Chef George Sabatino concedes that he has no catering experience.
But he and his guys turned out a thousand-plus meals a day over the summer at Morgan's Pier, on the former site of Rock Lobster on the Delaware.
"I often found myself in awe of his ability to capture his signature knack for seasonality, wit, and deceptive complexity without seeming stuffy or overdone," wrote Craig LaBan in his review.
In his new gig for Four Corners Management, feeding the skaters and cold-weather partiers at the new Waterfront Winterfest surrounding the RiverRink on Penn's Landing, Sabatino is taking a similar approach.
Easy does not do it for Sabatino.
No matter that there are no cooking facilities at Winterfest. He and his staff are using Morgan's Pier's kitchen, a few blocks away, and are trucking over the food. (Over previous winters, management stored the pier's sound system in the kitchen and called it a day.)
Sabatino designed a menu that could be reheated and served effortlessly but that still contains bells and whistles.
Take the pocket pies. It would be easy to simply buy 'em in bulk and dunk them into a deep fryer.
But Sabatino chose to turn a good portion of the kitchen into a pastry lab where chefs Joe Ranakoski and James McKenna whip up a filling of mashed sweet potato, ginger, kale braised in maple syrup, chili flake, and a cranberry-quince compote that they sandwich between their own dough.
"I wanted the taste of the holidays," Sabatino said.
No, George. Why go to all the trouble?
"Because this is my food."
Sabatino also offers smoked turkey legs that are brined for two days and then smoked in apple wood for an hour. He tops them with a scratch gravy. Not a good idea to skate while eating one of these.
His mashed potato fritters are made of cream cheese, butter, cream, and a blend of Idaho and heirloom potatoes from Three Springs Fruit Farm. They're deep-fried and served on a garlic aioli.
Also on the menu are fudge, chocolate-covered popcorn, caramel apples - all made in-house.
Winterfest runs through New Year's; it's free to get in.