Leslie Oster is a bit of a legend in Maine. As general manager and catering director for Aurora Provisions (the cafe?, catering company and market in Portland’s West End neighborhood), Oster will oversee a whopping 23 weddings this year and more than 50 catered events. She creates original menus and is known for her stunning table arrangements.
Oster’s earliest memories of etiquette and dining are of growing up around her grandmother. “She taught me how to set a table,” she says. “We sat down to dinner, we polished the crystal and the silver. A big sense of being a host was installed in me at a young age.”
Her official career in catering started in Cape Cod, as an assistant to David Olearcek, an event planner and designer who was known for the parties he hosted all over the world.
“David would just push the limit,” Oster says. “How much can we do? How much can we get away with? That’s what he taught me. He had this spirit of design, of making things work together. It wasn’t just the meal or the table arrangements, everything had to come together as they would in a play.”
At Aurora Provisions, Oster has established a reputation for providing a completely custom menu for weddings and events. While some caterers restrict guests to a menu of chicken, fish or beef, Aurora stays open-minded. “Our motto around here is, ‘Yes is our answer, what’s the question?’ ” Oster says.
One aspect of Oster’s success can be credited to the relationships she’s forged in the community. She works closely with farmers, florists and countless vendors who equip her with thoughtfully prepared produce, product and materials to make every occasion grand.
“We started making partnerships, and it’s become this sort of out- reach,” she says.” And a really wonderful community.”
AFTER 15 YEARS AS THE CATERING GURU AT AURORA PROVISIONS, OSTER HAS SEVERAL POINTERS FOR CREATING BEAUTIFUL EVENTS AND MAKING GUESTS HAPPY:
Learn how to set a table properly. Restaurants like Back Bay Grill and 555 (both in Portland) really know how to set a table, so take notice when you’re dining out. Service and attention to detail get lost at some establishments, but they shouldn’t get lost at your event.
Slow down. Don’t rush guests through the meal. It’s an integral part of the event!
Go to the farmers market to get inspired. Whether you wind up buying anything or not, there’s plenty of inspiration to be had at the local farmers market. Oster often designs tables around something she spots during her visit.
Don’t let trends overshadow the food. The “hot new thing” might sound enticing, but trends should be employed sparingly, if at all. “If I never see another table with mason jars and burlap, I’ll be happy,” Oster says.
Find that one spark. What do you want people to take away? “Our best customers are all about the ingredients and props,” says Oster. “We want to put on a play – acts one, two and three.”
Plate your food on white dishes. The simple white dish is a classic for a reason. It lets all the attention fall on the food. “If you have a beautiful salad with fresh picked herbs and edible ow- ers, be careful what you put it on,” says Oster. “A crazy polka-dot- ted plate is not going to work.” Then again, there is some room to get creative. Oster used clear plates during an ocean-themed event so guests could see through the plates the same way they see through water.
And whatever kind of event you’re planning, remember why you’re doing it in the rst place.“We feed people because we love it,” says Oster. “This is not a job for the faint of heart. There may be a lot of pressure, but faith in my team gets me through.”