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You know you’ve succeeded in the catering business when the rich and famous are feasting on your specialties.

So when Backstreet Boy Nick Carter asked for more tuxedo chicken - fried chicken nuggets covered in black and white sesame seeds and served with honey mustard sauce - Bruce Kessler, owner of Brooklyn-based Julienne Catering company, knew he had created a hit menu for the boy band’s June 14 "Never Gone" record release party.

Famous clients, like the Backstreet Boys event at Manhattan’s trendy nightclub Suede, make Kessler’s catering world seem larger than life.

Open since September, Julienne Catering is the Carroll Gardens branch of Kessler’s Manhattan-based, 6-year-old CEO (Catering and Entertainment Organization) Group. Julienne’s bread-and-butter comes from catering three or four times a week at various types of venues, particularly A-list parties and concerts. Past events have included parties for model-actress Grace Jones and pop group the Black Eyed Peas, among many others.

"It’s hard to start a business in a residential neighborhood," Kessler told GO Brooklyn. "The core of my business is corporate entertainm­ent."

Although Julienne is nestled in Carroll Gardens, amid rows of brick townhouses, its bright orange-and-blue color scheme, peeking out from the corner of Clinton and Nelson streets, gives it away. The colorful sign and awning let you know that you have arrived at the right place - and not just somebody’s cheerfully decorated front yard.

But in addition to being a catering company, Kessler’s new Clinton Street outpost is also a cafe in the making. At the moment, there’s no indoor seating, but the restaurant’s front patio, which can squeeze in 10 guests, is open to the public during the summer months. The bright-blue swing chair is a crowd favorite.

"Mothers with newborns love it," said Kessler of the vintage metal swing, which, he said, he found three blocks away.

The mismatched, worn-out tables and chairs, and the blue carpet underneath, are put together in a way that gives the bright and sunny patio a trendy, artsy vibe that’s cozy, too.

"I want to have a SoHo feel and bring it to Brooklyn while maintaining a neighborhood atmosphere," said the owner.

Things weren’t always so bright and sunny for Kessler. His catering business, which was once located blocks away from the World Trade Center, lost between $150,000 and $200,000 in the year following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Kessler estimated.

Upon receiving long-awaited government aid, Kessler moved CEO to 580 Broadway in SoHo before opening the Brooklyn location and turning the Manhattan office into an event-planning company.

He named his catering company and cafe after his girlfriend’s 7-year-old son, Julien. He modified the name into a French culinary term by attaching the "-ne" at the end. (To julienne vegetables is to slice them into small sticks.)

Relaxing in Julienne’s front garden with soothing jazz tunes in the background - Kessler’s current music of choice - while nibbling on a fresh salad or a tasty sandwich, makes for a perfect way to spend a lazy summer afternoon. And every Sunday, from 1 pm to 4 pm, a jazz guitarist, Shogo Kubo, provides live entertainment.

Kessler chose to focus on serving foods he loves; Julienne’s menu consists primarily of bistro food with a touch of Asian and Latin flavor. He says that although he’s not labeling his cafe a health food place, his products are made from fresh ingredients. "Fresh Food Fast!" is the company’s motto.

In addition to breakfast basics like muffins, hot oatmeal and a wide range of omelets, Julienne offers soups, ciabatta bread sandwiches, paninis, quesadillas, and specialties like the chorizo in puff pastry with Dijon mustard or chicken porcupines (cubed chicken lightly fried with sliced almonds) and served with honey mustard. And let’s not forget sweets, such as mini cheesecakes or Julien’s favorite, freshly baked cookies.

For their catering events, Julienne has a special menu featuring a vast selection of hors d’oeuvres that includes barbecue chicken with crumpled Stilton in blue-corn shells, smoked turkey, hummus-stuffed mini pitas, sweet potato fritters with creme fraiche and, that Backstreet Boy favorite, tuxedo chicken.

The buffet dinner menu offers grilled chicken served three different ways. It can be prepared with pesto cream, portobello mushrooms and white asparagus or Provencal-style with tomatoes, olives and capers. Cajun-style grilled chicken with crispy shallots and peppercorn cream is also an option. Vegetarian selections, grilled salmon or tuna and herb-roasted Cornish hen are represented as well. Julienne’s specialty food station menu features three different types of cuisines: "When in Rome," "Southwestern Tex-Mex Fiesta" and "Mediterranean Mezze Bar."

The menu is sweetened with cream puffs, Napoleons, eclairs and other finger pastries, along with strawberry-, blueberry- and chocolate-swirl mini cheesecakes, chocolate and walnut brownies and cookies with chocolate chips, peanut butter chunks, oatmeal and raisins, or macadamia nuts.

That Tuesday, Julienne Catering satisfied Backstreet Boy appetites twice in the same day, having provided its services earlier in the day at an event sponsored by Teen People magazine in honor of the members of the band, which once claimed a fan base of hundreds of thousands of screaming teenagers. For the party celebrating the release of their comeback, "Never Gone," the Backstreet Boys’ choice of hors d’oeuvres included spicy tuna, salmon and California sushi rolls, bite-size phyllo dough cups stuffed with portobello mushrooms, spinach and feta cheese, assorted bruschetta, vegetarian spring rolls and Florida crab cakes with sunshine aioli, made with lemon, ginger, garlic and a food coloring tint to give it the "sunshine" hue. The dinner was served buffet-style and it featured, among other things, grilled chicken and salmon.

But you don’t have to be a star to eat like one in Brooklyn. If you can’t manage to get a seat in the limited outdoor garden, Julienne’s crew of five employees will prepare your food to go. Or get it delivered anywhere in Carroll Gardens or Red Hook. (Although Kessler mostly caters corporate parties and entertainment events - feeding an average of 300 mouths at a time, he makes deliveries to local residents for orders of $10 or more.)

And come winter, he intends to turn the front patio into an enclosed, heated garden. Kessler’s plans for the future include expanding the Julienne cafe and opening a restaurant and wine bar either at the same location or elsewhere in the neighborhood. But one thing is certain: Kessler wants to stay in Brooklyn.

Said the Boerum Hill resident, "I’m committed to Brooklyn, because my roots are here."


Julienne Catering (543 Clinton St. at Nelson Street in Carroll Gardens) is open Tuesday through Friday, from 8 am to 7 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm. Sandwiches: $5-$7.50. To order, call (718) 935-1161. Catering menu prices range between $18 and $28 per person for hors d’oeuvres, depending on number of guests and items selected. Buffet dinner starts at $29 per guest and includes an entree, side, salad and dessert. For more information visit For special events planning call (212) 334-5454.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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