A taste of the Greek islands: What it's like to be a caterer

Whether they are working at a wedding, birthday party, or corporate event, caterers do much more than simply cooking food and serving drinks.

They also have to devise menus, shop for ingredients, plate the food and even take care of all of the clearing up while guests enjoy themselves.

For Chris and Christalla Ellinas, who run mobile catering business The Greek Outdoors, making sure someone’s special day or big event goes off without a hitch is also very rewarding.

They set up their business in March 2009 and since then it’s gone from strength-to-strength and they’ve even attracted the attention of Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis.

It all started with a lacklustre meal at a friend’s 40th birthday party which sparked a light bulb moment for the couple.

“The catering was a hog roast with a very limited menu. I was not eating red meat at that time and was offered a bread roll with sage and onion stuffing. I thought I can do better than that, so I set about putting my plan into action,” explains Chris.

The couple wanted to offer a healthy and unique alternative to buffets, sit down dinners and hog roasts, inspired by their favourite tastes and aromas of the Mediterranean.

Before setting up the business they decided to recruit some objective taste tasters so they could serve their planned catering menu in the hope of getting some honest reviews.

“I invited around 20 friends, no family, to my house, we cooked for them and asked for some honest feedback, I think family will tell you things in your favour, just for support,” Chris tells Weekend.

After wowing their friends, the couple, who have more than 70 years combined experience in the hospitality trade, launched The Greek Outdoors and now cater mainly for weddings but also christenings, birthdays, corporate events and even funerals.

They use traditional Cypriot cooking methods, long skewers of meat, known as Souvla, cooked slowly over a charcoal barbecue known as a Foukou.

This method of cooking differs from a traditional barbecue as the meat tends to be in larger pieces, traditionally from the neck and shoulder of lamb or pork, and is cooked for a much longer period at a greater distance from the hot charcoal.

They take great pride in serving a memorable feast of meat, fish and vegetable platters served with freshly made salads tossed with extra virgin olive oil, wholegrain pasta dishes, rice, potatoes, grilled halloumi and pittas as well as humus and tsatsiki dips.

“I love eastern Mediterranean cuisine, especially Cypriot and Greek food. It can be spicy, tasty, healthy, it’s always fresh,and conjures up memories of sun-drenched islands,” says Chris.

“Being born to Cypriot immigrant parents, my obvious influences come from this beautiful second home of mine,” he adds.

For those with a sweet tooth they offer traditional Baklava, Katiefi and Yialadopoureko, as well as a choice of gateaux and cheesecakes.

Their business caught the attention of Greek-Cypriot retail magnate Theo in 2012 when he not only gave them a special mention as part of his Small Business Sunday initiative but also later recommended them as caterers for his son’s wedding. The entrepreneur, who is best known for appearing on the BBC Two show, rewards people who tell him about their small firms in one tweet, with the hashtag #SBS.

The couple were selected from thousands of businesses as one of his six monthly winners in 2012 and were invited to attend a special event at Birmingham NEC where they were presented with an award. They later travelled to Surrey to provide a buffet featuring grilled lamb, pork, chicken and halloumi for Theo’s son’s nuptials.

Their most recent accolade was being selected as one of 100 trail-blazing small businesses in the official countdown to last year’s Small Business Saturday. The list featured a range of unique independent firms each contributing to their communities and offering something different

“It’s been such an amazing journey for us in the last 10 years, and winning this award just made it a perfect end to the year. We feel so privileged to be chosen out of so many great businesses out there,” says Chris.

Like so many other businesses in the hospitality industry, the past few months have been challenging for the couple.

With lockdown ruling out large social gatherings and celebrations, many of their bookings had to be either postponed or cancelled.

“The lockdown has been difficult for us,luckily a lot of weddings have been postponed for next year, but for christenings and parties we have had to refund some deposits unfortunately. We have two full-time workers who we have had to furlough,” Chris tells Weekend.

But he believes the future is bright for the business and they are now looking to cater for more events in other parts of the country. “We would like to expand further by franchising as we cover a wide area, sometimes travelling three or four hours, so having partners in other parts of the UK would eliminate a lot of this.

“We were the first company in the UK to introduce Cypriot mobile cuisine to the masses.We have all the up-to-date equipment, a catchy name and most of our clients are now friends as well as customers.” He says one of their biggest achievements has been the “wonderful feedback” they’ve received from their customers.

“I think there is a great satisfaction in ensuring that someone’s special day goes smoothly – we like pressure – but the feedback is rewarding because a lot of people have never experienced Cypriot cuisine before and you can see their reactions when they see the buffet.”

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