FIG Catering isn’t trying to be the hippest caterer in Chicago. They’re not into molecular gastronomy, they don’t dig Rachel Ray and other Food Network “personalities,” and they are not the ones to call on for a family-style mostacciolli dinner for your next family reunion. Instead, FIG (“For Intimate Gatherings”) aims to provide customized menus with upscale, unpretentious, “non-catering food” for your small events. Created in 2005, FIG is comprised of Justin Hall and Molly Schemper, who just happen to be a couple.
Justin and Molly met at Poag Mahone’s, an Irish-American alehouse in Chicago’s financial district. Justin cooked and Molly waitressed; it was a match made in culinary heaven. With Molly’s marketing background and Justin’s culinary training from the Culinary and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, the two became business partners after dating for only five months. Justin prepares most of FIG’s savory items, and Molly covers the sweets. Both draw inspiration from cookbooks and frequenting their favorite Chicago restaurants: Molly’s latest frontrunner is Frontera Grill, and Justin’s is Spring World.
A little known fact: Justin has auditioned for Top Chef three times. “Unfortunately, Top Chef is all about personality, not raw talent,” Justin explained. He revealed that with each audition, the same casting agents asked him the same two questions: 1) “Why do you want to be on the show”, and 2) “What can you add?” On Justin’s third attempt at auditioning, he brought along his truffle white cheddar popcorn and white grape gazpacho for the panel. Much to his chagrin, they didn’t eat the food in front of him. Although he hasn’t received a call back, he’s confident in his versatile cooking style and is trying out again for the next season.
FIG offers individually packaged, fresh gourmet meals (menus change weekly) that can be delivered to your door, in whatever quantity you request. Don’t expect frozen meals á la Seattle Sutton; only fresh, organic ingredients are used. Try ethnic options like Chicken Tikka Masala with Curried Cauliflower and Potatoes or a seafood dish like Horseradish and Matzo Crusted Halibut with Steamed Broccoli and Potato Latkes. Take home a batch of Spring Rolls for an appetizer and Molly’s signature Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting for $25, and you’ve got yourself a dinner party without the work! Meals are $17 each, 6 or more of one meal costs only $14.
FIG specializes in small events; Molly and Justin stress that “an intimate gathering does not mean your daughter’s wedding for 300 guests or your company holiday party at the Field Museum.” Instead, FIG caters seated meals for up to 30 guests, buffets for up to 60 guests, and cocktail parties for up to 100. Molly and Justin typically will ask their new client what their favorite foods are, and will create three menu options for them to choose from. Every menu is different; there’s no set catering menu to choose from. FIG’s attention to the individual carries over to the in-home cooking classes they offer. Justin and Molly recommend cooking classes as a non-traditional Bachelorette party idea, for kids’ birthday parties, or for a girls’ night in.
Justin and Molly maintain a Food Blog, “Food Talk with Fig,” in which they list upcoming FIG appearances and events, cooking tips, food musings (“I love bacon, but…it can to easily be used as a crutch to help those with a lack of food knowledge look as though they were qualified”) and recipes. Molly’s Caramel Pear Torte is delicious and decadent, and we’re happy to give a FIG about it.
Caramel Pear Torte, courtesy of FIG Catering.
For the caramel:
½ cup sugar
2 Tbs. water
2 Tbs. butter
For the torte:
2 large firm pears (D’anjou or Bartlett), cored and sliced
½ cup sliced almond
1 ½ cup flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. ground ginger
pinch of salt
¾ C. Sugar
¼ lb/1 stick unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
½ cup sour cream
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp. almond extract
Preheat oven to 350. In a heavy 9″ skillet, mix the sugar with enough water to moisten (it should look like wet sand – good for building a castle). Bring to a boil over medium high heat, without stirring; boil until it reaches a dark caramel color (swirl the pan if the caramel is not browning evenly). Remove from heat and add butter – stand back or cover to avoid splashing.
1850 S. Blue Island Avenue
*Originally published in Gaper’s Block.