Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On the Passing of Catering Great Don Strange

Don Strange, making last minute adjustments to a presentation in Houston.

In reflecting on the death of catering great Don Strange I am realizing just how much his life and business impacted my own life. My first memory of Don Strange is of his wedding to Frances some 48 years ago. I was 12 years old and I had never attended anything as grand as the reception at “The Party House”. My Mother tells me that my sister joined Frances’ little brother Ben in candle lighting prior to the actual ceremony, but my memories are only of the reception and the party atmosphere. I had no idea at the time how this relationship with Don Strange’s family would influence my own career, for it was while working for Don that I discovered my passion for catering.

Don was no stranger to the Hill Country. He is well known here for the Y.O. Social, where he would strive year after year to “WOW” the party goers. For one event I helped develop “Cowboy Bread” with yeast and buttermilk which was rolled out and cooked on a comal much like a tortilla. We cooked this bread at a station where costumed Indians served shish-k-bobs on real arrows. Don was all about showmanship and great food.

Prince Rainer of Monaco visited the YO Ranch and Don was called on to serve a Texas Style lunch fit for a King. We developed a special menu for the occasion. The day before, I cooked everything at the home of Charlie Schreiner III as a trial run to perfect the flavor profile and presentation. We spent the night at the ranch and started over in the morning to cook and serve the actual lunch.

Don's event staff would often travel to other cities and sometimes across the country to deliver Don’s Texas Style Hospitality. He developed the “station” concept long before it was a standard offering. His trademark vendor’s carts evolved into more elaborate pasta stations and much more. In 1985, I traveled with Don and crew to cater Henry Winkler’s 40th birthday party in Hollywood. We were unable to bring produce due to California law, so Don and I made a trip to the farmers’ market to purchase the ingredients. This event drove home Don’s theory that with proper planning, he could cater anywhere.

My move to the Hill Country started with a Don Strange catered event at Dos Arroyos Ranch in Mountain Home. There I met the owners of the ranch who were looking for someone to cook for them. At the time I was managing the restaurant at Marshal Fields in North Star Mall and would still work on the weekends with Don Strange if he needed me. I had reluctantly stopped working full time with Don after my divorce because the late nights and long hours were not conducive to being a single mother of three. The folks at Dos Arroyos Ranch put me on retainer and asked me to first check with them before I accepted weekend work from Don. Eventually they built me a new home on Dos Arroyos Ranch and I moved along with my children. After a time I could see that there was a need for upscale catering in the area and started CarteWheels Caterers with the blessings of my employers at Dos Arroyos. I continued to help Don Strange when I could, usually in the Hill Country even after CarteWheels was incorporated. I was helping Don Strange with a big event at the YO Ranch when I met my husband Mark. We were married in 1991 at Dos Arroyos Ranch.
I consider myself very fortunate to have known Don and to have worked for him. His innovative spirit was inspiring and he will be greatly missed.


Good Food Catering Company said...

Great tribute Debby, to someone who seems to have had such a positive influence on you. Don't forget that you too are "paying it forward" and constantly offer inspiration and great ideas to a younger generation of caterers. -Kevin

Viridian Design Studio said...

Beautiful post Debby.