Tacos, Mexican fiesta, sauces, nachos, chili - That was my first thought and the party hosts were totally cool with it.
Close family friend, Joannie Schnellbach asked me to make the food for a party in honor of her daughter's recent marriage. The bride, Brittany and love of her life, Kevin Bewely tied the knot a few weeks before in a small private ceremony. They wanted to throw a big party for all the friends and family that would have attended a more public and larger wedding celebration. The shindig was going to be held at our family camp ground, so it was home turf to me.
A taco bar is a simple way to feed a lot of people, all of the ingredients can be mixed and matched. A simple taco or a hardy plate of nachos can be made from all the different ingredients. To take the taco bar concept into the gourmet realm I made a series of hot and mild sauces, a ranch-buttermilk based finishing sauce and the meats featured a special marinade and seasoning. For the kids, it was decided to have a small hot dog bar off to the side of the Taco fiesta.
We decided to only put out small plates and little ballpark-style boats for nachos. This forced people to eat one or two tacos or a modest plate of nachos at a time. It was a little cruel to do it that way but if you give people a big plate, they will fill it – normal people in front of a giant spreads of food will pile food on plates as if they were Spartans prepping for battle. In my experience catering dinners and receptions I have become disgusted by what people do when an unlimited amount of food is set before them. Some people really just eat like hogs when given the chance. Others just pile it on a plate and throw half of it away.
If they were gonna eat like heathens at our fiesta, they were gonna have to do it with multiple trips.
The plan worked. People ate their fill, but there were no plates half full of food tossed in the dumpster.
The tomatoes for the sauces and taco garnishes were fresh from the garden. The party was Sept. 28, right in time for everyone to be bringing in their final harvests before tilling the garden under. I had a full 5-gallon bucket of tomatoes just for sauces and fresh salsa, with another bucket fresh picked before the party for garnish and an impromptu bowl of pico de gallo.
All the shopping for the Saturday party was done the Wednesday before. The sauces were made Thursday, the meat and chili on Friday. All of the little taco and nacho garnishes were done Saturday morning. Being able to do the sauces and meat ahead of time allowed for a really relaxed catering job, there were no moments where I felt I was in the weeds and the prep couldn't have went any better than it did.
Recipe for the meats
Ancho chili sauce
Guajillo chili sauce
Ranch tomatillo dressing
The biggest surprise was the amount of people who opted for a plate of nachos rather than soft tacos. They covered the chips with all the gourmet meats and sauces like they would have a taco, many just opted for tortilla chips to deliver the goods.
Another huge surprise was raw onion. I could not keep the container full, I diced at least 10 large red onions before and during the party. When it comes to a taco bar make sure you give them onions!
Another unexpected dilemma was the nacho cheese sauce. We purchased a large gallon container of it and I thought it would be nice for the nacho chips but it was really intended for the hot dog bar put out for the kids. But, like the onions, I couldn't put enough out. People were drowning plates of nachos with the stuff, there was a group of teenage boys that should have just grabbed pint glasses of it and drank it because that would have been more practical than the runny mess they made at the counter. So, if you put nacho cheese on a taco bar, PLAN TO HAVE AS MUCH NACHO CHEESE AS YOU DO MEAT! It was the first and only item that I ran completely out of.
The party had three main waves of eating, and there were people snacking at all times. The first big wave was right when the party started at 2 p.m. and it was mostly the bride and groom's family. The second wave was around 5 or 6 and was a mix of family and a younger crowd of friends that were there to party. The third wave was later that night when all of the party people got the munchies. The late night run got crazy with people using the chili as taco filling. (Which was pretty tasty I must say.)
In the end, small portions of meat were left, a few soft tacos and a half bag nachos. The mild sauces ran out, but I had a lot of the spicier salsa left over. There was just a small amount of chili left and a few dogs. If I had to do it again I would do it exactly the same way, except I would probably make more mild sauce than hot and I would have purchased 2 gallons of Nacho cheese instead of 1.
It was a complete success.
FYI - Desert and cake was provided by the Mother and drinks were BYOB ...
My grocery list that became the meal:
30 lbs chicken
1 gallon margarita mix
30 lbs ground beef
2 Cups Chili powder
1 Cup Cumin
5 lbs tomatillos
15 pounds tomatoes
30 red onions
30 to 40 jalapeños
3 lbs green peppers
10 bunches of cilantro
Half gallon buttermilk
Jar of mayo
2 packets of ranch seasoning mix
1 Bag each of dried ancho and gaujillo chilis
10 heads of garlic
5 heads of lettuce
5 lbs shredded cheddar cheese
150 oz of tortilla chips (6 25 oz bags)
1 gallon of salsa for chips
60 hot dogs
60 hot dog buns
1 gallon Hot dog chili sauce
1 gallon nacho cheese
2 30 oz can refried beans
5 cans black beans
5 cans corn
4 32 oz boxes beef broth
What it makes
300 Tacos - meat, garnishes, sauces
10 quarts of Southwestern Black bean and corn chili
60 hot dogs - chili or nacho cheese
Chips and salsa, or a plate of nachos for 125 people
This party was a total success, it seemed as though there was enough variety that everyone was able to build the taco or nacho plate that they wanted. Cant wait to do it again.
Eat well, cook often ...