Sunday 16 March 2014

Zev and Eliza's Engagement Party

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With Mr. and soon-to-be Mrs. Lebowitz

In November 2013, a lovely young couple named Zev Lebowitz and Eliza Quanbeck emailed me out of the blue to enquire if I would be willing to cater a full selection of traditional Malaysian dishes for their upcoming engagement party of about 100 guests. It was the first request of this scale that I had ever received, and I was both surprised and more than a little tickled that two New Yorkers who neither knew me personally nor were Malaysian themselves had a) found my little blog online randomly somehow (thanks Google!) b) trusted I was the real deal based solely on my food porn pictures c) seemed to have such a passion for and in-depth knowledge of local dishes I had grown up with and d) actually wanted to pay me to cook the stuff for their friends and family!

Some back-and-forth later, it emerged that Zev and Eliza had just concluded an epic 14-month world tour (check out their fun food/travel blog A Feast Afoot), during which a month was spent eating and attending cooking classes in Kuala Lumpur. To my delight they not only were familiar with but specifically requested rendangayam goreng berempahsayur lodeh and kuih amongst other traditional delicacies, and before I knew it I had agreed with a resounding "yes!" and was standing in their Upper West Side apartment cooking a mini trial taster dinner of 10 different appetizers, mains and desserts.

The food went down well, and we eventually settled on the following menu for the big day on 8 March 2014:

The savouries:
Mini karipap (spiral curry puffs), popiah (fresh vegetable spring rolls), ayam goreng berempah (Malaysian spiced fried chicken), Nyonya acar awak (spicy vegetable pickle) with rice, beef rendang (dry coconut curry) with rice

The sweets: 
Fah sang peng (peanut cookies), kuih ketayap/ dadar/ gulung (pandan crepes with caramelised coconut filling), sago gula melaka (tapioca pearl pudding with palm sugar and coconut milk)

Now, let's get real.

I was honoured and excited, but also mildly terrified. Never in my life had I catered for so many people at once before; 20+ on a low-budget film set maybe, perhaps 50 in a potluck setting with friends where everyone brings food and no one holds it against you if your dish sucks. Absolutely not something like this, where I am solely and fully responsible for planning, prepping, and plating nine different dishes into little canapé size morsels that are tasty, hygienically safe to eat and look pretty, for 100 guests who have never met me and have no reason to expect anything less than restaurant quality.

On top of that, it was a school week where I could only cook in the evenings after I got home from class and rehearsals. AND my kitchen, to put it mildly, is modestly sized with very little countertop space and no professional equipment. AND I live in a 5th floor walk up and don't own a car (ever tried grocery shopping for 100 people and carrying it up the stairs? Who needs a gym!).

Ambitious much? Insanely so.

I do love a good challenge though, and thankfully with adequate amounts of pre-planning, detailed lists and the willingness to forego sleep in order to stir curries on a stove til 5am, everything somehow worked out! Thank goodness for my ever-patient fiance Ari, who would help me roll hundreds of fah sang peng and lug incredibly heavy bags of ingredients (eight pounds of jicama, five litres of coconut cream etc... ) all the way up from Chinatown via the crowded subway. Thank heavens too for my loving and tolerant roommates Adam and G, who didn't complain for one second about my noisy blender grinding into the night, or the perpetual pungency of spice pastes filling the air, or the fact that they couldn't really make any meals for themselves the whole week because I took up the entire fridge and stovetop. G even helped us carry our things into a cab across the street on the day, when my poor planning caused some bags to break and made it impossible for us to juggle everything! I love you all, you guys make my life.

So here below, I share with you some pictorial proof that this actually happened. Thank you Zev and Eliza once again for the leap of faith you took in hiring me, I had a lot of fun and hope you did too!


Step 1: Make detailed shopping list/ timeline of tasks for the week leading up to March 8th

Step 2: Buy gigantic 16-quart pot from Amazon. Worry about where to store it later.

Step 3: Use pot for everything (like making rendang in advance).

Dough for 300 mini curry puffs ready to be shaped

Quick scribbles of my own recipes in shorthand to refer to in the kitchen
(with quantities multiplied for 100 pax)


Frying the karipap freshly on site. Yes that is a Hard Rock Kuala Lumpur T-shirt. Represent!:)

Some of the plated dishes ready to roll. Clockwise from top left; acar on rice, mini karipap, beef rendang on rice, fresh popiah

Assembling the bitesize ayam goreng. That's Dan Williams behind me,
who led the team of servers for the night

My trusty kitchen elf/ slave/ general helpful fiance. The model of intense concentration as he assembles the shots of sago :)

Friday pops by to say goodnight! (Or maybe he was just intrigued by the curious smells)


  1. So impressive! I love the way you served the food too. I never would have thought serving rendang on rice on spoons even tho I've had similar stuff at other parties. That's brilliant.

    1. Thanks Gaik Ping! It was the only way to make it bitesized and neat :) Hope you're well!

  2. Thank you Grace! Hope you enjoyed your kaya and sambal :) x

  3. Wow, this engagement party is so stylish and pretty!! I love the delectable food photos. I bet that everyone enjoyed it a lot. At some garden themed wedding venues Los Angeles we too attended a Spanish couple’s wedding party. It was just awesome and their traditional Spanish food in the bash was even more interesting.