BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Edna Morris got a surprise the first time she sampled hors d'oeuvres made by En Garde caterers.
"The food was just incredible," she recalled of the holiday open house.
Morris isn't easily impressed, particularly by food. She is a past president of Red Lobster, has been on the board of the Culinary Institute of America, and is the managing director of a private equity fund that focuses on restaurants and education services. She and her husband, David Forester, own two restaurants. He owns a winery.
En Garde owners Bill Munette and Robb Schoonmaker moved here a year and a half ago from Kennebunkport, Maine, where they operated a catering business for a decade. They returned to this area, where they have family and where they originally started their catering business 20 years ago, then named the Silver Tureen.
"I knew the area could handle the business," said Schoonmaker, 52, who has a degree in hotel restaurant management from Bryant University in Rhode Island and has worked in the food and beverage business for 36 years.
Munette, 46, a chef who has been in the food business for 20 years, learned cooking from his mother and grandmother, who had a wealth of family recipes from Austria, Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
The men found a location for En Garde's kitchen and offices in a building at 400 Indian Rocks Road. More recently, they opened a retail space steps away that has daily prepared meals and side dishes for takeout or eating in at a small table, along with frozen entrees for lunch or dinner.
"Their food is outstanding," said David Forester, who owns Quantum Leap Winery in Orlando.
The retail inventory includes sauces, olive oils, soaps from France, brushed aluminum cutlery, aprons, candles, greeting cards and crystal wine glasses.
En Garde's catering services range from the simple to the sublime, for two to 1,000 people. "We have no set menus," Schoonmaker said. "We customize the menu to the clients and their budgets."
"I used (En Garde) for a celebration of life for my father, who died in January," said Kathy Milam, a real estate investment manager whose husband, Rowland, owns Incredible Edibles. "Robb and Bill just took over the planning, and the food was fabulous."
Dawn LaCross, a marketing director for Tampa Bay Magazine, has worked with Munette and Schoonmaker on several fundraisers. "They plan every single detail to tie in with the event," she said. "The food is just so beautiful you don't want to eat it."
En Garde has special menus for private jets at Tampa and St. Petersburg-Clearwater airports. "We'll go anywhere," Schoonmaker said. "We did a wedding cake for a couple that went to Ireland to be married."
Yes, they flew to Ireland with the cake.