"The Reluctant Caterer" turns food into edible artwork -- made from scratch
Splurging on the spectacular
KAREN MIYANO often transforms food into a work of art, and this is an element she feels sets her apart. "I've sculpted volcanoes out of purple and orange sweet potatoes, and made the laulaus look like a village of huts around it," she said. Her husband, Leland Miyano, is a well-known landscape designer, so she also uses plants and flowers from their garden to complement her displays. Much of the pleasure of dining, she believes, lies in the presentation.
There's a good reason why Miyano calls herself "The Reluctant Caterer." She doesn't advertise, and she certainly doesn't send out press releases. Instead, she relies on word-of-mouth promotion, selecting the occasions she thinks best suit her skills. Sometimes clients book her a year in advance.
"I'm semiretired," Miyano said. "I enjoy balancing my time with hiking and traveling, and we maintain a (large) garden. So when I work, I very much enjoy it."
Miyano's heritage is Italian and English (she took her Okinawan/Japanese husband's surname), which has influenced her cooking style. Even as a child, she baked bread weekly, dried fresh herbs, and canned her own fruits and vegetables with her Italian grandparents in a section of Little Italy in Cincinnati. Her extensive travels -- including cooking aboard a marine research ship for several months -- helped her tastes and style evolve. Now she counts Southeast Asian, Moroccan, Indian and Mediterranean food among her favorites. Though she often does a "twist on classic recipes," she stays "true to the integrity of the food." This means that nothing is battered and fried.
"I cook very healthy food, using the freshest ingredients -- local, if possible," she said. "I don't rely on cream and butter." She does cook meat, but avoids the heavy sauces that usually accompany it.
A client's desires -- and budget -- always dictate how involved she gets in preparation, "because everything I do is handcrafted," she said. "If there are crackers involved, I'll make those crackers!"
Miyano prefers events in private homes. "I like intimate settings, where people can present to their guests something unique, and fully enjoy the pleasure of entertaining and eating good food."
Party idea: Choose a place in the world you'd really like to visit, and prepare decorations and a meal around that theme, such as a "Mediterranean cruise" on a rented pontoon boat.
Typical cost: $40 to $75 per person