Story and photos by Linda Kissam
Top wine country catering tends to require a little more creativity than a few shrimp on a simple silver platter. Catered food should do more than just fill you up. It should be stimulating, edifying and satisfying, bringing the event to another level through the pleasure of “experience” dining.
A great catering company is made up of creative individuals whose work requires an unerring sense of style and detail along with precise execution. At Temecula Catering in Southern California’s trendy Temecula Valley Wine Country, owner/chef Michael Cragg welcomes that challenge with a special kind of attention to detail that suits his catering philosophy perfectly. Great service rounds out the equation, which is why Michael’s business is booming. In the last 5 months, business has been up 300%. I am thinking we can learn a thing or two from this engaging entrepreneur.
“Running a catering company is sort of like a game of baseball” Chef Cragg told me. “As head Chef, I am like the catcher because I am calling the plays, telling everyone what to do, and making sure everything goes smoothly.” If he seems confident, he has a reason for it. His background includes 4 years getting a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts. He worked with one of Disney’s four star restaurants before joining the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel. At the Ritz, chef spent 5 years refining his skills. He believes in French styling: Smooth, simplistic, and elegant. I think we can comfortably say that with Chef Michael you can experience the food and service of a 5 star resort, but closer to home and at a very affordable price.
I asked Chef what it takes to run a successful catering business. “Start with a good business plan and surround yourself with people who support and trust you. You better expect to always be there during the startup period. I am there in the a.m. I am there in the p.m. You need to be versatile. Whatever needs to be done in the kitchen, you better be able to do it.” He also shared that being different with by creating your own style is a must. Just repeating what others are doing isn’t going to get you to success. What will get you there is, “A competitive spirit, a focused drive, being organized, and not being afraid to make decisions.” What about his management style? “I lead my staff by example. I am on time, easy to get along with, and willing to do whatever it takes to make my clients happy.”
All caterers need staff. Michael tells me that what he looks for in a team member is, “Someone who shows up on time. You can’t learn if you’re not there. I want to see passion for culinary excellence. When you first get into the business there are long hours and low pay. No whining please. And finally, do things my way; watch and follow my example.”
He seems to have the organization and management areas under control, but what about the client side. What’s his secret to success there? “Small things make the difference. I start with creative affordable menus that can be catered to the client’s wishes. I try to show up personally at each event. I like to shake the hand of the person in charge to let them know everything is going to be perfect. I always try to go beyond what we were paid for. I am interested in catering any kind of event someone can think of like weddings, corporate, ladies luncheons, winemaker dinners, cooking classes, grand openings, and special themed events. If someone can think of it, I can create a menu to dazzle them.”
This is a twenty-seven year old man with passion and vision He loves what he’s doing and says he has some fun things coming up on the horizon. Soon he will be looking for a bigger place to accommodate the growth of his business which may include a small area for a by reservation only prix-fix dinner. Dinner will include a bottle of wine and chef’s choice of 12 courses of small plates. Now I’ve heard that vision from several chef’s and business people around Temecula for many years now, but I’ve yet to see one actually open. However, Chef Cragg is quite a guy. If I were betting person, my bet would be on him. Smart, organized, creative. What more can you ask for from a man who caters to wine country?