The City Magazine Since 1975

Catering Confidential

Catering Confidential
April 2019

In Hotbox, Lowcountry authors Matt Lee and Ted Lee explore the nitty-gritty world of catering

Risky Business: (Left to right) Ted Lee and Matt Lee, authors of Hot Box, available April 9, 2019.

Imagine peeling 1,600 deviled eggs in one sitting, or breaking down “slippery baked hams into biscuit-appropriate tiles.” Moments before service, you’ve got to fix a broken sauce with a rasher of cheese, or assemble 760 half-dollar-sized, perfectly stacked Pepper-Crusted Beef and Celery Root Canapés for a black-tie gala inside a room “as dark and dank as a bomb shelter.”

Welcome to the world of high-stakes catering, as seen through the eyes of Charlestonians Matt Lee and Ted Lee in their new book, Hotbox: Inside Catering, the Food World’s Riskiest Business (Henry Holt, April 2019). The nonfiction chronicle is a departure for the Southern food authors who, in 2007, won a James Beard Award for Cookbook of the Year. In this up-close account, they dove into New York City’s catering scene—arguably the most overlooked and underappreciated realm of the food and beverage business. Their goal? To work semi-undercover for upscale catering outfits—a $12-billion U.S. industry they once viewed as “the elevator music of the culinary arts.”

From 2012 to 2017, the Lees did just that, and Hotbox is their insider’s guide to the ins and outs of the catering business. As back-of-house prep cooks, they learn tricks of the trade, like the vital use of the “hotbox”: a rolling metal unit heated with sternos that, thanks to chef sorcery, allows par-cooked food to be finished on-site. They witness outlandish requests that are both peculiar and entertaining, like when a client required every waiter to wear black body stockings, as “morph-automatons instructed to march out from the east entrance to the floor—without speaking.”

The Lees soon discover that catering chefs are far from Muzak-equivalence, but rather “Special-Ops culinary mercenaries, poised for battle,” who choose the grueling life of one-and-done events—or “fiestas” as they’re known in the biz—over restaurant kitchens for the pay as much as the thrill of the fight.

One part behind-the-scenes action, two parts page-turning, personal account, Hotbox affirms these Charleston chefs can guide readers through all realms of the culinary world—the Lowcountry and beyond.


Photograph (Lee Bros.) by E.V. Day & (BOOK) courtesy of Henry Holt