Caterers’ Tales: The ups, the downs, and the downpours

Jaime Hamlin has been catering events for over 20 years. — Photo courtesy of Jaime Hamlin

Jaime Hamlin, owner of V. Jaime Hamlin and Sons Catering and Party Design, has been hosting weddings and events for over 20 years. From small, informal gatherings to lavish events sprinkled with high profile guests, Ms. Hamlin maintains one philosophy, “Our thing is — really good music and good food adds up to a good party.”

Ms. Hamlin was a film school grad when she first came to the Vineyard almost 40 years ago. Undaunted by her lack of experience in a professional kitchen, she took a job as chef at a new restaurant called Martha’s Cheeses. Fortunately, Ms. Hamlin’s sister owned two restaurants in New York City. “I was on the phone with her all the time asking things like, ‘How do you make fried chicken?'” says Ms. Hamlin, “You eventually learn.”

Not only did she learn all facets of the culinary trade, she also acquired a real passion for preparing and serving food. Ms. Hamlin went on to open three restaurants — the Feast in Edgartown, the up-Island Feast and the Oyster Bar in Oak Bluffs. In 1994 she settled in to her present line of work and now runs one of the most sought-after, successful catering businesses on Island.

Over the years Hamlin and Sons has feted a number of stars of the entertainment world — and the political arena. Ms. Hamlin relates the story of two particularly memorable events. One was the wedding of Paul McCartney’s nephew to a Katama girl in the late 90s. The ex-Beatle was in attendance and the staff was understandably a little star struck. “They were all in awe, saying, ‘That’s Paul McCartney,'” recalls Ms. Hamlin, “The rental company took the chair he sat in and wrote Paul McCartney on it.”

However, another group outshone the superstar musician in Ms. Hamlin’s eyes. She catered a Democratic fundraiser at a private home two years ago. “I’m a big Democrat,” says Ms. Hamlin, “My son and I just stood by the bar and said, ‘There’s Chuck Schumer, There’s Byron Dorgan. All the stars of the Democratic Party are here.'”

Another Democrat – Bill Clinton – won Ms. Hamlin’s admiration after his appearance at a number of parties that she catered during the time that the former first family vacationed here. “He’s one of those people that just throws off blues sparks when he walks in a room. All eyes are riveted,” says Ms. Hamlin. “He always stops in the kitchen first and says hello to everyone. Afterwards he goes back through the kitchen and says ‘Thanks so much. That was great.’ I don’t know if he does that everywhere but that’s been my experience.”

Another celebrity provided Ms. Hamlin with her favorite wedding moment. During the reception for Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen in 1995, the bride staged a surprise for her famous hubby. “After dinner she nodded to band,” says Ms. Hamlin, “She got up on stage and sang ‘My Funny Valentine’ a capella. It was really really sweet. I think when you have that kind of surprising interaction with your groom it’s just adorable.”

It’s not all sunshine and roses in the catering world however. Any time you plan an outdoor wedding, you’re at the mercy of the unpredictable nature of Vineyard weather. Ms. Hamlin recalls one wedding reception that almost got derailed by a flash flood. The scene was the idyllic Capt. Flanders House in Chilmark on what started out as a beautiful day and early evening. With the party in full swing inside a large tent, the weather turned suddenly. “It was the most unbelievable thunder storm,” says Ms. Hamlin, “The light bulbs were exploding in the tent. There was water coursing down the hill and filling up the glasses on the tables.”

The band left and the remaining guests headed for high ground – in this case, the dance floor. Thinking fast, Ms. Hamlin got candles lit and handed around bottles of champagne (there’s nothing champagne can’t remedy). “I said, ‘Share with your neighbors. Pass it around.'” The stragglers stayed on to the bitter end despite the fact that the water level on the grassy areas reached around four inches.

With all the ups and downs (and downpours) that Ms. Hamlin can recall, it’s her own gatherings that she cherishes the most, like the Christmas party that she has hosted annually for the past three decades. The party has outgrown the early sit down dinner days. Now 30 to 40 people enjoy hors d’oeuvres cocktails, and a buffet dinner the week before Christmas. “Dancing is key,” says Ms. Hamlin, “I love Christmas. I’ve done it for 30 years. Every year I say I’m not going to do it but I have to. It’s become a tradition.”

And Ms. Hamlin’s all-time favorite event? “The best was my wedding last year,” says Ms. Hamlin, who married Paul Lazes at a private home on Lambert’s Cove Road last October. “It was one of those days that was almost surreally beautiful. It was mind blowingly beautiful. A great wedding.”

It can’t hurt to be in the position where, rather than ensuring everyone else’s good time, you’re the one enjoying the party for a change.