Tag Archives: AMG Catering

Catering To COVID

For nearly 30 years, Alison Milwe Grace has been one of Fairfield County’s go-to caterers.

Weddings, fundraisers, corporate events, holiday parties, milestone birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs — if it was big and fun, AMG Catering was on the scene.

In early March, Grace was scheduled through October 2021.

By mid-March, her books were wiped clean.

COVID devastated the catering industry. As the pandemic wore on, the situation worsened. Bookings were postponed to fall or spring. Then they were pushed back again, to the fall of 2021 — or spring 2022.

A great caterer must be creative and nimble. Grace — a native Westporter, and 1988 Staples High School graduate — is both. As soon as the pandemic hit, she asked her clients what they wanted.

Suggestions included cooking for families — including college students and 20-somethings now home — and offering curbside meals, with special soups and desserts. Clients also wanted her to teach their college-age kids how to prepare meals.

Grace cooked for frontline workers and food pantries. When the weather got better she helped clients entertain outside, in small groups. She catered intimate backyard weddings (“lots of people got married,” she reports).

She did backyard bar and bat mitzvahs too — tented, socially distanced, and with few guests.

Grace ran cooking camps at her Wilton kitchen — half indoors, half outside.

Alison Milwe Grace

For someone used to handling hundreds of guests, the coronavirus brought big changes. But Grace adapted, and clients were — as always — thrilled.

Now the weather is turning cold again. Once again, Grace reassesses what it means to cater in the age of COVID.

“People are sick of cooking. They don’t want to sit outside at a restaurant, but they’re scared to be inside,” she says.

She’s back to preparing curbside meals. They’re available Tuesdays (after the weekend leftovers are gone) and Fridays (to provide a good weekend meal).

She’s found a niche with private family cooking classes, at their home or her kitchen. Together they design a menu, then prepare it. “People want an activity,” she notes.

Chef Alison Milwe Grace. (Photo courtesy of Town Vibe)

She’s reopened her Wednesday night cooking classes, for no more than 10 people. Everyone is masked and socially distanced.

AMG’s event coordinator is “working magic with backyard tents and heating options,” and redesigning indoor rooms for safe entertaining.

As the holidays approach, Grace is preparing Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. But instead of 20 or 30 people, they may be for just 4. She’s also added holiday cooking classes.

“It’s a struggle,” the caterer admits. “It’s really sad that people can’t celebrate the way they envisioned.”

She feels bad for her staff too: cooks, servers, bartenders, event planners.

She thinks too of the many DJS, musicians and support people at all the venues she uses. “This industry has suffered tremendously,” Grace says. “I pray we’ll be able to recover.”

Grace is on frequent Zoom calls with colleagues, and reads blogs. “Everything is driven by numbers. No one knows when it will be safe to gather with others, especially indoors. And once it is, people still need to feel comfortable.”

Chef Grace still smiles behind her mask.

Winters are always slow for caterers. This time, the months ahead are “really scary.”

Still, Grace is undaunted. “I’ve given everything to this business,” she says. “I love it. Seeing an event through from start to finish brings me such joy. I’ll do whatever it takes to employ my staff. Right now there’s a huge void in my life.”

Her fixed costs — rent, insurance, vans, workman’s compensation, cleaning, utilities — continue.

Despite sleepless nights, Alison Milwe Grace believes, “I’ll get to the other side. I just want people to enjoy entertaining, and enjoy my food, in these really bad times.”

(Search for AMGCatering on Instagram; email amilwe@optonline.net, call 203-858-4635, or click here.)

Chef Grace Plays “Kitchen Casino”

Alison Milwe Grace thrives on chaos.

The 1988 Staples High School graduate is in her 10th year teaching a full load of culinary classes at her alma mater. She also owns AMG Catering, a thriving business that for over 17 years has served a full course of weddings, b-mitzvahs, parties, fundraisers and corporate events — while also offering cooking classes and corporate team-building kitchen events.

Oh, yeah. She has 3 kids, ages 11, 8 and 5.

But nothing could have prepared Chef Grace for the chaos of one day in January.

Chef Alison Milwe Grace. (Photo courtesy of Town Vibe)

Chef Alison Milwe Grace. (Photo courtesy of Town Vibe)

For a wild 17 hours, the Institute of Culinary Education grad — whose resume includes a stint as the only female chef at Manhattan’s Patroon — competed in the Food Network’s “Kitchen Casino.”

The Food Network placed 4 talented chefs in “a high-stakes game of chance that is all about skill, speed and adaptability.” Racing a clock, competitors have to “outcook and outsmart their competition in 3 casino-themed challenges — slots, poker and roulette — for a chance to win a $30,000 jackpot.”

One test: The kitchen spins like a roulette wheel. Each chef gets someone else’s dish in progress, and must deal with it. While making suitably pissy comments.

Chef Grace calls it “cooking your brains out, with a time limit.”

The "Kitchen Casino" set includes a revolving roulette wheel, with 4 cooking stations. Each has an oven and stove top.

The “Kitchen Casino” set includes a revolving roulette wheel, with 4 cooking stations. Each has an oven and stove top.

The Food Network found Grace, and asked her to appear. (She has no idea how.) She knew nothing about the show — it’s new, so no one did — and producers said little. They did mention, though, that contestants “might sabotage” each other.

Grace prepped for the shooting by “Googling random recipes, to get proportions right in my head.” She also watched a lot of “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

The loooong day of shooting — on Martin Luther King weekend — was “the most exhausting, emotional, validating, energizing, exciting day of my culinary career,” Chef Grace says.

She likens the feeling to the middle of a huge catering event. She’ll work with a bride or fundraising organization for over a year; when the big day arrives, it all comes together. But there are tons of moving parts. It’s chaotic.

“The TV show was all that,” Grace says. “It was a very good fit for my personality.”

Alison Milwe Grace on TV

Her Staples students are just finding out their teacher will be a TV star. But her family has known for months.

“They love watching the promos on TV,” Grace says. “They’ve been totally supportive of my career.

“My kids know that Mommy works weekends. For them, seeing me on TV is way cooler than watching me leave every morning.”

So how did she do? Did she win the $30,000 jackpot?

Chef Grace can’t say. She signed tons of non-disclosure agreements. She not only can’t tell “06880” — she has not told her children. Or her husband.

They’ll find out when the rest of us do. The show premieres April 7. Grace’s episode airs Monday, April 21 (9 p.m.).

It’s the 50th wedding anniversary of her parents, Jeff and Judy. Alison and her family will be celebrating with the extended Milwe clan in Florida.

So she won’t even have to cook.

(For more on “Kitchen Casino” — including a trailer — click here.)