Special Occasion Luncheon for 70 People (pt 1 of 3)

Each year, my church puts on a special luncheon for all the ‘retirees’ the Tuesday closest to Valentine’s Day. It is not your typical church luncheon though. We recruit some of the ‘younger’ folks to transform the Fellowship Hall and ‘professionally’ serve everyone. We provide a fancier than normal meal starting with punch and cheese straws and ending with specially prepared cakes. It is a great deal of fun and everyone really enjoys the part they play in making it happen.

After several years of being one of the servers, last year, I decided to move from the front-of-the-house to the back-of-the-house and become the cook. I had a ton of fun doing it and decided to do it again this year, this time bringing Denise along to help me out.

I am going to write a 3 part series on preparing for the luncheon (which is in 2 1/2 days!). Part 1 will be about all the preparation leading up to it (menus, lists, etc) and will follow our methodology described in Entertaining with Ease. Part 2 will be on advance food preparation and Part 3 will be the happenings the day of and post-event summary. We hope you enjoy this little journey.

Preparing for a luncheon for up to 70 people:
Part 1

For Part 1, we will follow the ‘methodology’ we have laid out in our entertaining section, step by step….

1. Think about your guests

This is easy as my guests are decided for me, so there is not a ton to think about. However, there are two key things which arise from this: (1)It is a large group of older folks. That means I need to not cook anything out on the edge of the spectrum. I need to stick with foods most people like, keep spicy foods out, and don’t over salt. (2) I have a specific budget I must work within so no gold flakes on top of oysters šŸ˜‰

2. Think about your space

This is the fun part. I get to cook in a commercial grade kitchen with two huge ovens, lots of prep space, huge refrigerator, and a high BTU 8 burner gas stove. I’m not going to run out of space for anything but I do have to stagger oven space. I’ll keep that in mind as I make my lists on preparing the food.

3. Stick with what you know

Well, this is not my first rodeo, so I often ignore this step. I love to experiment with new flavors and dishes. When I was thinking about and researching my menu, I chose a pork tenderloin recipe I had never cooked. However, I did cook it about a week ago (having someone else be the guinea pig for that one) to figure out the quirks in the recipe and determine how to multiply it by 10 (not as easy as actually multiplying by 10, but that’s a tangent we’ll talk about another time).

4. Plan your menu

I cannot even begin to count the amount of time thinking about and searching cookbooks and on-line recipes for this. I knew I wanted my protein to be pork tenderloin. I knew I wanted the pork to not just be roasted in the oven because I love the char of the grill and/or searing in a pan. I had also made up this white bean ragout which I served under a nice piece of fish for my husband and me a couple of months ago and knew that had to be the ‘starchy side’. But, the white bean ragout has a lot of flavor, so I needed a pork tenderloin recipe that would stand up to it. I finally found it in a recent issue of Bon Appetit. With the two stars of the show decided, the rest just needs to support and not overpower any of the flavors. It also needs to work within the time/space of the kitchen. So, I decided to do an easy roasted zucchini which can be prepped while the meat finished in the oven and cook in the time it will take for the pork to rest. I decided on a thin crostini style piece of bread because I think we need some crunch somewhere, plus they don’t have to be served hot thus they won’t compete with the zucchini for oven time. We will also have a fresh green salad with a homemade, mild vinaigrette for the super fresh component.

So the final menu:

Pork Tenderloin with Redeye Gravy Glaze
White Bean and Tomato Ragout with Chorizo Sausage
Roasted Zucchini
Salad with Artichokes, Hearts of Palm and Roasted Red Peppers with Vinaigrette
Baked Crostini with Parmesan

The salad is mixed greens tossed with a homemade vinaigrette (equal parts olive oil and red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard to taste (1T per 1/4 cu vinegar), salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano). We marinated the hearts of palm and artichoke hearts in the salad dressing but not the red peppers because we did not want to discolor the dressing.

The crostini is just sliced bread, brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with garlic powder and topped with freshly grated parmesan.


5.Create and Work Your Lists

These lists will be simplified in that there is an entire committee dedicated to do everything for the event except cook the food. They’ll prepare the tables and space, cut the cakes, make the punch, serve the lunch, etc. All I have to do is cook. So, of all the lists in the Create and Work your Lists, I only have to make the menu list (above) and create both my shopping list and my timeline list. Everything else is handled by the team.

The shopping list has all the ingredients for each of the recipes. I then divided it up between what I can buy at Costco (I love Costco!!!!) and what I have to go to the grocery store to get. As I read through recipesĀ / think through how to prepare the food, I also think of the tools I’ll need to cook everything. For the pork and white beans, I need a wine opener for the ragout (not one of those at a Baptist church). For the zucchini, I’ll need to bring some herbs and my mandolin from home. Ā I’ll bring my microplane to grate the parmesan for the bread. If you need any of these items, check out our Shop page for our recommended ones. All of these tools and spices get added to my list to bring to the church on the day of the event.

The timeline list will be broken out between a general list of everything I will do at my house the day before and a detailed timeline list of everything I will do and in what order the day of the event. Everything has to be ready by Noon andĀ I have to get my kids to school that morning. That leavesĀ 3 1/2 hours prior to the event the day of, translating toĀ a lot needing to be completedĀ the day before. I’ve decided to do the following the day before at my house:

    Make the vinaigrette
    Make the glaze for the pork
    Sear the tenderloins (to be finished at the church the day of in the oven)
    Make the White Bean Ragout (To be reheated the day of, it will taste better anyway to have a day for the flavors to mix together. This dictates the type of beanĀ as it needs to stand up to a long cooking time so I’ve changed from a Great Northern beanĀ to a White Cannellini bean.)

The day of, we’ll chop the ingredients for the salad, make the bread, finish the pork, and make the zucchini.

6. Don’t forget the beverages

In this situation, I get to completely forget the beverages. Someone else makes the tea and prepares the glasses, etc.

7. Color, color everywhere

Again, all the decorations are handled by others and that’s a good thing since I’m not the “creative one.” As for the food color, that’s why I’m searing the meat (great color) but the salad, zucchini and beans will have beautiful colors of red, green, and white and supplement the fabulous color of seared meat!!

8. Expect the Unexpected

All is good here. We’ll expect whatever and I’ll be thankful for having Denise by my side as well as an amazing committee.

9. Last Minute Steps

Most of this does not apply since there is a great team who all has each other’s back. I will have already chopped some fresh parsley from my yard to sprinkle for a last second garnish.

10. Have Fun

This is the easiest part of all as this is the most thankful, grateful group of folks I’ve ever known. On top of that, they lift up my spirit and remind me of the true reason why I do this “work” as a ministry to them and to my soul.

For Part 2 of this series, click here.


  1. […] If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can find it here. […]

  2. […] to Bruce Dick for most of these great pictures. Missed part 1 or part 2? Click on the […]

  3. […] was the vegetable for the 2013 Valentine’s Luncheon at my church. If you missed the 3 part series on preparing for this event, click on the link […]

  4. […] was the main dish for the 2013 Valentine’s Luncheon at my church. If you missed the 3 part series on preparing for this event, click on the link […]

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