Cater.com welcomes Allegra Derengowski & Chef Rasa of Birchtree Catering. Birchtree Catering focuses on local, seasonal ingredients and custom seasonal menus cooked fresh for each event. All of their dishes are made in-house and from whole ingredients, including all breads, condiments, jams and sauces.
The Birchtree team loves tailoring menus to incorporate favorite dishes, family recipes, or cultural themes important to each event. With their “food first” mentality, they only use the best ingredients available, and they provide exceptional service and full planning to make it easy for their clients to enjoy the entire process.
Cater.com: What are some of the advantages of hosting a cocktail reception instead of a more formal sit-down dinner?
Allegra: We often cater stationed or cocktail style receptions, when clients don’t want their guests to feel stuck in a seat for most of the evening. It can be really fun to have dinner and dancing at the same time, so guests can eat at their leisure, conversations can linger, and the atmosphere is incredibly social. There are pros and cons for both styles, and it can depend on the venue, the vibe that the hosts are looking for, and what makes sense for their guests.
Cater.com: What are some easy ways that a client can make their large event more sustainable? What choices can have a big environmental impact that they may not think of?
Allegra: As a company, we’re all about sourcing locally as a great way to put on a sustainable event. Whether you’re working with professional vendors or sourcing yourself, there are so many benefits to keeping your purchases close to home. We look at the environmental impact of travel and delivery of items like flowers and food, because there are immediate concerns such as pollution from vehicles, extra packaging, and refrigeration. There’s a positive economic impact on our community when we shop where we live, and we especially love that we can visit our food providers, talk to them in person, and see for ourselves their organic practices. Plus, fresh local food honestly is the best product we could provide to our clients, the taste is incredible!
Cater.com: Can you talk about some of your efforts that have helped Birchtree Catering become recognized as a “green” business that produces little to zero waste? Where does your passion for sustainability come from?
Allegra: As a vendor that produces events on a large scale and literally takes the trash out at the end of the night, it’s apparent how much waste can come just from one wedding, not to mention the food waste and cardboard that gets racked up at our kitchen during the week. We made it a point to make compost and recycling a part of our catering service, setting up specific bins at every event in our bussing station. Our staff is well-trained on what goes in which bin, and we have a commercial compost company pick up from our kitchen twice a week. Our food waste is as little as possible, and because we’re creating ever-changing seasonal menus, our staff is allowed to be creative with our in-house items.
Math is also a big factor. We try hard to yield the correct amount of food for each event, so that we always have enough for the guests, but we’re not wasting food just for the sake of display. I don’t know if we have passion for sustainability other than we feel a responsibility as a business in our community to do our part. We definitely like that our clients support it, but above all, we love being a positive part of our community.
Cater.com: When was the last time you went above and beyond for a client?
Allegra: Because we’re a small business with a small dedicated staff, Rasa and I have been involved in every event large and small. Above and beyond is just what we do, because our clients deserve it and we’re grateful for all of them. I think you can really see that when you read our online reviews, and we certainly feel that in the way that word-of-mouth has grown our business.
Cater.com: You and your business partner Chef Rasa, started Birchtree from scratch in 2008 with a great idea and good intentions. When did you realize that the business was going to be a success?
Allegra: The first time I realized it was at an event we catered when we our company was still very young, and we heard a guest say “Oh, yes! It’s Birchtree food.” That was when we were still using rental kitchens, having client tastings in our homes, and using our basements for storage.
The second time I felt that was when we moved into our commercial kitchen, and we finally had a real visual measure of how much we’d grown in such a short time.
Cater.com: What are some local and seasonal ingredients that you’re excited to be using or incorporating into your menus?
Rasa: Every season (even every month!) is so different, which is why this way of writing menus is such fun. Spring has classics like sunchokes, asparagus and snap peas which we love to use as much as possible.
Foraged and farm-grown ingredients like ramps, sorrel, fiddlehead ferns and stinging nettles are all sourced right from Lancaster, PA. Late August is one of my favorite times because of staples like great heirloom tomatoes and peaches, flavorful sweet corn, intense baby zucchini and creamy Japanese eggplants. We also love the flavorful little-known ingredients like purslane and borage blossoms.
Cater.com: Can you provide a recent example of working with a client to tailor a menu to incorporate a favorite dish or family recipe for their event?
Rasa: We’re working right now with a wonderful couple for an autumn family-style meal. They wanted to stay true to the season of early October, embrace the social feel of a dinner party, and bring in flavors from their Spanish travels and the bride’s heritage.
We included all of the family favorites into their specialty cheese board, and built a pasta dish around their favorite casarecce noodle that wove all of these elements together.
Cater.com: You have an exciting opportunity on the horizon. Can you share how in the next few years Birchtree may have a fantastic new event venue and what that means for the business?
Allegra: Yes! Our commercial kitchen space is located inside a beautiful old factory called Globe Dye Works. The owners are turning a large portion of it into an event venue, which we will be the exclusive caterers for. There’s a lot to be done but we’re hoping it will be fully functioning in a year. There’s already been so much interest from couples wanting to get married here that in addition to our blooming off-premises catering, we’ll be able to book this new venue throughout the year as well. There are other great vendors inside this building, including ice cream, a coffee roaster, a baker, and a florist, I can see this becoming an amazing hub for creative and stunning events.