ASTRID STAWIARZ FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Everyone who works the party circuit—whether behind the cameras or in front of them—will tell you it can get tedious. Nobody wants the same entertainment, the same hors d’oeuvres, the same people. That’s why party planners exist: to shake up the scene.
This week, the longtime New York-area caterer Mary Giuliani launched Mario by Mary, a collaboration with the ubiquitous flame-haired chef Mario Batali , with an intimate dinner at the artist studio of Izhar Patkin in the East Village.
Among the attendees were Lydia Fenet, the international director of strategic partnerships at Christie’s, where Ms. Giuliani is the caterer in residence; Michael Lang, the producer of the 1969 concert at Woodstock; and Grace Potter of the band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
Ms. Giuliani described the scene as “a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.”
On the menu were many of the dinner items that the two chefs have worked on together, taking “the best of the Batali dining experience with the best of what we know how to do, which is the ultimate party experience.”
Passed hors d’oeuvres included Batali spins on Ms. Giuliani’s typical comfort food. These mini grilled cheese feature black truffle honey from Mr. Batali’s Otto. The pigs in a blanket are made with broccoli raab sausage and fontina; deviled eggs are “Italian style” with pancetta; and a new take on the risotto ball features carbonara pasta instead of Arborio rice. For dessert, even Mr. Batali’s lemon olive oil cake was shrunk to tiny bites.
“This is more of a curated project,” said Ms. Giuliani. “We looked at some of the best of Mario’s stuff and turned it into approachable party food.”
Because Mr. Batali’s West Coast restaurant Mozza is known for its mozzarella bar, Ms. Guilani is now offering a pop-up mozzarella bar at parties, featuring assorted olive oils, balsamic caviar, grilled broccoli raab, sliced prosciutto and other potential toppings. Meanwhile, a Bellini bar features Champagne cocktails in peach, blood orange, pomegranate and pear.
Dinner on Wednesday was served family style and included such offerings as grilled halibut with charred lemons, olive oil and garlic; grilled balsamic rib-eye steak with sea salt; and simply prepared green asparagus, red and yellow beats and a tre colore salad.
Ms. Giuliani and Mr. Batali met when her company would do backup for his cooking demos. Mr. Batali often gets called on to cater private events, and the two first worked together for a Stella McCartney store opening two years ago. “Our food sensibilities are quite similar,” said Ms. Giuliani. “But working with him is like playing tennis with a better tennis player. His love for entertaining and food is contagious.”
After several meetings and conversations over the years, “we decided to make it official,” she added. This Saturday, the service will cater its first official event under the Mario by Mary title, for Jessica Seinfeld’s Baby Buggy charity in East Hampton.
Ms. Giuliani said the menu will change throughout the year based on food and party trends. Lately, for instance, she has seen that though guests still want the crowd-pleasing, “hearty, yummy bites, a lot of people are eating healthier at events,” she explained. “They’re eating more vegetables. Vegetables are the new entrees. Vegetables are taking over.”
Ms. Giuliani went on to say that, in general, she’s finding that at dinners “hosts are opting for less sitting. There’s less formality and more of the shared community of the dining experience.”
At the dinner she threw with Mr. Batali on Wednesday, the meal was served all at once and people sat for “one hour max.” This encouraged more casual conversing, eating and drinking.
As for whether or not she could envision creating similar programs with other big-time chefs, Ms. Giuliani said she hadn’t really thought about it yet. Her relationship with Mr. Batali is currently exclusive.
“He’s the only chef I want to work with like this,” she said. “I’m kind of a loyal, one man gal.”
Write to Marshall Heyman at firstname.lastname@example.org