works of art (he often sketches them out first) and he’s presented them now to three United States presidents, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jane Goodall, Martha Stewart, and at the James Beard House in New York.
In 2011, he left the world of “structured” catering for what could only be called a bohemian lifestyle of traveling the world with his band of merry men and women and cooking in rugged and rustic locations from Portland farms to Baja vineyards.
While it was a little intimidating to have someone of Andrew’s stature share a deconstructed Salad Niçoise with me at the Warner Bros. Fine Dining Commissary, he could not have been more English, i.e. charming!
Hillary: I find it interesting that you chose the deconstructed Salad Niçoise for lunch, Andrew. I understand your career is a bit “deconstructed.”
Andrew: (laughing) You do get right to the heart of it! I began as we all did (I know you began in catering way back when so you “get it”) with a large staff, trucks, big kitchen … the whole bit. After 40 years in the industry, I gave all that up and think I’ve finally figured it out, at least for myself! In 2011 I became simply “AndrewSpurgin.com” and decided to be more nomadic, teaming up with a band of catering pirates. I was joined by an adventurous right-hand person, my business partner Jesseca Crissey. We set up the firm to operate like a general contractor.
Hillary: Really!? I’m intrigued. Tell me more about this.
Andrew: I realized that juggling a juggernaut firm was stealing all my time away from doing what I love – “The Creative” — designing events, menus and cooking. Contractors listen to their client and bring a group together to build a house right? As event architects we bring together the very best talent of craftsman and artisans in our industry and beyond to build an event “to order,” hence the “bespoke” in our name. I call us a band of pirates because we will go anywhere. We’re road hardened, have no fear, all the team I work with are extremely good at what they do AND have lots of lovely fun doing it!
Hillary: I understand you’ve done work now all over America, Canada, UK and México, and much in Baja, California. What is the allure of México and Baja, which is so close to your home in San Diego, for you?
Andrew: I simply love México, the pace, the people, the passion and pride, the produce and product. I’m at peace in Baja; there’s a rhythm to the day, nobody sweats the small stuff. We spend so much of our time jumping through hoops here. Quite frankly it takes your time away from what you really want to do, which is create.
Hillary: What have been some of the more memorable events there, and menus you’ve put together?
Andrew: We just did a wonderful dinner with my friend Michelin-starred Chef Drew Deskman at Deckman’s en el Mogor in Valle de Guadalupe. They have no stove or the like, just open wood fire. The venue is stunning; part of the seated dinner for 70 was in an open straw bale room overlooking the vineyards and wood fire powered kitchen. We turned a wheelbarrow into a plate warmer too, It really doesn’t get any better than that!
Our next event in “Valle” is a big birthday party for the owner of an incredible winery. Many of the local winemakers, chefs, farmers and friends and family will be in attendance, the vines will be in full swing, as will the cuisine music and festivities. I can’t wait!
Hillary: Love how you tell it – sounds like Gaugin in Tahiti. What would a structured venue such as Warner Bros. Studios be like for you to work at today? Do you see some ways that you could bring your style to the events here?
Andrew: I think bringing Baja to Warner Bros. would be absolutely fantastic. Think roasting spits, caja de chinas, open fire, smoking barrels and grills. Exotic ingredients, truly handcrafted cuisine made to order, all washed down with the wines of Valle de Guadalupe and of course a great Mescal like Marca Negra Tobalá. And all of it being prepared in open kitchens front of the guests, music that makes you want to dance! The guests could truly be a part of “The Baja Experience.” If not that we can always take you back in time… you do like time travel right?
Hillary: Ha! I love this Culinary Time Travel series. Totally fun! And what of traditional catering? I know you have many friends in the industry and well regarded. What shifts, if any do you see taking place there – new ingredients, caterers with gardens, etc.?
Andrew: You know, I don’t really know, we’re kind of just doing our own thing. I love cooking Japanese/Asian and North African/Middle Eastern cuisine. Yet I’m completely over molecular gastronomy. It reminds me now of when nouvelle cuisine was waning – a little dated. Farm to Table is strong; it’s just that the name has just been beaten to death. And of course there is way more emphasis on vegetables than meat, especially with our drought in California. It takes a whopping 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef!
Hillary: While I would never call sustainability a fad, people are calling eating gluten-free and adopting vegan diets, if not a fad, then a rush to conform to the current popular food style. I wonder — is there something bigger and sexier than our digestive systems influencing the food world?
Andrew: I don’t think gluten is a fad, nor vegan. Our food system is a mess. People are trying to find a way around it. Briilant-Savarin said: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” We have altered so much from what it was intended to be. And don’t get me started on GMO’s. But as far as something more than our digestive systems influencing our catering menus, believe me, there is still bigger and sexier out there! Many of our clients love it when we go back in time and recreate menus and events from the days of Louis XIV, Escoffier meets Victorian England, or Christmas 1964. We refer to it as Culinary Time Travel™ (yes, that’s trademarked!) and our clients go simply mad for these parties. They get to dress up and misbehave and nosh on cuisine and drinks from days gone by, now how much fun is that?
Hillary: You certainly have the passion – and the artist’s eye – for food and for life. Your photos are incredible and I love your stories of México and travel and food – you remind me of the modern day troubadour, although I know you align more with pirates. Perhaps they are a lot alike – taking this and that from one culture and passing it along. I know all this talk has certainly stolen my imagination.
This article first appeared on Harris’ blog at www.wbspecialevents.com