SOCIALIZE AND MAINTAIN DISTANCE
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Michael Tracy, who owns Elena’s Michael Catering, doesn’t want to see anyone eating alone.
“The idea is this,” he said. “You call up five to seven of your friends, and I’ll deliver meals to all of them. Then you get online” – using Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts – “and have a virtual dinner party.”
With much of his popular catering business stymied by COVID-19 lockdowns, Tracy has turned to individual catering, serving his signature deli sandwiches and event-worthy dinner platters for takeout from his kitchen location in the Hearths a’Fire plaza on Route 23 in Southside Oneonta.
“I do a lot of catering work for the colleges,” he said. “But all of the sports teams cancelled their seasons. So when I saw that people couldn’t go out to eat or have meals with their friends, I got this idea.”
He was inspired, in part, by a “silent concert” he witnessed in 2011 while coaching at Hamilton College. “Elena and I were in line at the college observatory to look at the rings of Jupiter,” he said. “All of the sudden, we heard all these students just going crazy, and we were all looking around to see what was going on.”
In the field below, students had gathered, each with their iPod, and were dancing, shouting and singing. “The girls behind us told us the school wouldn’t let them have a concert because the neighbors would complain about the noise,” he said.
“So all the students put the same 15 songs on their iPods, went out in the field and listened together.”
Like any good dinner party, Michael’s concept includes an appetizer – asparagus wrapped in puff pastry, sausages wrapped in bacon or signature eggplant caponata (that Sicilian ratatouille).
Then, an entrée – roasted chicken, pork tenderloin or chicken parmesan with Elena’s Italian sauce, each with roasted potatoes and a spring salad.
For dessert, a piece of Tracy’s own homemade cheesecake and Italian cookies.
“This way, you can have your appetizer and cocktails at 7, dinner at 8 and dessert at 9,” he said.
And as a bonus, no one host is stuck doing all the dishes at the end of the night.
Tracy, a former football coach, started his catering business in 2018 to maintain the legacy of his wife, the well-known Oneonta chef and pastry chef, Elena Doyle, after her death earlier that year.
Since then, he has become a fixture on the catering scene in his own right, especially with his sandwiches, which he boxes with chips and a drink for sports teams as his “coach saver” package.
But he’s still open to catering large events – from a distance. “I was asked to do 10 sandwiches for a Springbrook house,” he said.
“A few days later, I was called to do 10 meals. And then a little while later, I was asked to do 300 desserts!”
Because food, he believes, is a way of bonding with the people you love, even when you can’t be together.
“It’s socialization versus social distancing,” he said. “You can still talk to your friends and family and enjoy a good meal together. You have that in common, you can say, ‘Oh, the asparagus is really good’ and talk about what you’re all eating.”