Imagine a seared moulard duck breast, thinly sliced and dribbled with huckleberry gastrique, served with ciabatta bread. Or a warm snow crab spread with fire-roasted corn, shallots, sherry and fresh herbs served with fresh pita bread. Perhaps even a truffled macaroni and cheese, a Southern favorite with an elegant flair. These are just a few of the many savory dishes offered on the menus of Loosh Culinaire Fine Catering, each artfully prepared by owner and chef Crawford Pressley.
“I discovered my love for food in college while I was studying economics,” says Crawford. “I spent many years in the restaurant business, but I determined that I didn’t really like the lifestyle. If you own a restaurant, you’re tied to it night and day. I liked the pace and the excitement, but the cons outweighed the pros for me.”
That’s when he decided to begin his own catering business. After all, he had a great deal invested in his training: Crawford studied at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in London, receiving the distinguished Le Grand Diplôme, and he worked for several fine restaurants throughout the Southeast, including Woodlands Inn in Summerville, a five-star, five-diamond restaurant. In 2003, he returned to Columbia to begin Loosh Culinaire.
“Catering allows me to use the skills I’ve developed and be creative in my dishes,” he says. In fact, Crawford doesn’t create using recipes; rather his family and friends serve as focus groups for his dishes. “My house is my proving grounds,” he laughs. “I have dinner parties and always serve something new and different. Some of the dishes served may make it onto the catering menu.”
Crawford’s kitchen in his Forest Acres home doubles as his catering kitchen. “When I bought this house, I completely gutted it,” he says. As the construction crews worked on other areas of the house, Crawford spent his time designing his dream kitchen. The original kitchen was only about a fourth of the size of the current kitchen. “I grabbed chalk and started laying it out. I had about a month to come up with the design, and each day I would come in and change it. Then one day, the light bulb came on.”
The result is a professional kitchen with plenty of workspace and appliances that are the envy of every would-be chef. With 40 feet of linear countertop space, including a nine-foot-long central island, there is plenty of room for dish preparation. “If you’re remodeling a kitchen,” says Crawford, “counter space is more important than anything. Put the money into the space; you can always upgrade appliances later.”
Crawford’s kitchen has a modern feel with solid surface counters, sharp angles and natural-looking cabinetry that is unencumbered by fancy trim. “I think that sometimes the simplest approach is best,” he says. “The style of this house didn’t really call for an ornate design.”
There is plenty of seating for guests, with six bar stools lining one side of the island. The eat-in breakfast area features an elongated glass table with a booth-style bench on one side and complementing chairs on the other.
Because his kitchen is used professionally, the appliances are professional-level as well, including the Hobart dishwasher, twin convection wall ovens, the large gas-range top and the large refrigerator. There is an expansive double sink on one side of the kitchen, with a smaller bar sink set under glass-front cabinetry that displays an array of wine glasses.
Crawford is trained in pairing particular wines with certain dishes to create a complete culinary experience. He also is a member of the Bacchus Society’s Columbia chapter. Because Crawford does many dinners with wine pairings, as part of the remodel, he converted what was once a small bathroom into a walk-in wine cellar, which is kept at a constant 57 degrees Fahrenheit. There he keeps a vast collection of wines to serve his dinner guests.
Dinners at Crawford’s home are more than just having a meal. “I’m constantly trying to change it up,” he says. “Sometimes we’re more elegant and bring in servers so that I can be part of the experience. Other times we may be more casual and just enjoy great pairings with great food.”
Crawford likes to get his guests involved in the experience as well. “Interactive dinners have evolved from our New Year’s Eve dinners. We assign a course to each couple, and they will help cook and serve that particular course,” he says. “It lightens things up, and everyone gets an opportunity to learn something new.”
Crawford admits that cuisine is always evolving, and he likes to keep things fresh for his menus. “I don’t like the same old routine. I’m French-trained, so I believe in classic preparation, but I also believe in new technology.”
There’s not one particular dish that Crawford tends to specialize in. “Because I find it more interesting to do a little bit of everything, I am constantly looking for new ways to prepare what might be a spectacular food experience.”
On occasion, one of Crawford’s friends will drop by with a bag of groceries, “stuff,” as Crawford refers to it. “We’ll see what we can create out of about anything.”
