South Portland caterer preps for hungry hordes at Beach to Beacon 10K

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SOUTH PORTLAND — What does it take to feed the crowds behind the scenes of a 10K road race?

To Nancy Cerny, chef at CVC Catering Group in South Portland, it’s all about “organization, production and presentation.”

And don’t forget the food. Gargantuan amounts of food.

When Cerny and her husband Chuck bring their fine-tuned feeding machine to Cape Elizabeth for this year’s TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race in August, they’ll bring along 450 pounds of salmon, 475 lobsters, 360 ears of corn, 100 pounds of chicken breast, and more hot dogs and burgers – beefy and vegetarian – than would ever fit on the grill back home. Not to mention the 216 bottles of wine and six kegs of beer.

In all, Cerny expects to feed a more than 1,000 people over three days. That includes a barbecue for volunteers on Aug. 3, a breakfast for VIPs and the media on the morning of Aug. 6 – race day – and a lobster bake the night after the race for donors, sponsors and elite runners.

But when she arrives in Cape Elizabeth, all she’ll have before her are a tent and some chairs.

“It’ll probably take about 30 of us to set up the 43 tables and chairs,” Cerny said. Time will be of the essence, because the caterers will also be setting up an industrial-sized kitchen. That means grills, a dish-washing station, a prepping and plating area, and a bar.

There’s so much food to be cooked that some of it had to be outsourced. Cerny said one vendor, Skipper’s Bay, will be on hand at the final dinner with a giant lobster cooker, in which they’ll cook all 475 crustaceans at the same time.

Cerny said that part of organizing a well-catered event is improvisation. CVC doesn’t own any large portable refrigerators, so she’ll rent a 24-foot refrigerated truck to store food during the events.

On the other side of the thermometer, Cerny turned toward an old tall-boy — the cart used to transport all those trays of food in hospitals — to keep food warm before it’s served.

“We found that if you put Sterno in the bottom, we could keep the internal temperature at 275 degrees,” Cerny said. “To please people, you’ve got to get the food out fast and keep it hot.”

Those are the kinds of tricks Cerny has had to learn on her way to becoming an award-winning caterer, despite not owning her own events venue. CVC operates out of a 950-square foot kitchen in the lower level of a office building in Southborough Office Park.

The kitchen doubles as Cafe 500, where men in shirts and ties and women in pencil skirts grab a quick bite to eat before their shifts or during their lunch breaks. Inside, it smells like brownies or onions sauteing in olive oil, depending on the time of day. It’s nice, but not exactly big enough to host a wedding or graduation party.

Cerny hopes that in the next few years, CVC will move into a space with a kitchen, walk-in coolers and an events room. But until then she’ll continue to cater outdoors and in other people’s homes.

She said the group will cook for any size event, from two-person dinners to the 2,500-strong Cabela’s opening party they catered last year.

“I love a challenge,” Cerny said.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements

Nancy Cerny, chef and owner of CVC Catering Group in South Portland, cleans off her giant grill at Cafe 500 on July 18. The grill has two burners, Cerny said, meaning she can cook veggies in the middle and 40 small steaks around the edge.

CVC Catering Group in South Portland has a full liquor license, allowing them to serve libations at catered events. When the group rolls into Cape Elizabeth to feed volunteers, staff, donors, sponsors and VIPs at the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race in August, they’ll bring along 216 bottles of wine and 6 kegs of beer.