Sunshine Puey Of Gourmandise Shares The Secrets To Her Casual Yet Luxe Grazing Tables
Although she initially didn’t plan to become a home-based cook, Chef Sunshine Puey’s path seems to always lead her back towards food. She admits the transition was actually a blessing in disguise after their restaurant The Goose Station closed more than two years ago. “I still wanted to be involved with food and a lot of people were asking where they could still try my food. So I began accepting orders from home, and since I am raising two young boys, I’m happy that I can work from home and still do that,” she says.
Sunshine’s background is in education but the call of culinary school beckoned after she finished college. With some encouragement from her mom, she decided to study cuisine and pastry at the Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco as a test run. “I was in the typical crossroads of what to do, and cooking was always a hobby of mine. It was a short course so if I didn’t like it, it wouldn’t be a waste of time, but it was also enough for me to learn the basics. But I ended really enjoying it so that’s why I decided to continue studying and to pursue it as a career,” she recalls. She then went on to study at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and the Ecole Ritz Escoffier in Paris.
Aside from her successful Gourmandise business, Sunshine is now one of the top chefs when it comes to preparing impressive grazing tables for parties. She admits that if she were to have a signature setup, she would prefer it to be very casual and a little tropical. “I love the whole grazing trend nowadays because it just makes entertaining or dining out just so much more casual yet still luxe. It sort of encourages people to gather around the table to talk, to pick, to nibble, and it’s a great party centerpiece,” she shares.
Sunshine says the preparations vary, depending on her clients’ specifications. “A lot of people use it as an appetizer table and then they’ll still have dinner. It can also be used in a cocktail party just for snacks. But sometimes people want heavier things so I include finger sandwiches, cold pastas, salads, dips, even cookies and cakes, things like that. So you can upgrade it, depending on what you like. I’ve had a request for kids’ food so that would include a lot of cookies, brownies, donuts, fun things for kids,” she adds.
When it comes to entertaining in her own home, Sunshine practices the same casual and laid-back vibe she creates for her works of edible art. “I do have friends over every once in a while. We like to stay in the lanai outside and it’s always very casual, nothing formal. I like my guests to feel nourished and always happy vibes, something memorable, something that would stand out when they recall the party and think, ‘Yeah that really was a great spread,’” she admits.
As one of the most popular (and prettiest!) chefs in the country, it didn’t take Sunshine more than a few seconds to share with us her ideal five-course meal. “It will probably start with oysters and caviar followed by a foie gras dish, pan-seared with some type of fruit compote brioche balsamic. Third course would definitely be a seafood dish, perhaps butter poached lobster with a curry sauce. Main course would always be steak. I love the Chuleton style Spanish Galician beef. And dessert would definitely be something chocolate-based. I studied both cooking and baking so I really enjoy doing both. Now I’ve sort of gravitated towards sweets, but I really love doing savory and sweet,” she says.
Sunshine Puey’s Best Grazing Tips: Four Ways to Create an Unforgettable Grazing Table
1. Make it eye-catching. “I keep things interesting visually as well as taste-wise so I have an assortment of cheeses or different cold cuts as well as fruits of different colors, which are presented in different shapes and sizes.”
2. Think convenience. “Think about what’s easy for people to pick up, as you don’t want to have them use a fork and knife, so offer something really easy and simple.”
3. Think out of the box. “Use what you already have. There’s no need to buy new things. And then it’s always fun to play around with things. Just think about color and ease. I also don’t like anything that’s too tall (that obscures the view) so you can still talk to people.”
4. Play with colors and textures. “I always love adding fresh flowers for color and it really uplifts the table. I like having a spillover and using wooden planks. I like using things with different heights and levels and textures.”
Sunshine’s Favorite Things for Entertaining
1. KitchenAid mixer. Sunshine’s most hardworking piece of equipment in the kitchen is also one of the first things she bought when she started culinary school. “I can’t bake without it and I’ve gone through several already,” she says.
2. Le Creuset pans and cast iron pots. Even with an already huge collection at home, Sunshine admits she still ends up buying more when she sees new and worthy additions to her kitchen. She loves how versatile the pans are for all kinds of dishes.
3. The gin cart. A cold cocktail is a staple for Sunshine whether she’s having some friends over or just want to unwind by herself after a long day.
4. Sunflowers. Apart from decorating their home with various kinds of flowers and plants, Sunshine and her sons are fans of the Plants versus Zombies game so she obliges their request to buy some for their home. She also bought fiddle leaf fig trees that she planted in their garden.
5. Decorative birds. Sunshine admits that this was an impulse buy during her yearly trip to Tokyo with her mom and sister. She says she is a highly visual person who gets inspired with things and loves doing research in different places. “My decorative pieces are mostly from different travels. I’ll see it and I’ll buy it. I’ll go to flea markets or things like that,” she says.
6. Throw pillows. A big fan of patterns, colors, and textures, Sunshine likes to mix her finds sourced from different sources. Her pillows were bought from Pottery Barn, Target, and a local bazaar.
7. Bottled sauces. While trying to think of new items to expand her menu, Sunshine started making homemade sauces, which included her family’s roasted tomato cream that she only makes in limited numbers with every batch. “I cook the tomatoes really long until they’re almost black. So there’s almost like a charred flavor and then I simmer it for about one to two hours. It’s really good so it’s one of my favorites,” she says.
*This article was originally published in Metro Home & Entertaining magazine.
Photographs by Paulo Valenzuela for Metro Home & Entertaining