If you are like most party-givers, you dream of drop-dead décor and a lavish spread of eats — maybe filet mignon wrapped in bacon or perhaps seared duck breast with a mango glaze. Reality, however, often plays out differently. If you are doing it all solo, when the doorbell rings you may be too frazzled to care.
But hosts and hostesses can have the party of their dreams by hiring a caterer, and not just any caterer. Scroll through the website of Sandra DeVaux’s Fairfax-based Side Street Catering (www.sidestreetcatering.com): each food shot reflects a craftsman chef with an eye for design and presentation. And the party setups are swanky enough to grace the pages of Vogue magazine. No wonder DeVaux’s business has received high-ranking reviews on Angie’s List for the past two years.
Like many of the world’s top chefs, DeVaux got her kitchen start early in life, when at the age of 15 she worked at the now-defunct Hot Shoppes Jr. in Tysons Corner.
“It just progressed from there,” DeVaux said. “I was a server in restaurants for many years.” But it was when she moved to Arizona as a young lady and started working with a small boutique wine restaurant and catering company that her life began to change. When the owner got pregnant and no longer was able to do all the cooking, she asked DeVaux to join her in the kitchen to teach her some basics so she could run the catering department.
“That was the beginning,” DeVaux said, noting she believes that cooking is either in your blood or it is not. That was back in 1992, and while she was not catering full time then, she was very much in the business, managing restaurants and training service staff. Then one day she woke up and said, “No more.” It was time to refocus on her catering business.
Although she admits she has no formal culinary training, DeVaux has worked with many different chefs from many different genres.
“Most of what I have learned over these years has been self-taught,” she said. “I think that chefs who have learned on their own learn differently. For me it’s mostly by tasting. ... I see a recipe and will change it up a bit, taste it and change it some more. A formally trained chef might do things a bit more as they were taught.”
After deciding how she really wanted to shape her career — operating a catering company — she opened her family-owned business in 1992.
“When I first started, clients learned about us by word of mouth or by my running ads in the Yellow Pages,” she said. She then advertised on Craigslist until the day a very satisfied customer posted a review of Side Street Catering on Angie’s List. Since then, business has soared.
Although DeVaux loves to experiment with her cooking — from smoking pork shoulder and salmon to making cookies and cream cupcakes — she is perhaps most famous for her crab cakes.
“People always say that the crab cakes are the best they have ever had,” DeVaux said. What makes them so special: “no junk in them.” And DeVaux stresses she prepares all her food from scratch using fresh ingredients — nothing prepackaged or in a bottle. “We never mass-produce anything. Everything is made to order for each function,” she said.
Unlike most local caterers, DeVaux shapes her menus to suit a client’s event, which lets her cooking evolve with the seasons. She also believes that each party, each event, should be memorable, colorful, charming. To that end, her motto is simply this: “I want you to be a guest in your own home.”