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Published: Monday, 10/4/2010

Area man serves up crazy eights at dinner party

Make a bourbon-glazed salmon for a dinner party? That's easy.

Whip up a fresh grouper poached in Galliano and butter? Not a problem.

Serve up some brandied veal scaloppine for dinner with friends? A cinch.

But how about making all three of those entrees for the same party?

And chicken Cordon Bleu?

And pork tenderloin with a honey-terriyaki-ginger glaze?

And stuffed, deboned Cornish game hens?

And cheddar chicken breasts with apples in Grand Marnier sauce?

And filet mignon au poivre with a cognac cream reduction served on a balsamic-glazed portobello mushroom cap with asiago cheese?

Jim Hamlin isn't a chef. He works at the General Motors transmission plant. But the Brooklyn, Mich., resident has cooked for nearly all of his 46 years (“As a kid, I don't remember eating anything out of a can,” he said), and a couple of weekends ago he put on a dinner party for the ages.

Eight different couples. Eight different entrees. Even eight different place settings.

“I just helped my mom with a dinner party,” he said with some modesty.

When he was growing up, his parents often had elegant parties with themes, he said. His stepfather died earlier this year, and his mother decided to hold a party to introduce her friends to her new dog. They chose a theme: an eccentric party for an eccentric lady.

There is eccentricity in multiplicity, so Mr. Hamlin had the idea of creating an entree for each couple that was invited. The names of the entrees were written down on slips of paper, and the couples drew their selections out of a hat.

“They could trade if they wanted, but I don't think anybody traded,” he said.

Mr. Hamlin has no professional experience in a restaurant, although his wife, Kathy, is a waitress and bartender. She served as bartender for the party and also made the dessert, frozen mudslides.

And Mr. Hamlin has an idea of how professional kitchens work from spending quality time at a restaurant on Wamplers Lake owned by his best friend. But there is a big difference between watching people prepare an assortment of meals and actually doing it yourself.

It all comes down to logistics.

“You have to plan on recipes that are around 30-45 minutes in the oven. You keep them simple and you keep them in the same time frame. And you start a day early,” he said.

It helps that his mother has a spacious and high-end kitchen with two ovens. And it was also important that he knows how long food can be kept warm. For instance, Cornish hens can be kept warm for 15 minutes under a tent of foil, he said, especially when they have been stuffed.

He first did some prep work at home, and then went to his mother's house to finish the job. About four hours before dinner was served, he began making the sauces and reductions. The actual cooking and assembly time only took about an hour.

“As long as you know your way around a kitchen, it's not hard. It sounds tougher than it is,” he said.

In all that cooking, he only made one mistake. The veal scaloppine was warming in the back of the oven, ready to be topped with a sauce. In the bustle of getting everything to the table, he overlooked it. And because he had cooked so much at once, he did not have a clear recollection of making it.

Fortunately, he had made extra chicken Cordon Bleu for just such an emergency, and served it instead.

His mother found the poor, deserted veal in the back of the oven a week later.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade or 419-724-6155.



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