Sunday, August 31, 2003

Lazy Gourmet keeps performers purring

Caterer serves Riverbend, Taft touring acts

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Jeff Lachter prepares onions on the grill at the catering tent before Tuesday's Jimmy Buffett concert at Riverbend.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
MONTGOMERY - Napoleon grasped the concept. He declared, "An army marches on its stomach." Then he devised ways of improving the quality of meals served to his troops so they would remain loyal and effective.

Jeff Lachter, owner of The Lazy Gourmet, works on a similar principle. Whether catering a corporate lunch or a concert at Riverbend Music Center, the company owner says he stresses high-quality products, beautifully presented. When people are well fed, he explains, everything seems to go more smoothly.

"We've developed a niche working for clients for whom the simplest things are important," he said. "Everything we make is from scratch, using the finest ingredients. We guarantee delivery on time. And we provide lots of food. For a caterer, the worst thing that can happen is that the food runs out.

"Our biggest complaint from clients? 'There was so much food, and it was so good.' To me, that's a blessing."

The Lazy Gourmet's approach has helped it become exclusive backstage caterer for Riverbend. Lachter provided meals when the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performed there this summer.

"One of the keys is freshness - everything was prepared fresh on site," said Heather Stengle, the CSO's production manager. "We were very impressed with what we received, and with the overall presentation."

Lachter has installed a full kitchen at Riverbend to make sure that his food service pleases even the most jaded performer. His philosophy is that everyone involved with a show - roadie to rock star - needs to eat well.

"For breakfast, we make eggs to order. Everything on the grill is hot. I have a waffle maker so I can fix Belgian waffles," Lachter said.

Successful care and feeding of performers begins with a careful review of the food rider on the performer's contract. When some requests appear excessive, the caterer reminds himself that touring can be grueling, and the right meal can offer comfort as well as sustenance.

"I make it a game," he said. "I have great suppliers in town. Rarely do I have to say no."

The Lazy Gourmet presents a suggested menu to the client, who makes any necessary changes. In almost every case, clients get exactly what they want.

"It's all about people, and understanding people," Lachter said.

"They were attentive to our needs, and able to accommodate many different appetites and dietary restrictions," said Stengle. "Jeff was willing to work with us. That sounds simple, but often it's not the case with caterers. They say, 'This is what we can do,' and that's that."

The agreed-upon menu is then served to everyone involved, often to the amazement of production crews, who are used to lesser-quality fare.

"They are the people we see the most, and they are what makes the show," Lachter said. "The highlight of their day is eating."

In addition to being backstage caterer at Riverbend, the company is the exclusive caterer for the Taft Theatre and on the short list at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Its restaurant, The Lazy Gourmet Downtown, gives the public a chance to sample the company's cuisine. Since it opened 18 months ago, the eatery's breakfast and lunch trade has been very good.

None of the company's success would have been possible, said its owner, without the efforts of its staff. Consistent quality of food, on-time delivery and seamless service demand disciplined teamwork, which Lachter said is a hallmark of The Lazy Gourmet.

"I'm a real hands-on owner," he said. "I'm still in the kitchen because I love it, but I trust my staff and can delegate more and more because I have confidence in them. I also pay very, very well."

Having assembled this team, Lachter is ready to extend the company's capabilities. He's looking for more corporate catering clients as well as individual ones. He also says it's "probable" that he will open another restaurant soon.

(Not) wasting away in Margaritaville

When Jimmy Buffett and crew came to Riverbend on Tuesday, The Lazy Gourmet rolled out a repast that had been carefully checked down to the last wax bean. Here's what the Buffett buffet contained:

Smoked sliced brisket with honey barbecue sauce, grilled fresh perch with pineapple cilantro salsa, grilled chicken with raspberry tarragon wine sauce, wild and brown rice with dried cranberries and pine nuts, snap peas with ginger, broccoli with red pepper, and green and wax beans with baby carrots.

For dessert, there was a selection of cakes and pies baked by Libby's Gourmet Desserts in Forest Park.

Jeff Lachter is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. and earned a bachelor's degree in hospitality management from Florida International University. He launched The Lazy Gourmet nine years ago.

The Lazy Gourmet commissary is at 9717 Montgomery Road; information: 793-2266. The Lazy Gourmet Downtown is at 255 E. Fifth Street; information: 241-5975.


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