Every year, Utah’s best chefs and restaurateurs gather at a gala event to receive their due praise. Who dares to feed the state’s culinary stars?
Maxine Turner and assistant Megan Rhoads working at Turner's office dining table.
Talk about grace under pressure. Maxine Turner and the staff of Cuisine Unlimited Catering & Special Events have cooked and served their way through years of high-profile events that might have caused a lot of other caterers to wither. Feed and water the ravenous crew of a Rolex commmercial on the Salt Flats? Sure. Formal dinner for 1,200 people at the University of Utah Fieldhouse? Done. Party for 500 in a tent, in a snowstorm, on the side of a mountain? They've been there, done that—not to mention catering seven Olympic Games, from Salt Lake City to Turin.
And then there are the Salt Lake magazine Dining Awards. Over the past 12 years, the event has evolved to include a festive cocktail reception with ample nibbles before and after the event rather than a sit-down dinner. Regardless, the challenge is to regale and honor Utah’s best chefs on their big night out. For the past six years, the challenge has gone to Turner and her team, and they’ve delivered from the floral bling to a chic martini menu.
“We were honored to be asked,” Turner recalls of her company’s first Dining Awards. “But at the same time, I was plenty nervous. I still get nervous. Catering this event is like opening night of an Olympic project. We know it has to be spot on, so we plan for it just like any other event. There’s a lot of pressure those first few hours before, but once the party starts, we can’t help but feel we’re among friends and colleagues who really share a passion for what we all do. The first Dining Awards evening we catered was at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Our ‘back of the house’ was a freight elevator. Thankfully, I was notified well in advance that this was somewhat of a drinking crowd. The lines to the bar were never-ending, so that may have been an understatement.”
What many people may not realize is that the event is as beneficial for Cuisine Unlimited as it is for Utah chefs—it offers a terrific showcase in front of a panel of tough judges.
“Catering is sometimes perceived to be the bastard child of food service,” Turner says. “I like to dispel that notion.”
But beyond that, “Our chefs really enjoy the event. We know we are with the best of the best. And, over the years we’ve developed friendships that go beyond the awards. We’ve done work for various restaurants, and we have hired winning chefs to join our Olympic teams. Jerry Liedtke of Tin Angel fame was one our chefs in Turin for the 2006 Games. Gastronomy Group always comes through for us—when we need extra staff we’ll tap into their chefs and servers for big projects. The synergy that has resulted from being involved has been entirely positive on both sides.”