Chef caters to a different crowd

There’s nothing as satisfying as a room full of people enjoying your food, says Sarnia chef Mike Barnes.

His career has focused on catering rather than restaurants because Barnes likes the feeling he gets from a happy event organizer or smiling bride.

“At a wedding, I’ll approach the bride and groom to see how they are enjoying the food and it feels good to hear that they like the meal and their guests are happy,” he said.

“Catering gives me a chance to do so many different things.  It’s a whole different world that I find a lot more fun.”

Barnes, 34, graduated from Lambton College’s two-year chef apprenticeship program and was head chef at Mooretown golf course for a time.  That’s when his catering experience began.

He also took a job in the kitchen at the Point Edward Casino eight years ago.

He continues to work there part-time, but always wanted to operate his own business.

So last year, Barnes started Eclipse Catering in a tiny location at the Wiltshire Plaza on Murphy Road.  At the time, chef Normand Piquette, one of the more successful caterers in the region, was retiring and Barnes hoped to pick up some of Piquette’s clientele.

“I did end up picking up several jobs that way,” he said. “I’ve done business lunches and was hired for a shutdown.”

Initially, business was brisk on Murphy Road, but winter hit the catering business hard, said Barnes.

“It was extremely slow this winter.  I did a few parties but it wasn’t enough.”

That’s when he decided to move to a larger location at 266 Russell St. South near Ontario Street.  He’s got far more kitchen and preparation space for catering and he has started an eat-in and take-out lunch business.

“The eat-in brings people to me and then they realize I cater too,” Barnes said.

Business has already picked up since the new Eclipse Catering & Bistro opened April 1.

“I’ve already booked an anniversary party and three other events since moving,” he said. “And I have nine weddings booked for this summer.”

Barnes also prepares frozen family meals including this meatloaf using his grandmother’s recipe.