30,000 Parties and Counting

Elizabeth Kennedy and her team have orchestrated thirty-eight seasons at one Vero Beach catering blockbuster

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Kitchen manager Elizabeth Guerrero, operations manager Renee Overton, chef David Harmon, and owner Elizabeth Kennedy orchestrate delicious meals for clients. Photo by Kelly Rogers
Kitchen manager Elizabeth Guerrero, operations manager Renee Overton, chef David Harmon, and owner Elizabeth Kennedy orchestrate delicious meals for clients. Photo by Kelly Rogers

All the world’s a stage,” said Shakespeare. Elizabeth Kennedy would likely agree. Her career began with dreams of Broadway, but she has channeled her theatrical flair into catering some of the most prestigious events in Vero Beach. Now, after decades of success with her catering company, she sees intriguing connections between these facets of her life.

During her college years in New York City, she recalls, “I was a dedicated, passionate actress.” At the same time, she began working for one of the top caterers in NYC, doing events for Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross, and Chanel, among other famous clients. That experience gave her a sense of how everything she loved about theater could be applied to planning memorable events as a caterer. When she eventually purchased a budding catering business in Vero Beach, she put that understanding to good use.

As she enters her thirty-eighth season as the very hands-on owner of Elizabeth D. Kennedy & Company, she says, “I consider myself the director, and I love to orchestrate events. I’m not the actress, but I’m the director.”

Essential to her success as a director is David Harmon, the chef, who brings his love of cooking to every job. “I’m the kind of person who has lunch and then starts thinking about what he’s going to cook for dinner,” Harmon says. A focus on fresh, top-quality ingredients is one of his secrets. “Everybody’s into farm to table now. We try to purchase the best—local whenever possible.”

Another crucial player is Renee Overton, the operations manager, who is also brimming with enthusiasm for her work. “I love watching the hosts and their guests enjoying the fabulous party we helped plan, with our chef’s delicious food and our amazing staff! It always makes me smile.”

Over the years, Kennedy says, “I’ve really watched Vero Beach grow, with so many nonprofits and significant landmarks.” Her catering business has grown with the town, having begun with small parties at John’s Island, Windsor, and The Moorings, but then expanding to include large-scale fundraising galas at the Vero Beach Museum of Art, Riverside Theatre, and at Rock City Gardens for the Indian River Land Trust.

“I’ve learned a lot from my clients. Many are experienced hostesses who have entertained in New York City, Paris, Hong Kong, wherever.” If she ever writes a book, Kennedy says, she has two titles in mind. One is “Everything I Know I Learned from My Clients.” And the other? “30,000 Parties and Counting.”

Red Wine-Poached Seckel Pears. Photo by Kelly Rogers
Red Wine-Poached Seckel Pears. Photo by Kelly Rogers

Red Wine-Poached Seckel Pears

Serves 2

Red Wine Seckel Pears are a wonderful and elegant alternative to a traditional green salad and especially nice at holiday time!

Poached Pears

4 cups port wine

4 cups red wine

2 cups sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

6 whole cloves

1 star anise

1 whole vanilla bean, split

6 bay leaves

20 black peppercorns

2 Seckel pears, peeled and cored (If Seckel pears are not available, French butter or Bosc pears can be substituted)

8 oz. Pierre Robert cheese, rind removed

To make the poaching liquid, combine wines, sugar, and spices in a nonreactive pot and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes. This removes the raw alcohol flavor and infuses the spices.

Peel the pears in a straight, continuous line from the stem down to the bottom. Using a melon baller, remove the seeds and core from the bottom of each pear.

Add pears to the poaching liquid and cover with a tea towel to keep the pears submerged.

Cook at a simmer until easily pierced with a paring knife. Cooking time can range from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the ripeness of the pear.

Remove pot from heat and let pears cool in the poaching liquid. Refrigerate, submerged in the liquid, overnight to create the deep red color throughout.

Set the cheese out at room temperature for 1 hour to soften. Transfer cheese to a piping bag fitted with a smooth tip. Remove the pears from poaching liquid and pat dry; reserve the liquid.

Place the tip of the piping bag as far inside the pear as possible and fill with cheese.

Red Wine Pear Syrup

Strain 1 cup of the poaching liquid into a nonreactive pot and slowly reduce to 1/3 cup; let cool. Reserve 2 tbsp. for the Red Wine Pear Vinaigrette and transfer remaining syrup to a squeeze bottle to sauce the plate.

Red Wine Pear Vinaigrette

1/4 cup pear vinegar

2 tbsp. Red Wine Pear syrup

2 tbsp. diced shallots

2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. Colman’s dry mustard

3/4 cup canola oil

1 tsp. black pepper

In a mixing bowl, place vinegar, Red Wine Pear Syrup, shallots, salt, and dry mustard and let sit for 15 minutes.

Slowly add the oil in a steady stream while whisking constantly, and then add pepper.

To Plate: Use the freshest greens of your choice. Place greens on plate, add pear, and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Burnt Sage Sugar. Photo by Kelly Rogers
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Burnt Sage Sugar. Photo by Kelly Rogers

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Burnt Sage Sugar

Serves 2-3

Butternut Squash Ravioli is a fabulous fall item and can be used as an entrée, side dish, or even breakfast, according to a client.

12 premade butternut squash ravioli

Toasted pecans for garnish

Burnt Sage Butter

1 lb. salted butter

4 tbsp. finely chopped sage (and/or rosemary)

Black pepper to taste

In a heavy sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until solids begin to tum light-to-medium brown.

Remove from heat and add sage/rosemary and a few grinds of black pepper.

Arrange cooked ravioli on plate and drizzle 2 oz. burnt butter over each serving. Garnish with toasted pecans and chopped parsley if desired.

Caramel Apple Bars. Photo by Kelly Rogers
Caramel Apple Bars. Photo by Kelly Rogers

Caramel Apple Bars

Serves 8-10

Caramel Apple Bars are timeless, delicious, and can be served year-round.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats (or quick oats)

1 cup brown sugar

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

6 tbsp. unsalted butter, unwrapped, melted, and cooled

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

3 cups apple, peeled, cored, and chopped (such as Granny Smith)

16 oz. caramel squares

1/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Mix in melted butter, egg, and vanilla until well combined.

Spread about 2/3 of the mixture onto bottom of prepared baking dish to form an even layer. You may need to use the back of a fork or your hands to spread evenly. Set remaining crust mixture aside.

Bake crust for about 12–14 minutes or until slightly puffed.

Meanwhile, place chopped apples, caramels, and cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until caramel is smooth and melted, and apples are slightly soft.

Pour caramel apple mixture over baked crust. Sprinkle remaining crust mixture on top.

Bake an additional 15–20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until edges are slightly browned. Cool, then cut into bars.

You can also add cinnamon and/or your favorite nuts.

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