Catherine O’Meara

Chef Catherine O’Meara

If you’ve visited the Windy City in July for the Taste of Chicago at any point in the last 16 years, you may have found yourself at a chef’s demonstration emceed by Chicago-area caterer Catherine O’Meara.

As one of the nation’s premier outdoor food festivals, the Taste of Chicago attracts renowned local and celebrity chefs including Rick Bayless, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Giada DeLaurentiis, Michael Chiarello and many others.

O’Meara, who has shared the stage with all of them, summarizes her philosophy as “think global and buy local.” Her Lake Bluff company, Heller Catering, uses seasonal ingredients and supports local vendors then relies on The Perfect Purée for some exotic infusion.

“I have so many applications with a number of The Perfect Purée products that I think I could write my own ‘Perfect Purée’ cookbook,” O’Meara says.

O’Meara has been cooking with The Perfect Purée products for five years since her fishmonger, Seafood Merchants of Vernon Hills, gave her a box of samples. Orange Zest, Ginger Puree and Mandarin-Tangerine Concentrate are the stars of her rotation, with the latter two pairing well in a sauce for sea bass, topped with roasted macadamia nuts and micro greens. She frequently uses Ginger Puree in breakfast pastries, too.

Another favorite is Blood Orange, which O’Meara whisks into a vinegar-free salad dressing for organic greens, sea salt-roasted beets, chai-inspired pecans, goat cheese, red onions and orange slices.

O’Meara doesn’t consider herself a mixologist but last fall entered The Perfect Purée Chilled Magazine Flavor Your Way cocktail contest and became one of 25 semi-finalists. Her deep pink concoction called Passion & Grace contained The Perfect Purée Yuzu Luxe Sour and Sweet Hibiscus blends, along with pink grapefruit juice, Skinny Girl Vodka and Grand Marnier. Rimmed with The Perfect Purée Ginger, rolled in candied ginger and garnished with an elaborate twist, it looked almost too beautiful to drink.

“We were asked to come up with a drink for an event we catered for Breast Cancer Awareness and the timing with [the] contest coincided so we played with flavors,” O’Meara said.

O’Meara purchased Heller Catering in 2001 and simultaneously enrolled in the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago for a culinary degree. Prior to that, she spent three years as the Director of Catering at Wheaton College, which under her leadership became top in the nation for food quality, service and selection and pioneered vegan and vegetarian menus.

O’Meara appreciates the opportunity to use creativity and imagination in her menus.

“I get bored and have to try new things constantly,” she says. “The North Shore is quite diverse in their tastes and sometimes they want simple and other times, a little more upscale. I get excited when we get to write menus that are out of the ordinary.”

O’Meara adapts her recipes from cooking magazines and cookbooks, or creates them serendipitously out of need. For a recent ladies luncheon, she crafted a sauce from The Perfect Purée Mandarin-Tangerine and Red Raspberry and served it over roast chicken, topped with fresh berries.

“The entire line of [The Perfect Purée] culinary purees inspires me . . . because the products are rich in flavor and consistent in quality. I will play with any new flavor The perfect Purée comes up with,” she says.

Recipes

Asian Pear & Sweet Ginger Coffee Cake

Cranberry Orange Walnut Coffee Cake

Passion & Grace

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