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Professional Fantasies


When it comes to food fantasies, nobody knows more than a good caterer. Fantasy, after all, is what the business is about. We asked local caterers to tell us their favorite fantasies. Here are their replies:

Picture a flying carpet, a fake camel, big brass urns and tall palms. Add a bustling marketplace complete with vendors carrying food baskets and belly dancers roaming about. "We took over a client's tennis court and turned it into a Moroccan scene," says Cathee Hickok, event coordinator for Rococo Custom Catering Service, Van Nuys. "It was a surprise birthday party for the husband whose birthday was six months away. He couldn't speak for about an hour after he entered the scene."

The whole place was decorated in shimmering tones of burgundy and blue. Guests, dressed to match the theme, sat on crushed velvet pillows with tassels eating their food from low brass tables. The Moroccan menu featured bastilla , dried fruits and lamb on skewers.

But Hickok is now thinking about another booking--still a year away. It will be a Murphy's law party with everything designed to go wrong. On Hickok's agenda: "an incorrectly set table, staged fighting guests, chipped china . . ."

Debra Stevenson, of Los Angeles Party Designs, is so fond of all-white parties that she has done them both indoors and out. For a lawn party she used yards and yards of white tulle, giant white Casablanca lilies, full-blown white roses and big white orchids. Her indoor white night was a glittery white Christmas affair. The chairs were draped in white, the tables were covered with mirrors, and white satin was loosely draped from ceilings to wall. The sole note of color: metallic touches of gold confetti, ribbons and tiny gold gift boxes, strewn on each table. The food was all-white as well, from cream soup to white chocolate cake.

Stevenson says that lighting is crucial for this sort of party. "Do it in soft pink otherwise everyone will look pale, especially in photographs."

Don Ernstein of Wonderful Parties, Wonderful Foods in Culver City came up with an all-copper party, an incredible dessert feast--and a party he created for a woman who is passionate about roses. He sent invitations in heart-shaped boxes covered with stickers of old Victorian roses and filled with a potpourri of dried rose petals. The house was filled with roses, rose chintz tablecloths and tree roses. For dessert: floating island made of meringue floating in rose petals with a rose-flavored creme anglaise.

John Lavine of the Wonderful World of Fantasy, Los Angeles, calls himself the "dream merchant." He has transformed a home into King Tut's tomb (complete with a live black panther), served lox aboard a blimp, and recreated a '40s casino at the Spruce Goose. His most recent exploit was taking the crew of "Cheers" back to the 1890s at the Gene Autry Museum.

But his most popular theme is the jail party. He recreates a Tijuana prison, complete with federales and fighting bandits. The food is Mexican. "Brought in by prison buses, people walk in and get shocked out of their minds," he says, "when they leave, they're talking to themselves."

And people pay for this?

Five years ago Julie and Michael Loshin of Parties Plus created a pre-Castro Havana nightclub for a client's 50th birthday. He liked it so well that last year he asked them to do another fantasy night. "We were bound and determined to blow him away with an authentic Brazilian celebration," they say.

They brought in green bananas on the stalk from South America, they hollowed out gourds, fruits and squashes to use as food containers and built barbecues out of river rock. The food featured an amazing array of whole fresh fish and shrimp, black bean cakes cooked to order and marinated legs of pork. Desserts included everything from passion fruit cheesecake to a waterfall of fresh tropical fruits. And they served it all in a tent draped in yards of yellow, orange and hot pink satin filled with swaying tropical plants, palm trees and birds of paradise lit with vivid fluorescent colors.

John Steimetz, director of catering, Westin Bonaventure (and president of the National Assn. of Catering Executives) recently recreated a casino for a benefit dinner. "We created a set that made you feel like you were walking down Bourbon Street," Steimetz says. "We served mini muffaletas , crawfish, stuffed deviled clams, Creole sausages, Cajun popcorn, shrimp gumbo, catfish fingers, duck and shrimp jambalaya, blackened tenderloin with chile salsa, lots of fresh oysters and other seafoods."

Next month, Steinmetz is planning a contest for party planners: each will have 20 minutes to come up with a fantasy party theme complete with menus. "The whole idea is to see how good we can come out with possible future themes," he says.

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