Alexandria caterer made entertaining her art
Each February, at Alexandria’s annual George Washington Birthday Celebration, Mary Moore would hold an open house that was almost as big an attraction as the parade itself.
Politicos and other parade participants sometimes stepped out of formation to grab a drink or an appetizer at Ms. Moore’s house alongside the parade route, joining dozens or even hundreds of other people.
Ms. Moore was a professional caterer, whose clients included the U.S. Supreme Court, but her neighbors knew her as a consummate entertainer whose tiny house in Old Town was always filled with two things: interesting people and excellent food.
“Mary was an iconic figure in the neighborhood,” said Gail Camalier, a friend and neighbor. “Her parties were legendary. People who ate her food loved it and remembered her.”
Besides her cooking, Ms. Moore was known for her sense of presentation. She had an ability to pull everything together — tablecloths, centerpieces, flowers — with just the right flourish.
“She just had this eye for perfection,” neighbor Erick Chiang said.
A onetime painter, Ms. Moore turned her sense of artistry to food as the owner of Much Moore Quality Catering in Alexandria. For more than a decade, she had been the Supreme Court’s caterer of choice and had handled many private gatherings for the justices.
She was comfortable with dishes from almost any cuisine and often gave classes on how to make sushi. Her other culinary specialties included salads and beef tenderloin.
“She taught me how to cook a tenderloin,” Chiang said. “Four hundred twenty-five degrees and 25 minutes — it always came out perfectly done.”
In a typical week, Ms. Moore had five to 10 catering jobs that included weddings, business lunches, cocktail receptions and private parties. She had catered a large event in Alabama days before she died at Inova Alexandria Hospital on Jan. 18 of an acute form of leukemia. She was 62.
At her first catering job in 1982, Ms. Moore prepared food for more than 150 people over open fires at an outdoor building site in Tysons Corner. Her reputation quickly spread by word of mouth.
Ms. Moore did most of her work at a commercial kitchen she owned in Old Town, designing each menu and working with a florist on the flower arrangements. She often had as many as 75 people working for her.
She could look inside anyone’s refrigerator and instantly whip up a memorable meal, friends said.
Camalier, a real estate agent, recalled being delayed on a business trip to New York on a day when she had planned to give a dinner party at her home in Alexandria. With no food ready, she called Ms. Moore in desperation.
“When I got home,” Camalier said, “ the dinner was in the oven.”
Before the evening was over, guests were asking for recipes.
Mary Ellen Burrell was born March 27, 1948, in Washington and grew up in Alexandria. She was a graduate of the old Notre Dame Academy in the District and of Virginia Commonwealth University. In the early 1970s, she received a master of fine arts degree at the University of Brighton in England.
After returning to the Washington area, Ms. Moore worked as a waitress while trying to establish a career as a painter before turning to cooking and catering.
Ms. Moore, whose marriage to Terry Moore ended in divorce, grew up in a family of eight children.
Survivors include three sisters, Katherine Dollinger of Clarksville, Va., Ann McCarty of Fairfax County and Jane Beckwith of Dunedin, Fla.; and three brothers, Fred Burrell of Waxhaw, N.C., Ben Burrell of Montgomery Village and Bob Burrell of Loudoun County.
Ms. Moore had been a bone marrow donor to a younger sister, Sally Bonnes, who died of leukemia in 1993.
Until Ms. Moore saw a doctor Jan. 14, she had been in good health. Four days after her leukemia diagnosis, she died.
The Darlington House restaurant inWashington will take over Ms. Moore’s catering schedule, but her neighbors agree that no one will be able to take her place on the parade route through Old Town.
MaryMoore’s culinary specialties included salads and beef tenderloin. She also gave classes on how to make sushi.