While Larry Gerstein , or “Chef Larry,” has mastered the art of putting together fabulous food dishes, he is also highly skilled when it comes to managing an all-star team of men and women to help run his catering business. Serving the likes of the Cardinals baseball team, their opponents, and nearly all the rock ‘n’ roll stars who have passed through St. Louis, Gerstein and his team have formed a delightful blend of personalities that are always fresh and in season. While their current focus is now on catering events and weddings, their accounts have always included everyone from local brides to big names in the entertainment industry.
As part of his recipe for success, Larry employs a handful of hand-picked people that are as dedicated to the business’ success as he is. One of those employees, Rich David, describes the way things run as being like a “silent symphony”–everyone knows their part, and plays it well. In addition to David, about five other people make up Gerstein’s team. With a combined experience of over fifty years, Chris Kortum, Debbie O’Hara, and Janet Jones keep things running behind the scenes in the office. In the kitchen, Larry cooks and serves clients alongside his colleagues Doug Bullerdick, Andy Karakasis, (and Rich).
Besides the basics–good ingredients, good recipes, and good techniques–Larry also emphasizes customer service. His fellow chefs know that the customer comes first. It is their joy, and the lifeblood of his business. He tells of the time that his team was serving at an event, where they had just finished cooking and were cleaning up and putting everything away. About that time, a couple more guests came in, obviously very late, but his chefs already knew what to do without consulting Larry. While other places may have cordially turned the guests away or told them they could choose from what was left over, Larry’s team instantly went into action to cook more food for “just” those two latecomers. Larry speaks with pride about this incident, as it is that sort of initiative that he seeks and cultivates in anyone who would want to work for him.
This effort, besides looking good in the kitchen, looks good at the table too. Larry’s guests are constantly dishing out praise for his work. Compliments such as, “This reminds me of Grandma’s cooking” or “This was the best dinner!” are frequently heard. To these chefs, such compliments mean as much to them as being able to cater to world-famous music bands who are passing through the area.
While events such as weddings or corporate luncheons usually have food bars (such as the much-loved pasta bar) or menus that a few organizers develop with Championship, serving music stars, or visiting sports teams and their entourage is a whole different ballgame. Larry says that many of these contracts are quite lengthy–up to twenty-five pages at times. Among other things, they contain a list of food the bands will and won’t eat, what special things they request (for example a British group may want a certain kind of tea), and sometimes, a clause used to test whether or not their contract has been fully read and implemented. For example, Chef G said that sometimes a group will make an odd request such as “only green M&M’s”, or a certain brand of water at room temperature, or a special kind of hot sauce. He said that when the group arrives and sees the right color of candy, or the right kind of water or hot sauce, it’s a signal to them that the caterers have been diligent to follow their instructions. Other groups have also had other unusual requests–one group, for example, are vegetarians who don’t eat vegetables. While the particulars of this menu weren’t clear to me, it did serve to underscore the skill it takes for Larry and his team to constantly be creative and come up with meals that adhere to the clients’ varying and sometimes unusual guidelines. Believably, Larry says his job is never boring!
As you can see, Championship Catering could refer to the sports clients that Larry serves, but after getting to know them a little better, it’s clear that Larry and his team are themselves the champions! He is always looking for good people, so if you are interested in joining an award-winning team, contact Larry at 314-606-9520.
Photo courtesy of Championship Catering