“I’m an English farm boy who passed through many interesting phases and places, on the way to becoming the social caterer in Chicago,” George Jewell declares over tea and English fruit cake in his eclectic and perfectly decorated home in West Town. “It’s a mish mash,” he explains about his home, “but somehow it works. That’s the art of catering too.”
Jewell’s impeccable British accent, attire and home décor belie his country roots. Instead, he oozes urbane international sophistication.
Coming from anyone else, his bold statement about being “the” social caterer would sound a bit pompous; from Jewell though, it’s actually understatement.
Growing up on that small farm, Jewell realized, “I certainly wasn’t destined to be a farmer” (though he does stress his appreciation for the freshness of the local foods, especially Devonshire Cream). He made his way to London as a teen and found work as a temporary butler. Soon Jewell was serving in embassies and at elite house parties frequented by royalty. His career also took him to Paris and hospitality school in Lausanne, Switzerland, before he landed in Chicago and became an instant hit.
He founded George L. Jewell Catering Services (now Jewell Events Catering) in 1967. Soon thereafter, Jewell was serving top families and institutions in Chicago and beyond. Some of his favorite memories include catering a gala dinner for Princess Diana at the Field Museum in 1996 as well as many dinners for presidents through the years.
Helping hosts and hostesses put their personal touch on events large and small always gives Jewell particular pleasure too. He regrets that, in general, clients pay less attention to details these days. This change made it easier for him to step back from the day-to-day operations of his eponymous firm in order to better enjoy life at home in Chicago, as well as at his 20-acre Michigan farm and his home in the Chelsea neighborhood in London. Jewell also enjoys having greater flexibility to pop in on the promising international culinary students attending the same school that he did in Switzerland. His private foundation supports this initiative.
As caterer, host or guest, Jewell’s favorite form of entertainment is a small dinner party in a private home. Just a few days before our interview, he attended one in Chicago where Warren Buffett was the guest of honor.
Jewell name-drops with charm. But the quips he sprinkles liberally throughout his conversations are even better. Jewell exudes zest for life. Here is a selection of some of Jewell’s most memorable pronouncements, which serve as helpful and entertaining advice for the dinner-party host.
How to Host a Small Dinner Party
- “Be thoughtful of good conversation when you choose your guests.”
- “Surround yourself with smart people; makes you smarter too.”
- “Little things are important. Learn what your guests like.”
- “Start by setting the liquor on the sideboard to welcome your guests and help them relax or feel free to fix their own drink.”
- “If you are to bring something as a guest, don’t let it be just another candle. Bring an unusual dish you love to share.”
- “Keep it simple when you set the table. But do bring out the silver and finery. Life is too short not to use it.”
- “If you put down a good charger, who cares about the china?”
- “Use linen napkins. But, I don’t like them different colored to the tablecloth.”
- “Start with a simple first course, something one can prepare ahead like Cobb salad with fennel — nothing that will wilt.”
- “We’re all going back to basics. As we get older we go back to what we loved growing up.” (For Jewell, it’s cottage pie.)
- “Don’t try too hard. Just a roasted pheasant and an exciting mashed potato dish will do.”
- “If you like pot roast, have pot roast.”
- “If you like a good cup of coffee, don’t have a demitasse.”
- “If you use a caterer, interview them really well. A good caterer should be able to stand up to the hard questions.”
If our experience with George Jewell is any indication, a good caterer should charm and bring out the best in you too!