Two essentials to catering for food lovers like the Newmans are fresh food and a sense of humor.
Photograph by Hulya Kolabas
In 2003 Westporter Kathy Oberman was helping to prepare a New Year’s Eve dinner for Clea Newman Soderlund. More than a new year was ushered in that night—a business took flight. Kathy was busily preparing the food in the kitchen, an irresistible lure to Katie Wachtel, who loves cooking. Before long, the two were discussing creative culinary concepts and hatching a catering company.
“I had just graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education, and we started talking about catering. I was working with Abigail Kirsch in New York and Aux Délices in Greenwich, among others,” says Katie. And Kathy had just finished her master’s class at the New School in New York City and food styling at The Culinary Institute of America; she had also just been handpicked by Martha Stewart to work as a producer on her television program Martha Stewart Living, among other projects for Stewart.
Kathy and Katie’s entrepreneurial partnership would get a hearty kick-start by the original get-it-done power team of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. Just one week before an important celebration for the Westport Country Playhouse, catering plans fell through. “We got a call from the Newmans’ office one day,” recalls Kathy, “and they said, ‘We need a caterer now—and it’s you two!’ ”
While speedily preparing for the event, the two devised a name for their new company: K-Squared Katering, a play on their own names. They pulled off that first gig, which included zucchini cups with lemon mushroom filling and avocado and tomato bruschetta, without staff. “We were cooks and servers,” says Katie.
That success led to referrals and an ongoing and warm association with the Newman family.
K-Squared handled everything from family dinners and special celebrations to big charitable events for such organizations as the Democratic National Committee, the Environmental Defense Council, Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the Eisenhower Foundation, and even a birthday party for Gore Vidal. They also catered the Newmans’ fiftieth wedding anniversary, for which Kathy replicated the couple’s wedding cake.
Whatever the event, Kathy recalls with a smile, “Mr. Newman would call me up and tell me exactly what he wanted. ‘Cod with puttanesca. No anchovies. No capers,’ he’d say. He was just that way. He loved food.
“The Newmans threw parties at least once a month. It became this thing. ‘Call the girls!’ That’s what they would say when a party would come up. We didn’t mind it at all. It was just them. Family. They were really good to us.”
The synergy of the family and its caterers relied partly on an equal dedication to locally grown, organic, sustainable foods. Katie says, “My mother had a vegetable garden; we had chickens and the freshest of eggs.” Plus, she adds, “I grew up with the Newmans, and they were leaders. They knew about the importance of organic and local and the need for recycling way before other people were talking about it.”
Kathy adds, “I’ve always been interested in organic. When I was twelve, I worked at a health food store and learned how important it is for your body. I knew then that I would want to do something that was responsible and something I believed in.” She recently finished her certification as a health counselor in holistic nutrition. “Plus, it’s us. We’re a boutique catering company. The people who call us, get us. They know us. And they know all the food will be made from scratch. We try to be as green as possible, but we also know it’s more costly, so we work with people on that.”
This time of year is a joy to cooks since they love working with fresh, all-natural ingredients that are readily available. It gives caterers exciting options for creating new recipes and menus. “We have good parties coming up, and we hope to try out some of our ideas,” notes Kathy, who is also preparing a television pilot on healthy eating. “But we’re always happy to offer our old favorites.”
Kathy and Katie have a golden reference. Joanne Woodward says of them: “I’ve known these girls since they were small. They were good cooks then, and even better now.”
Here the food duo generously shares some of their recipes and party tips. The beautiful shots were taken at Westport’s Dressing Room Restaurant, which is run by their friend Chef Michel Nischan.