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By the Way: High Tea at the library

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When Terri Randolph, director of the Riegelsville Public Library, sold tickets to the Full British High Tea, a fundraiser, she encouraged people attending to “dress up.”

And that they did, arriving at the town’s borough hall on a sunny Sunday afternoon, some wearing hats and period clothes, dragging out the pearls and attaching fascinators, those fanciful little head dresses de rigueur for royal weddings. There were even some ties, a vanishing accessory, worn by jacketed men.

“We thought maybe 30 people would come, but we actually sold 60 tickets, the absolute maximum the room would hold,” a delighted Randolph said. She said, “We’ll have to find a larger place if we do this again.”

Executive chef Nikki Cuya, who lives in Riegelsville and runs her own catering business, turned the bare-bones community room into a festive place with flower-bedecked draperies, white tablecloths, china and silver and handsome tiered platters fairly groaning with fancy tea sandwiches, cream puff swans, raspberry creams, lemon Victoria petit fours and chocolate truffle meringues. These were topped off with strawberries stuffed with cheesecake, scones, Devonshire cream, apricot jam and cream Earl Grey tea, right out of Downton Abbey.

Cuya, who said she has specialized in authentic international foods for years, was especially pleased when three British ladies told her, “Spot on,” after enjoying her presentation. Other internationals attending the event were from Australia and Poland. Locally people came from as far away as King of Prussia and some New Jersey towns, she said.

Cuya, who trained as a pastry chef, said she had found that too confining, branched out into global feasts and never turned back. Now, Cathy Kates of Warminster is apprenticing as her pastry chef.

Cuya’s husband, Carl, is a retired Navy pilot. They have seven children and were posted in San Diego and St. Augustine before moving to New Hope and later to Riegelsville. Their home now is as close as one can get to the Delaware River without falling in. The fact that Carl is Peruvian may have sparked his wife’s interest in international meals.

In that handsome kitchen with its panoramc river views, Cuya plans and prepares for private dinners, engagement and bridal showers and weddings. She also teaches cooking and suggests hosting a cooking class as part of a bridal shower. “That can really be fun—and useful,” Cuya said.

She has an informal group of women for whom she arranges authentic international meal at regional restaurants that offer foreign fare – “not Americanized international dishes but the real thing,” she said.

She loves staging the meals, too, and there are seemingly few limits to her imagination. A few years ago, she asked Carl what kind of dinner he’d like for Valentine’s Day. He said he’d like to feel as though he were looking down at the Earth from a space ship – after, all he was pilot.

Undaunted, she made a few phone calls, created a special menu and treated him to dinner at the Robert J. Novins Planetarium at Ocean County College in Tom’s River, N.J.

In St. Augustine, Cuya often cooked for celebrities like Brooke Shields, Don Johnson and the full cast of “Miami Vice,” as well as the cast of “Hill Street Blues.” She also planned the wedding of Johnson’s personal secretary.

Cuya has done private garden parties – hats and white gloves – as well as more informal Caribbean pool parties – and almost everything in between.

“When we were posted up here we thought we’d stay awhile and then maybe go back to Florida, but we’ve come to love it,” she said, as she looked out the window to the river that’s her backyard.

Cuya can be reached at 267-288-8728.


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