Bird Of Paradise/oak Deli
Thursday, June 25, 1998
Cheese cubes, unidentified deep-fried dough balls, carrot and celery sticks with ranch dressing--if you've attended a gathering with a couple of hundred people, you've no doubt dined in such a manner. "A lot of times, the attitude is 'take food--add heat,' says chef and owner Jon Kasky of Bird of Paradise Catering. "What we like to do is 'take food--add fun.'"
As a food professional, Kasky's career has developed something of a rapport based on the concept of fun. It began not long after graduating with a degree from the California Culinary Academy with a position over which most food-o-philes would pant: A private chef gig right smack in the middle of a picturesque vineyard, whipping up 10-course fantasy spreads for a handful of guests. VIP visitors of Almaden Vineyards would be dropped off at the guest house with a fabulous gourmet lunch awaiting them. "It was a great opportunity to learn about wine and to go wild, matching them with each course."
Sampling and collecting wines continues to be a hobby for Kasky, who moved to Carmel Valley 12 years ago, and began operating the Oak Deli and developed Bird of Paradise Catering. "We have an amazing collection of wines for a little cowboy deli," Kasky acknowledges, pointing to rows of hand-selected varietals that line the wall of the dining area. Along with top choices of California wines, the deli case boasts abundant choices that far outdistance the cold-cuts mentality of most deli menus. Grilled chicken on herb foccacia, gazpacho, and panzanella, an Italian bread salad, all beg for attention along with plenty more homemade soups, salads and sandwiches that vary every day.
"We're able to offer lots of premium food as a deli," Kasky explains, with a full kitchen that is busy cranking out comestibles year-round. "A typical catering day might consist of a wedding for 200, an art gallery opening for the same number, and an elegant sit-down dinner for 20. And we go out of our way to distance ourselves from chafing dish, hotel-style presentations--the live grill and the garden help us to do that."
The 'live' grill is a concept that has become a Bird of Paradise trademark, and one that Kasky was asked to demonstrate during a recent national conference for 1,000 fellow caterers. "We figured out that it's more fun to take food right off a hot mesquite grill, so, using a sort of picket fence to separate the grill from the guests, they can come up and choose from platters of salmon, chicken breasts, tri-tip, and sausages that we're continuously cooking on the back side of the grill. As part of the faculty for the trade show, we represented Central California with grilled vegetables--roasted garlic, grilled artichokes, peppers, squash, portabellas, and big spears of onions in balsamic glaze."
Kasky's finesse with vegetables comes not only from the convenience of California's year-round supply, but from an ongoing passion for gardening. He tends a half-acre outside his back door, frequently beginning the day equipped with a big basket for harvesting. "It's a big part of my life and my business, a nice dovetail with my work. I'm able to grow things that I can't buy--specialty varieties that people haven't seen, like burgundy beans, rosa bianca eggplant, Bolivian rainbow peppers and starship squash. It gives me the ability to put together some gorgeous crudite assortments," he concludes.
It also might be noted that among tablescapes of purple-freckled romaine and merlot lettuces, 20 kinds of peppers, neon eggplants and bouquets of flowering herbs, the carrot and celery sticks are noticeably absent. cw