By Lena Ellwanger
Photos By Arden Haley
If you ever have the opportunity to attend a soiree catered by the folks of Garden & Garnish, do not pass it up. Clear your schedule. Do not let this chance pass you by.
If you are doubly lucky and the occasion allows you an entire feast, try it all. That’s right. Forget decorum. Take a nice big taste of everything — until nothing more can be crammed onto your plate.
Because you might be very much surprised.
After all, an appetizer that looks like brie crossed with green cheesecake might not be your first choice. But it should be. Because that is sweet pea flan topped with goat cheese and pink peppercorns. And it will wow your mouth in a major way.
Maybe you’re leery of the bite of balsamic vinegar. Do not let that stop you from tasting the strawberries on bruschetta rounds with chevre and a balsamic reduction. Because it has been reduced (actually, elevated) to something sweet and syrupy and perfect.
Enjoy the crab salad on endive because the crustaceans are guaranteed to be locally caught.
In fact, most of the treats you are now having the pleasure to eat are from local sources, or the very garden grown by Cathy Schmidt, one half of Garden & Garnish.
Let us pause – before the entrees and a wide selection of sweet treats – to meet both Cathy and Brian Schmidt, the geniuses behind this glorious goodness.
We will begin with Brian, the mastermind who creates and cooks all of these culinary delights.
A Trappe native, Brian sort of stumbled into cooking.
While busing tables at the former Masthead in Oxford, the chef asked him to help out with brunch one morning.
And, luckily for all of us, “I discovered I was good at it,” Brian says.
He then attended Baltimore International Culinary College, and ran The Kitchen restaurant in Easton for seven years, beginning in 1994, where he also delved into catering.
After The Kitchen’s doors were shuttered, the Schmidts decided to continue the catering portion of the business.
The couple built a commercial kitchen next to their house in Trappe and officially began Garden & Garnish in 2001.
Their catering is not limited to weddings — they also do luncheons and all types of parties, and often drop off a dish or two for smaller events (so, no, you won’t have to crash a wedding to get a taste of their food).
For most of their bigger jobs, much of the prep work is done in their own kitchen, with the final cooking done on-site in a venue’s kitchen or the Schmidts’ kitchen trailer that they can bring along with them.
“We’ve done events smack-dab in the middle of a field before.”
As the chef, Brian works with each couple beforehand, coming up with a menu to please all palates, then also meeting them in advance at their venue to discuss such details as the layout of the tables and the timing for cocktail hour and the various courses of the meal.
Cathy is the go-to gardener and “fills in a lot of gaps,” as Brian says, and that is putting it lightly.
She gets the staff lined up and handles much of the paperwork for the business, not to mention running their children all over creation for their crazy and varied schedules.
So let’s take a moment to get to know her now.
Right outside the doors of their kitchen, Cathy grows a robust vegetable and herb garden, plus a butterfly garden and a field of wildflowers.
“We’re really into environmental stewardship, so the property next door is nothing but wildflowers for our bees, and they love it,” she says.
As if that isn’t enough, she also does canning and makes her own jams.
And now, inside the house, “I grow my own microgreens … my kids call it the lab,” Cathy says. “My goal was to try to grow a few things all year-round and never have to ask another purveyor for it.”
While her “lab” has been up and running just over a year, the garden and sustainability practices have been longstanding.
Their property is certified as Bay-Wise and Pollinator-Friendly, they are part of the True Blue program guaranteeing their crabs are caught in Maryland and they are on the Green Registry for the state. They are also part of Maryland’s Best — using local produce whenever their own garden falls short — and they are simply well-intentioned, conscientious people who strive to honor nature and stay local.
“It’s always been the way we do things. It’s not new, it’s not different to us, it’s just what we do,” Cathy says. “I think people are appreciating it more and more.”
With the Schmidts’ passions running parallel, you’d be hard-pressed to find a couple that is better matched. And that melding translates into a well-run catering business beloved by many.
Couples often hire them after attending one of their events. And no surprise, if these dishes for a summer wedding in St. Michaels are any indication: “We started out with grilled tri-tip steak, and we did a jumbo lump crab salad and then we had sliced heirloom tomatoes and a fresh sweetcorn salad, and we did a spinach and watermelon salad, and buttermilk biscuits,” Brian says. “… I thought it was a pretty bangin’ menu myself.”
With our mouths watering, let us get back to the good stuff now.
Brian will sear filet mignon to perfection. His jumbo lump crab cakes will compete with the best anywhere along the Bay. His smoked pork butt with Talbot barbecue sauce is drool-worthy — so insanely good you might want to host an event simply for an excuse to order it.
And check out this list of sweets he bakes — crème caramel, chocolate custard, espresso custard topped with chocolate ganache, a variety of cheesecakes, apple crisp, peach crisp, cookies galore, mini cannolis, lemon curd tarts, cream puffs, strawberry rhubarb pie, Key lime pie, peach blackberry pie, pecan pie with a touch of bourbon … need we go on?
The only thing he doesn’t do is wedding cakes.
Some couples who know Garden & Garnish only by reputation will come to the Schmidts for a tasting — which they do right in their kitchen — to become familiar with their food, but most tastings are simply to fine-tune a couple’s menu: “Do you prefer the butternut squash or spaghetti squash? ... Do we want the salmon or the chicken? ... We’ll fix the items and have them taste it and decide which ones they like best and what fits their price point,” Brian says, and what ultimately ends up on guests’ plates.
They do tastings most often on weekends in the winter because they have more free time in the slower, colder months.
With this level of expertise, honestly, a tasting is probably not necessary. But the Schmidts understand a couple’s desire to feel comfortable with the plan for their big day, so they are happy to work with your schedule to set up a visit.
With so many weddings under their belt, they can also recommend the best vendors and enjoy helping couples personalize their event. “Weddings today are much more unique. They used to be sort of cookie-cutter. … Now they can really make it their own. It’s kind of fun because it’s not the same thing every weekend,” Cathy says.
When it comes time for your event, the Schmidts’ travel averages under an hour, but if your venue is a bit further afield, they will drive up to two hours on occasion.
With his laid-back style, Brian quips, “Just really depends on how big the adventure is.”