Q&A With Catherine An Of Tiato & An Catering
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending Taste of Tiato, a night out that showcased the amazing event venue Tiato in Santa Monica and the food of An Catering. The stunning space and tasty delights made for an amazing night under the stars. The intimate VIP autumn soiree featured new seasonal eats, classic fare paired with herb infused cocktails, a unique vintage showcase by Archive Rentals, and additional displays.
An Catering has been called the “Star Caterer to the Stars” by Los Angeles Times, serving up their tasty bites to Hollywood’s A-list including Leonardo DiCaprio, the Kardashians, and many others for years. An Catering’s executive chef is Helene An, of the world famous Crustacean restaurants in LA, OC, and San Francisco. Her daughter Catherine An is the
founder and managing partner of An Catering.
Catherine An was nice enough to take the time out to answer some questions for us about Tiato and An Catering.
What are some of the inspirations behind the menus you put together for clients?
For Tiato (pronounced “tee-ah-tow”), my childhood growing up in a Vietnamese household inspired my menu, including favorites that my mother, Chef Helene An (also known as “Mama” to all) would cook for me as a young girl. I was lucky I grew up with her cooking – after all she is a critically acclaimed chef – and to be exposed to the melting pot that is Californian cuisine. That’s why our menu is so diverse at Tiato.
When I first came up with An Catering, my menus were more focused on the Crustacean classics since my catering service was initially based on customers’ favorite items from the restaurant and Chef Helene’s following. An Catering has kept those favorite classic dishes, but overtime has continued to bring a fresh approach— bringing in new items inspired by my travels and personal search for good eats.
For example, I just traveled recently to Hawaii, and came back and thought how fun would it be to create our own version of spam musubi— but creating a “spam from scratch.” I know everyone says “spam is bad” but it has always been a favorite of mine. So, I put my culinary team on the challenge of creating our own version of musubi; and I even took it further by having them come up with a vegan version of housemade spam!
What are some of the most unique events you’ve held at Tiato?
This question is so hard because our venue space is so customizable and our clients’ events are all so unique in their own ways! We’ve done everything from a nine-course food and wine pairing to a Korean-Italian inspired wedding menu to a 300 person Kosher-style Candyland-themed Bat Mitzvah. Thinking of a more recent ones that I’ve done is the “Taste of Tiato” event which I personally hosted for our VIP customers.
I really wanted to make sure the food was our star, and have it featured in vignettes—each telling a different story. I worked with our partner Archive Rentals to select unique vintage pieces to showcase our cuisine. The first feature was our Secret Kitchen Station which showcased my mother’s famous garlic noodles paired with our popular satays and crusted popcorn sesame shrimp. For this station, I wanted to take a step back in time with a romantic 1950’s Asian street market feel featuring Suzie Wong-esque décor with old black and white photos from my family’s vintage photo albums. The final touch was a vintage chalkboard design with typography from the time period. We also had a “hand” roll station which was a dedication to our fashion clients where we displayed our fresh hand-made rolls on mannequin hands and other hors d’oeuvres placed on the stem of elegant jewel toned glassware and champagne glasses placed on the antique rustic bookshelves. Instead of the standard pho soup presentation, we created a “juicy bao dumpling in pho broth” that was individually served in a small vessel with hot soup water poured over them out of earthy teapots!
What can people look forward to if they decide to use An Catering and Tiato for their event?
I think that we have a stellar creative team that can create your vision. We are a one-stop-shop for great food, vision, and a very customizable, transformative space. Whether the venue is glammed or left the way it is, it is still very beautiful. We have acclaimed chefs behind the food, and only with An Catering can you get Mama An’s garlic noodles (the original!) catered to you from our secret kitchen. Depending on our customer’s budget, we have a very wide range of possibilities we can work with. I think that’s why we have constant repeat clients, because first and foremost; we are trying to achieve their vision and their goals.
What are some of your personal favorite dishes/menus to serve?
My personal favorite dishes to serve are often my favorite dishes to eat! I love our pho on the Tiato menu—it’s something that I can eat yearlong whether it’s hot or cold. What makes this dish so special to me is that unlike most pho approaches, the broth is very light made with fresh herbs from our garden combined with our housemade chicken stock.
My other favorite is serving our tres leche cake, which I make gluten-free when I’m craving it! People can’t even tell that it’s gluten-free as it tastes so good. And of course, it’s always a delight to see my Mother’s garlic noodles served in our branded mini-takeout boxes—which is a “must-have” request for all of our catering clients.
Tell us a bit about your mom’s cookbook.
I am also very excited about my mom’s first cookbook: “An: to Eat” that was co-written with my sister Jacqueline. It really celebrates her culinary talent while chronicling the great recipes from my family and our history at glance as well. (It also made it on Amazon’s top selling cookbook list, as well as critical acclaim from Los Angele Times, Epicurious, Sunset, Los Angeles Confidential, and others.)
It covers everything from my family’s childhood favorites, to colonial classics, to inventive Modern Vietnamese cuisine.
What are some other memorable events you’ve hosted at the venue?
We host several annual company events with our consistent (and growing!) corporate client list. Year after year, our clients come back to us to bring them fresh new ideas and themes for our transformative space. One of our most recent unique examples of our approach was a fun 80’s-themed company anniversary which featured a Ghostbusters theme. Hosted for 400 guests, unique grazing stations were spread throughout the indoor/outdoor space. It’s events like this that help us win the BizBash National Style Award for “Best Special Events & Wedding Venue.”
Our Hollywood-themed surprise wedding was quite a unique celebration approach to a traditional practice. The guests were given masquerade masks as they entered the venue expecting a dinner party, and were shocked to walk into a wedding ceremony lit by elegant candles in our garden scattered with succulents, herbs, and vintage 20’s décor!
How did you come up with the Tiato/An Catering concept?
With all of the Oscar celebrations at Crustacean and word-of-mouth from our celebrity clientele, my mother got more and more requests to provide her exquisite menu for offsite special events. So, I launched An Catering in 2006—combining my love for food, art, and past experience in the fashion industry. Soon after, An Catering was named, “ Star Caterer to the Stars” in 2008 by the Los Angeles Times! Eventually my catering division of Crustacean became so popular that Mama told me to “Go find your own kitchen!” So…I did! I designed a space that worked as both special events venue and eco-chic breakfast and lunch spot, and a home base for An Catering. I converted a former dimly-lit diner/cafeteria into an earthy venue full of movable banquet chairs made of sustainable wood, repurposed structures, cascading succulents and brightly colored flowers, and repurposed vignettes. We even have a functional, on-site herb garden that we use to add ingredients to our cooking!
What is currently on the horizon for An Catering and Tiato?
We are so excited that An Catering was just announced as a finalist for a national BizBash event style award for “Best Sustainability/Corporate Social Responsibility Program” for our Tree People organization “Earth Day Soiree” event! The winners will be announced live at a national gathering in New York City, Bizbash Live, on November 15th.
Images courtesy of An Catering