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For the HomeFor the GardenFood & EntertainingResourcesArticle Archive

Life of the Party

Author: Rebecca L. Rhoades
Issue: May, 2017, Page 48
Photos by Mark Lipczynski

Bua toasts to another delicious luncheon with (from left to right) Nancy Hammer and her daughter Sandy Del Re, and Bua’s sister, Joanne Menapace.
Renowned for her rum cakes, beloved local baker Cathy Bua is helping take the stress out of home entertaining

People always said, ‘Oh, you’ll be glad when you’re not baking cakes anymore and are able to relax,’” says Cathy Bua. “But when you have a passion for something, you always want to do it.”

For more than 40 years, Bua was a fixture in the Valley as the owner and public face of Cathy’s Rum Cake Caterers, which was renowned for its delectable namesake dessert as well as its full catering services. A party or wedding simply wasn’t a must-attend event unless the evening ended with a slice of one of Bua’s signature cakes. The business may have shuttered its doors in 2011, but lack of a storefront isn’t enough to keep this 1999 Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner out of the kitchen.

Preparing fresh ingredients for the afternoon’s meal.
With help from her sister, Joanne Menapace, who served as head chef and recipe creator for Bua’s catering business, the culinary connoisseur is filling another need: helping folks master the art of home entertaining. The siblings come to your home and teach you and your guests how to prepare a meal using their recipes, including family dishes that have been handed down for generations. But their work goes beyond basic cooking classes. “You not only want things to taste great, but you want them to look great too,” notes Bua. The pair also showcase skills such as creating a theme, designing a centerpiece or setting a table using the items you already have in your home.

“We’ve always had a passion for cooking,” says Menapace. On this day, the two are at the Chandler home of Sandy Del Re and her mother, Nancy Hammer, to teach the women how to make a few new menu items and offer tips and guidance for throwing a mouthwatering, picture-perfect springtime soiree. Bua bustles around the large kitchen as though it was her own home, arranging place settings for four at the granite-topped breakfast bar and keeping a close eye on the garlic bread as it bubbles in the nearby oven, all while explaining every process to her “guests.” Menapace works deftly, adding olive oil and vinegar to a large bowl of chopped watermelon, sliced onions and olives. “I’ve always been the background person,” she says with a slight laugh, her calm demeanor a contrast to her sister’s high-energy performance.

From cakes to parties, Cathy Bua now brings her culinary and entertaining skills to your home.
“We enjoy sharing our recipes and our talents because it’s been our life,” Bua says. “Food, cooking and enjoying is what it’s all about. So why not share that passion and show people how to use what they already have and take the fear out of party-giving or entertaining?

“Just like with clothes or paint colors, entertaining is blending and putting certain elements together to create the magic of a fabulous buffet or memorable cocktail party,” she continues.

To illustrate her belief that fine china is out and fun is in, Bua uses yellow platters to serve the day’s menu—lemon chicken, watermelon salad and Italian-style broccoli with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Dessert—a decadent chocolate mousse made from an old family recipe—is presented in antique drinkware, which rests on green stoneware saucers. For a colorful centerpiece befitting a casual spring get-together, she piles a glass cake plate high with plump, ripe tomatoes. “I think fun is the new word for elegant,” she notes.

“Platters create a different way of presenting food,” says Bua, who used a long platter to serve Italian-style broccoli, lemon chicken and watermelon salad.
For Sandy and Nancy, the afternoon get-together opened their eyes to the ease with which one can create a fun, memorable meal. “I feel confidence in everything Cathy and Joanne do and in all the little details their gifted eyes can see. Nothing is left unfinished, and nothing is overlooked,” says Sandy. “I love the colors they chose for the table setting, and the watermelon salad is delicious.”

Teaching people to work with what’s at hand and sparking a glimmer of creativity is what it’s all about for Bua, as well as for her sister. “So many people say, ‘If I only knew what to do.’ They’re worried that their guests won’t like what they present, or that throwing a party is too expensive,” she notes.

“The magic is all around you,” she adds with a smile. “All you have to do is pull it out and put it together.”

If anyone knows parties, it’s Cathy Bua. A fixture on the Valley culinary scene for more than 40 years, Bua has catered more gatherings and weddings than she can count. Now she’s bringing her skills to the home setting, teaching uncertain hosts and hostesses how to throw a winning affair that’s unique and personal. “A lot of people think they have to have something fancy, but today you can do anything,” she notes. “I want to make entertaining fun, whether you’re throwing a party for four or 400.” Following are some of her tips for creating a memorable get-together that will thrill even the pickiest of guests. 

Vintage dishes can spark creativity. Antique drinking glasses set on stoneware saucers is a fun option for presenting creamy desserts, such as chocolate mousse.
Mix and match: Mix different styles of serveware in the same color family or similar styles in complementary hues for a display that’s relaxed but not hodgepodge. Elongated platters instead of predictable round plates are ideal for a Mexican meal or even a warm sandwich—pair it with a bowl of soup that also rests on the platter.

Free yourself from formal meals: Dinner parties no longer have to be sit-down affairs with traditional steak or prime rib menus. “People think they have to have some special party food, but anything that’s delicious is going to be wonderful,” notes Bua. “My sister has a recipe for meatballs that is just fabulous, and they can be frozen. Why not do a meatball sub with some beer and wine, or even a sangria?” Another fun idea is to throw an hors d’oeuvre or tapas party.

Spice up your tabletop: Bua suggests using herbs and citrus as a centerpiece in place of traditional flowers. “Even a few sprigs of rosemary from your backyard will make it smell fresh and inviting.” Shop vintage stores for serving dishes and use them in unexpected ways: Present cheese on a silver cake plate, let guests ladle their own bowl of soup from a large antique tureen or serve desserts on live-edge tree slices.

Personalize your party: Collections also make for great conversation-starting tablescapes. Love pigs? Throw a pig-themed party, complete with porcine dishes, knickknacks and cutting board—bacon and pork dishes are optional. “Use your collections on the table,” Bua emphasizes. “Make it interesting. You bought these items because you loved them, so why aren’t they out?”

Quench your thirst with spa waters: Add pieces of cantaloupe, mint, cucumber or citrus to pitchers of water for refreshing, cost-effective beverages that not only taste but also look great. “Do one with mint or thai basil, a piece of parsley and maybe a wedge of cantaloupe or watermelon,” Bua suggests. “They look beautiful and are so much better than sodas.”

Cathy Bua’s Watermelon Salad

1 medium-size seedless watermelon, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup whole pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt to taste

In a large bowl, mix watermelon, olives, basil and mint. This may be done up to two hours before serving. Refrigerate. Immediately before serving, add cilantro, onion and feta cheese. Toss with olive oil and vinegar.

Serves 8-10

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