You might say Roland Henin's plate was a tad full Friday as he sliced, diced, trimmed, chopped and directed traffic in the Harbor Club kitchen at HSBC Arena.
After all, the corporate executive chef for Delaware North Cos. was in charge of making a gourmet dinner for 160 people, and had just two days to get it done.
But Henin, one of just 60 certified master chefs in the United States, was calm as baked escargot as he and and nine fellow Delaware North chefs from across the nation and their helpers faced a challenge perhaps unprecedented in Buffalo culinary annals: cooking for tonight's $1,000-a-plate Albright-Knox Art Gallery gala celebrating the opening of "The Panza Collection: An Experience of Color and Light."
Apparently, more than 40 years of toiling over commercial ovens instills bushels of confidence.
"We cater a lot of special events," shrugged Henin, who grew up and trained in and around Lyon, France, where the legendary Paul Bocuse, leading by example, "brought chefs out of the dark" and into the celebrity swirl. Henin himself mentored such culinary stars as Emeril Lagasse and Thomas Keller.
It takes more than know-how and flash to whip up an impressive meal for a large group, Henin noted. The secret ingredient: months of preparation. He put down his chef's knife and opened a three-ring binder several inches thick -- his playbook for the Albright-Knox dinner, organized by Alice Jacobs, daughter-in-law of Delaware North Chairman and CEO Jeremy M. Jacobs Sr., and Alison Keane.
"We started about a year ago," Henin said. "It's a process -- mostly preparation. Every day, there is a plan of action. And then gradually, as you get close, you work on the logistics and the menu."
The logistics were particularly tricky this time. The Albright-Knox lacks a spacious kitchen, which led Henin to commandeer the arena and Ralph Wilson Stadium kitchens. Delaware North provides food service for both venues. Working in three teams -- appetizer, entree and dessert -- the chefs would spend Friday doing prep work and the hours preceding the soiree cooking and designing the presentation.
And the Elmwood Avenue museum's long, narrow exhibition spaces are not conducive to large dinner parties. Henin will send guests to the Sculpture Court Terrace for hors d'oeuvres washed down with expensive champagne, to the lower galleries for dinner and back to the terrace for dessert.
The piece de resistance: pan-roasted Wisconsin free-range veal chops with fall mushrooms, broccolini, seasonal squash and risotto galette.
The food plan was fine-tuned after the "Light Up the Night" committee gathered for a tasting about a month ago. "We did a menu where we work around the limitations," Henin said. For example, since fine red wine and fine art don't mix, whites will accompany all courses. Henin compromised, "so nobody gets bent out of shape," by poaching roasted pear slices for the cheese and fruit course in a nice red.
Henin's nominal home is Seattle but he spends two-thirds of the year traveling to Delaware North's worldwide operations. The Buffalo-based company, which boasts annual sales of $2 billion, manages food service at more than 100 airports, sports arenas and resorts.
The master chef has an additional corporate title to go with all the travel: chief culinary ambassador of global hospitality.
Among those joining Henin for the Albright event, each skilled in his own right, were Rolf Baumann, corporate chef of Delaware North's Sportservice subsidiary; Tab Daulton, HSBC Arena executive chef; and Kader Temkkit, executive pastry chef at Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in New Hampshire.
"This is a very good team," Henin said. "I think the meal is going to be decent."