Steeped in tradition
February 3, 2011 | Sarasota, FL
By LOREN MAYO
It's a tradition that began in 1860 with Queen Victoria, when women slipped on their finest hats and gloves, men donned suits or military uniforms, and everyone gathered around a 500-foot buffet table, sipping tea as they devoured a feast.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Chef Larry Barrett, of Simply Gourmet Caterers, noticed a trend - women were calling to inquire about tea parties.
"They all had an idea of the tea they wanted to do, but they were all a little bit different, and that sent me into an interesting area of learning about tea and finding what would go well with it." Barrett said.
Known for combining cuisine and wines with historical events, most notably his signature reproductions of presidential dinners served during the Kennedy and Reagan eras, Barrett has always had an interest in history and food.
"I did (a recreation of) the last dinner on the Titanic and an Oscars dinner, but people during the recession are sort of down, and tea at $30 per person is a very reasonable way to get together in the afternoon, chat and enjoy a catered affair," Barrett said. "We've done several kinds of teas, but, as I'm discovering now, it's whatever you want it to be."
Barrett recently catered a "British invasion" tea party for a group of women in their 30s, who dressed up in black clothing, fake tattoos and piercings. They played punk music during the event and drank tea while British and Austrailian servers asked them if they'd like one lump of sugar or two.
As far as food and tea pairings go, Barrett says it's comparable to a wine pairing.
"You wouldn't want chocolate with sauvignon blanc, you'd serve it with port or Riesling." he says. "I'd pair chocolate cups, truffles and scones with an oolong tea - a smoked black tea with a lot of depth and body. With this, the world is your oyster."
Simply Gourmet Caterers is featuring traditional royal English tea services through the month of February at the Powel Crosley Estate.
"It's like meditation," Barrett said. "You can put on some harp music and take yourself away from work for a minute. It's a luxury anyone can afford."
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