New Catering Firm Focuses on Sustainable, Vegetarian Fare

The partners behind Silkstone offer a fresh approach to local cuisine, as well as event design and planning.

By Lisa Cericola October 6, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

Photo: Dan Hallman for BizBash

Ben Towill and Philip Winser’s catering and event design firm is relatively new, but the partners have been planning events together since they were teenagers in the English countryside. “Before we could even drive, we’d spend time at each others’ houses and throw dinner parties,” Winser says. “Instead of drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, we’d cook proper dinners and sit on the terrace.”

After stints working for chefs Rick Stein and Gordon Ramsey, Towill came to New York in 2007 and helped launch the West Village restaurant Kingswood. Meanwhile, Winser honed his skills at U.K.-based event planning firms Party Ingredients and the Admirable Crichton. In 2008, Winser found himself in New York, and the two decided to go into business, combining their event experience and culinary talent. The name Silkstone represents their view of the service industry: “silk” for creativity and elegance, “stone” for integrity and labor.

Like many catering firms, Silkstone focuses on sustainability. But unlike other companies, Winser and Towill prefer a simpler, stripped down approach that emphasizes local and seasonal produce. Vegetable spoons, a signature menu item, are a trio of spoons that hold colorful, bite-sized combinations of vegetables such as zucchini, pine nuts, and basil, beets with horseradish crème fraîche, and candied carrots. “Together they are fantastic, three little tastes. And the colors are visually stimulating,” Towill says. Meat is not at the center of Silkstone’s menus, for environmental and health reasons, but when it is used, it comes from local purveyor Heritage Meats. “We integrate grains and vegetables and use meat as more of a side element,” Towill says.

UBS Financial Services hired Silkstone to cater a 50-person lunch at Urban Zen in June. “Their food was fresh, creative, healthy, and delicious, and aligned perfectly with the serene Urban Zen space and the vibe of the day,” says Emily Joslin, director of marketing for UBS. “The desserts were outstanding, especially the cocoa-dusted dates with mascarpone. And our guests never had to ask for refills on water or elderflower lemonade and hibiscus iced tea.” After the event, Silkstone donated leftovers to City Harvest.

Winser describes the company as “food led,” but says they can handle other aspects of event production such as staffing, finding venues and rentals, sourcing floral and lighting designers, and even creating custom furniture when necessary. For a recent Cadillac event, Silkstone made glass tables with floral arrangements encased inside and a chrome bar. “First and foremost, we make sure [guests] are comfortable and well fed, and second, focus on understanding a company’s brand and how the design works,” Winser says.

If running a catering company wasn’t enough, in September, the partners are opening a restaurant on the Lower East Side. Called Fat Radish, it will offer private dining options and a likeminded menu of local, seasonal fare.

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