Catering With Grace In A Crisis

The plight of restaurateurs is sadly visible.

Closed dining rooms and curbside delivery offer stark reminders of the coranvirus’ devastating impact on an important slice of Westport life.

Less visible is what’s happened to caterers.

They’re the backbone of Westport’s culinary scene. They’re at every social event in town, serving superb food and making us feel, well, really catered to.

We seldom think of the work behind the scenes: shopping, prepping, cooking, transporting.

And we never think of the constant grind of finding clients, presenting tasting menus, signing contracts, and managing the back end of a business.

Just over 2 weeks ago, that business imploded.

In the hours after schools closed, and town officials held an emergency press conference, the owner of AMG Catering & Events lost just about every booking.

Several fundraisers, 2 art shows, a barn party, a wedding, 1 bar and 1 bat mitzvah, christenings, Passover seders, Easter dinners — all set for March and April — vanished.

Some were postponed to the fall — or spring of 2021. Others were canceled outright.

Graduation parties in June are on hold. Meanwhile — as uncertainty fills the air — no one is booking anything new.

Also gone: her spring adult cooking classes.

Alison Milwe Grace

Meanwhile, Grace — a 1988 Staples High School graduate — has fixed costs, like rent for her commercial kitchen. And she worries about all the part-time employees, like cooks and servers, who depend on her.

But you don’t spend 3 decades in the catering business without building up plenty of good will.

Grace has been heartened by the reactions of her longtime clients.

“The minute this happened, I had an incredible support system,” she says. “People asked for massive quantities for their freezers.”

At first it was mainly soups. As she asked what they wanted, she began cooking stews, chili, full meals.

With time on their hands, many clients are cooking for themselves. But, Grace notes, “that can be exhausting. Some people want me to help, with 2 or 3 dinners a week, or soups for lunch.”

They’re also grateful to not have to shop themselves, or order online. “You have no idea what your supermarket will be out of,” Grace says. “And you don’t know what’s in your Instacart or Peapod delivery.” Assuming, of course, that you can get one.

A professional caterer is helpful for people looking to eat healthy. Cooking that way is not as easy as it sounds.

Food for the soul …

To make ordering easy, Grace creates “Food for the Soul” curbside menus — a different one each weekday.

Want a taste? This coming Monday, it’s arroz con pollo, and tomato dill soup with brown rice.

Grace is adapting in other ways. Instead of a 20-person minimum for a Seder, she’s now doing them for 4.

Caterers are used to working closely with health departments. A pandemic makes that paramount.

Grace follows strict guidelines. She does not shop at grocery stores. All provisions are delivered by vendors.

… and soups too!

Practicing social isolation, Grace cooks by herself. “It’s just me. There’s no one else in the kitchen. I’m following every CDC and local health rule,” she says.

But — like many food professionals in Westport — Grace is spending some of her time helping others. She has cooked for the Gillespie Center, and hopes to do the same for hospital staffs.

“Cooking de-stresses me,” she says. “It’s helping save my mental life.

“Before the virus, all I wanted to do was feed people. Now, I want to do that even more. All I have is food.”

And a bit more time. Every night she, her husband Bob, and their 3 teenagers spend an hour together at dinner.

“We could never do that before. Now it’s a highlight of my day. And I know it is for other families too.”

(Search for AMGCatering on Instagram; email amilwe@optonline.net, or call 203-858-4635. Of course, AMG is just one of many local catering companies hit hard by the virus. Grace urges you to reach to out any of them, and find out their offers.)

2 responses to “Catering With Grace In A Crisis

  1. Donna ODonnell

    Ali is the very best. As a Staples culinary teacher, she treats our kids like her one. As a caterer, every event is flawless. Cheering Ali and her amazing staff on daily and hoping for strong continued catering business during this difficult time.

  2. Donald Hilstrom

    I have known this woman most of her life and she is quite simply…superb.
    Thank you Milwe Grace. You rock !

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