Hotbox: Inside Catering, the Food World's Riskiest Business
April 08, 2019
The Lee Brothers, Matt and Ted, took a break from writing cookbooks to work undercover at a catering firm and learn the fascinating business that they liken to a "traveling circus of perishables."
Perhaps it's because I used to interact with catering folks a lot when working as a second shooter for my wife's photography business before we had kids, or maybe it was witnessing two of our best friends finally let go of their housecleaning and restaurant side gigs after starting a successful catering business of their own, all I know is I was immediately and intimately interested in Matt and Ted Lee's Hotbox when it crossed my desk.
The description from the publisher reads:
Hotbox reveals the real-life drama that takes place behind cavernous event spaces and soaring white tents, where cooking conditions have more in common with a mobile army hospital than a restaurant (think M.A.S.H instead of Top Chef) and clients tend to be highly emotional and demanding (think mother-of-the-bride). The Lee Brothers, known for their hip take on Southern cooking, steeped themselves in the culture of catering for four years, getting to know the business from the inside-out. It’s a realm where you find eccentric characters, working in extreme conditions, under insane stress, who must produce magical events and instantly adapt when, for instance, the host’s toast runs for a full hour or a hail storm suddenly erupts.
Working undercover at a catering firm, the Lee Brothers take you from black-tie galas to celebrity-filled Hamptons cookouts, investigating the outer reaches of the industries that make the galas happen, such as an industrial park in New Jersey, where a party rental company’s warehouse flashes to life every day at 3am with the arrival of the silverware crew. They also introduce you to the incredible DeSoto Brothers who pioneered hotbox cooking, and trace the history of catering back to when crepe parties were all the rage. You’ll never attend a party—or entertain on your own—in the same way after reading this book.
You may know the Lee brothers from their southern cookbooks, or their appearance on the Charleston edition of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. If you do, you know one thing they probably don't need are ten-dollar-an-hour gigs at a catering firm. So why did they do it? I found the most succinct explanation, in their own words, over on their website.
We took a detour from writing southern cookbooks to work as ten-dollar-an-hour kitchen assistants at a catering firm. For cooks like these, every night is a different menu in a different setting. And the number of guests regularly reaches into the thousands. Even when millions of dollars are spent on the décor, behind the scenes there’s rarely running water, electricity, or HVAC. The catering “kitchen” is typically a freezing-cold loading dock that was empty at 3pm when load-in began, and needs to be swept clean again by midnight. Every night is a traveling circus of perishables. As you might imagine, it’s a wild world, with its own rules and customs.
What is a hotbox? It’s the aluminum cabinet on wheels that holds all the food, transported from the caterer’s prep kitchen to the party; once onsite, it becomes an oven where the food finishes cooking… over many little cans of Sterno. Scary? You bet!
We hope you enjoy Hotbox. The way Bill Buford’s Heat, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter made readers restaurant insiders, Hotbox will make you an expert on catered parties—how they work, what’s at stake in the kitchen, and how the food adds (and sometimes subtracts) from the celebration. You’ll never throw a party or attend one the same way again!
Count me interested.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
The Lee Bros. are the authors of several bestselling cookbooks: Charleston Kitchen, Southern Cookbook, and Simple Fresh Southern. They have written for The New York Times, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, The New York Times Magazine, Gourmet, Saveur, and other publications, and have appeared on many TV shows, including Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and The Today Show. They have won six James Beard and IACP Awards.
This giveaway is brought to you by Henry Holy and Company. We have 20 copies available.