Q&A Olivier Cheng

President of Olivier Cheng Catering & Events in New York, NY

How did you get involved in the industry?
I actually kind of fell into it. After completing my Architecture studies I then went on to get an MBA – the idea of a combination of creativity and business always interested me. During school I worked for a few caterers and then managed a 4 star resort and I really loved the service business. I then started up a catering company for Matthew Kenney, who was a star New York Chef. And that began Olivier Cheng Catering.

Who had the biggest impact on your career?
Many people influenced me but I would say that Matthew Kenney helped me the most in that he inspired me to go out on my own and start my own business and he helped me understand what a restaurant was and how I could take the sensibility and bring it into the catering world.

You’ve talked about building events. What does that mean?
Portable architecture  – events are like building – you need a strong foundation, you need good bones, good flow, beautiful things to look at, wonderful things to smell, great things to touch and the sounds of many things – that’s what builds an event – and it is ethereal.

What role does food and menu play in an OC Event?
A great role – they are who we are (at least the primary component). We serve restaurant quality food and that is what makes our food so special.

What’s your approach to the type of culinary talent that can succeed in catering?
We look for people generally who have a restaurant vs. a catering background since they tend to understand food better – once we find the creative person, we want them to really understand logistics, flexibility and problem solving – that tends to be the reason why many restaurant chefs fail at catering – they do not understand the catering process, which is so different from restaurants – and then we have our talent.

Does a gifted ala Carte chef have the skill set to succeed in your world?
Yes – but it’s hard to get a restaurant chef to want to be in the catering world – but if you find one who does, they really need to understand how to work in the catering environment – there is no restaurant kitchen, it’s a field one – and they need to develop menus that can survive the rigors of catering.

You just came out of Fashion Week…what were the highlights?
We just did a gorgeous dinner for Hermes this past Monday  – they are one of my favorite brands and their attention to detail is amazing.

What’s your approach to building a production kitchen (commissary)? Who designed your kitchen (Consultant? Dealer?) What were your marching orders for them?
We were lucky in that we designed from scratch and worked with a consultant on it – however, that being said, he designed a system and work flow for the equipment – but at the end of the day, our team determined the system and work flow – so if I were to do it again, I would listen to my team not my consultant.

Obviously food safety is a key to any off-prem operation, what’s your approach from holding cabinets to training your team?
We always use refrigerated truck and rent fridges and freezers on site as well – In general, all of the chefs are knowledgeable on food safety issues/concerns.

The Meat Packing District has had a huge impact on ala Carte dining…how about on catering?
Not much really – they have not made a big impact in the catering world.

What are the city’s hot up and coming catering venues?
The city is a bit dry now on new catering venues. Restaurant and hotels have been the hot spots (which is not good for catering).  We do a lot of private venues “of the moment” – so if I had to say what the hot spots are – they are the ones that exist as temporary moments.

What role do signature cocktails and wine/spirits play in your approach to an event?
I believe that a beverage story plays an important role – especially now that bespoke bartending is a bit of the rage – I think it’s important to create that lounge vibe with the wines and spirits.

Brooklyn-Brooklyn-Brooklyn, it’s all we seem to hear about in restaurants, is it a focal point for catering?
Not really- it’s more a state of mind than anything else.

Crystal Ball – what lies ahead for OCC?
We are no longer a kid! I feel like a young adult now and we have a great foundation set – I think the next growth element is going to be brand related now that we have ourselves established. My expectations are that we will start some partner relationships in either venues, products and more consulting (nationally and internationally). I think the fun is just beginning!