He is also often inspired by dishes prepared around the country. “I sometimes plan trips just for that very reason – to be inspired to find new creations,” Crawford says. “There are many great food destinations – Napa Valley, New York, even Charleston.”
Crawford recently had the opportunity to dine at one of Chicago’s landmark restaurants, Charlie Trotter’s. “Soon after we ate there, it was announced the restaurant would be closing in August 2012 after 25 years in business.”
Loosh Culinaire provides service to a wide range of clients, offering to cater events from small corporate meetings to large wedding receptions. Crawford’s menus offer dishes from intricate passed hors d’oeuvres to plated dinners. He prides himself on providing an ultimate food experience based on his clients’ particular desires.
One of his most challenging moments as a chef came when he was hired to prepare meals for a professional golfer at The Masters Tournament in Augusta. “Younger golfers are much more focused on their health, and that’s not an area where I’ve had a great deal of experience based on the types of food I prepare,” says Crawford.
Because he received a late notice that he was hired for the position, he had to scramble to get prepared. “I found out at 9 p.m. the night before that I was to prepare breakfast the following morning. I grabbed everything I thought I could possibly need, tossed it in my van and hit the road,” he recalls.
There was even a request for a dish Crawford had never previously prepared – udon noodles. “I was very nervous about the dish, but the client and his family all loved it.”
Why does Crawford typically not use recipes? “I rely on my palate. Fruits, vegetables are all different day-to-day,” he says. “I create my sauces from my training and what each one tells me as I taste it. Perfection is achieved by having the finest ingredients. My stage is every dish that I prepare, so if something’s not right, I’ll throw it out before I serve it.”
Surprising clients with his preparations is what drives Crawford to continue his culinary experiments. “The presentation of the food is important,” he adds, “because it makes people take notice. It says, ‘Pay attention to what is about to happen.’”
What is ultimately most important is the flavor of the food, Crawford says. “I want people to say they’ve never tasted anything like that.”
Crawford has shared with us his recipe for Caramelized Sea Scallops with Sweet Corn Puree, Applewood Lardon and a Micro Arugula Salad (pictured below).
6 U/10* scallops
2 ears sweet yellow corn (taste a kernel at the store to ensure sweetness)
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 slices applewood-smoked bacon
1 small bag City Roots micro arugula
aged sherry vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, or nut oil of your choice
peanut oil (or other high-temp oil)
To make Sweet Corn Puree:
Shuck corn, being careful to remove all silks. Roast on a pan with a rack in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Allow to cool, then remove kernels from cob with a chef’s knife. Place the majority of kernels in a small pan, reserving a few for garnish. Add chicken stock and sugar and bring to a boil. Add contents to blender with center top open and loosely covered with a rag; run on high, scraping edges when needed, until thoroughly pureed and smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Return to pan, add cream, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and white pepper and keep warm.
To make Applewood Lardon:
Cut bacon strips into uniform pieces, approximately 2 1/2 inches by 1 1/2 inches. Cook slowly in a pan over medium heat, flipping occasionally to maintain flatness, until desired crispness is achieved. Drain pieces on a paper towel, keeping about a tablespoon of fat for later.
To prepare Scallops:
Inspect scallops and remove any grit. Dry thoroughly with paper towels, then season top with salt and white pepper. Add peanut oil and bacon fat to a stick-resistant sauté pan and place on high heat until pan just begins to smoke. Remove from heat and add scallops seasoned-side down. Return to heat and continue to cook until medium brown in color. Season other side and flip. Scallops are done when second side is also medium brown — they should be medium-rare at this point. Remove from pan and reserve in a warm place.
Place a dollop of corn puree on one side of a plate near the edge, drawing the spoon towards the other side of the plate to create a teardrop shape. Place scallop on the opposite side and lean the lardon on it. Dress the micro arugula with sherry vinegar and olive oil and arrange in the form of a line across the plate. Garnish with reserved corn, sherry vinegar and olive oil.
Serves 6 as a first course, 2 as an entrée. Pair with an Alsatian white wine, either Riesling or Gewürztraminer.
* Here, “U/10” stands for “Under 10,” indicating that it would take fewer than 10 scallops to make up a pound. U/10 scallops are usually the biggest ones available.