A little calm goes a long wayPublished on October 2, 2009

  • Clockwise: Erin with Lucas-9, Charlotte-11, Cleo-16, Poppy-1. Photo by Etienne Ranger.

  • Seared BC Yellowfin Tuna Nicoise. Photo by Etienne Ranger.

Erin Clatney is the mother of four and the effervescent founder of Dish Catering. With her ready smile and hearty laugh, she's the kind of person that inspires trust and confidence upon first meeting - invaluable in her line of work. Whether she's creating new seasonal menus, meeting with prospective clients or rolling up her sleeves to lay out a lavish spread for anywhere from eight to eight hundred guests, Erin's warm, professional manner has made Dish a front runner on the Ottawa catering scene.

How has your good sense of humour helped you in the catering business? Keeping things light is important because although there are a million details to attend to, you want a party to look effortless to guests.

What other qualities have helped you? I'm patient and calm. I love pressure and when things occasionally go wrong, I never panic. Having good stamina and knowing how to recharge completely have also been very important for me. It's easy to have a lot of energy when you love what you do.

Would you consider yourself an extremely organized person? Not in the kind of way where everything in my life has to be in labeled bins. My organizational strength lies in visualizing every aspect of an event from beginning to end, right down to exactly how the food is going to be placed on the tables.

You have been busy raising a family while building your business. Has it been hard? It is sometimes difficult to balance things and was even more challenging when I took time off after the birth of my fourth child, Poppy. My goal is always to be where I am most needed at that moment, whether it's at work doing a specific task, or at home. I still feel like a wishbone sometimes, though, when things are really busy at work.

Were you interested in food when you were growing up? My parents owned a steakhouse in Toronto - this was definitely a big part of my childhood. Food was central in our family, it's how we communicated. I loved Sundays, when stores were closed and the house smelled like prime rib. Sundays are still a day for eating and nesting for me and my kids.

How would you characterize the food you like to serve to clients? Fresh, simple and seasonal, always tailored to the style and size of the event.

Do you do a lot of entertaining at home? Yes, and I love it - it never feels like work. I make easy things; whatever's right for the season. I'm obsessed with fresh greens, dressed with some shaved parmesan, a drizzle of really good olive oil and a pinch of salt. For sweets, I think of old-school stuff like bread pudding.

What do you think sets Dish apart from other catering firms? I think it's attention to the subtlest details. For example, when I arrive to set up an event, I'm gauging the temperature of the room and trying to figure out what adjustments need to be made so it will be comfortable when it's filled with guests. I try to orchestrate every single element of the event so it will be perfect.

Have you ever thought about doing something else? I was really interested in psychology before. This job gives me some of that in that I have to be really intuitive to people's needs. I also sometimes wish I could think more like a lawyer, in that methodical, unemotional, critical way. But really, I can't imagine not working in the food industry. It's really hard work, but the rewards and satisfaction are so great. I'm excited about growing this business because the first seven years have been wonderful. ó Written by Paula Roy

Seared BC Yellowfin

Tuna Nicoise


1 lb Albacore tuna loin

2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

2 tbsp good olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

2 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped

method: Mix zest, oil, salt, pepper and parsley together in a broad dish or ziplock bag. Add tuna and marinate for 30 - 60 mins. To cook tuna, use a thick frying pan (cast iron is best) over medium to high heat; sear tuna for 1 minute per side then let rest to room temperature before slicing with a sharp knife into 4 - 8 individual portions (depending on size you want).

saffron aioli:

1 roasted potato, peeled and finely mashed

1 tbsp saffron threads, bloomed in 1 tbsp. hot white wine

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 egg yolk

1 cup canola or vegetable oil

1 cup good olive oil

method: In blender, combine potato, saffron mixture, lemon juice and zest, garlic and egg yolk till blended. Slowly add oils until mixture is thick; add cold water to thin mixture if needed. Add salt & pepper to taste.


1/2 cup Saffron Aioli (above)

3/4 cup roasted red pepper, julienned

1 cup green olives, slivered

small handful micro herbs or greens

method: Place a piece of tuna on each plate; garnish with aioli, roasted peppers, olives and micro herbs. Tip: A little drizzle of really good olive oil on the tuna will add shine and fabulous flavour.

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