Welcome to the NEW Heartfelt Catering blog! For our very first blog post, we’re interviewing Heartfelt Catering Owner/Executive Chef, Cecelia Hamilton. Let’s get to know Cecelia!
Why are you passionate about providing healthy catering options?
My family has a history of type-2 diabetes and I have to watch my cholesterol and weight to prevent me from developing type-2 diabetes. When I learned that you can manage type-2 with diet and exercise, I started doing everything I could to take care of my health. My Mom passed away two and a half years ago from complications related to type-2 diabetes. After my Mom’s passing, I looked for other ways to create healthier, tastier food. So at Heartfelt Catering, we make our salad dressings and vinaigrettes from scratch as well as our sauces to ensure the best natural ingredients. We also incorporate more whole grains in our meals, using legumes more to create interesting, great tasting dishes.
How did you begin your culinary or food services career?
I started in food services full time in 2011 after I left my corporate HR position. I’ve cooked since I was a child and when I was a teenager I used to cook week night dinner for my family. After many years away from the kitchen I went to culinary school in my late 30’s and decided it would be a great career change. While working in Corporate I attended The Cooking and Hospitality Institute- LeCordon Bleu and completed my Associates Degree in Culinary Arts. I enjoy the variety catering has to offer, from the different foods you prepare for clients, to every on-site event having different decor.
As a business owner and operator, how do you balance all of the moving parts of owning and operating Heartfelt Catering?
It helps to be well organized. I create to-do lists and get things organized on my calendar. I create project plans, checklists, assign tasks in kitchen and when we’re on-site. I set aside a block of time for administrative tasks such as bookkeeping, responding to emails (those that can wait a few days), creating proposals. At times it becomes overwhelming but I remember to chomp away bit-by-bit. I also spend time rejuvenating with either a work-out, yoga, a bike ride or all three when I can find the time.
What are some of the food trends that you’re excited about?
I’m not typically a person who follows trends but I’m very excited that more food services companies/restaurants are moving toward healthier fare. While our busy lifestyles make it convenient for us to pick up something quick from the grocery shelves or fast-foods it’s not always the best choice. Oftentimes, those foods are loaded with too much salt and fat. It’s much healthier to prepare your meal at home and, if you don’t have time make a commitment to yourself to seek out those companies who are creating healthier foods. It will help keep your waistline down and your health up. The other trend I’m excited about is clean food. I like that we’re starting with great quality ingredients and enhancing their natural flavor with herbs, spices, fresh fruit juices.
After a long day of catering for groups of people, what’s your favorite meal to cook at home?
When I’m in the kitchen cooking or overseeing events I have a habit of not eating. So before an event I try to start with a good breakfast, pack fruit and nuts to snack on when I get a break so I’m not famished at the end of an event. This way my body is in the right healthy mode. I don’t have a favorite meal but it will usually consist of vegetables and fish or chicken. The season determines what veggies I may have. I love them grilled, sautéed, braised and roasted.
Some chefs listen to their favorite music to get inspired, how do you gain inspiration for the food that you cook?
My inspiration comes from sitting quietly, oftentimes in nature. In those quiet times an idea for a new dish might pop into my head.
We’re in the middle of wedding season. As couples prepare for their big day by registering for wedding gifts, what are the top 2 or 3 must-have kitchen tools?
A great chef’s knife, a great cutting board, nice set of pots and pans. I consider these three must-haves, your starter kit. I always like having nice serving platters, bowls and utensils but those can come a little later.
What should someone know before hiring a caterer for their event?
They should know that the caterer listens and understands their needs - - from the type of food they want, to their budget, to the atmosphere they want to create at their event. They also want to make sure the caterer can execute their event within the allotted time they have side aside for their event.
How do you prepare for an event?
I treat every event as a project plan, regardless of size. After we’ve decided on a menu I create food orders, prep and cook assignments, and on-site schedule to make sure we’re getting everything done according to the agreement we reach with a client. I also have checklists to make sure that we have all the tools, utensils, serve ware and place settings needed for an event. I also journal before and after events. Before it’s setting my intention for that event and after the event it’s doing a post mortem.
Describe your earliest food memory.
As a child, probably 8 or 9 years old, I started cooking beside my Mom as prep cook and clean up. I would help prep for holiday meals, cutting and chopping onions, vegetables and other fresh food for the meal. At Thanksgiving we would make cornbread dressing and I would be the taste tester to make sure the sage and other seasoning were right. I loved that time and, to this day, Thanksgiving is my favorite meal. Although there were 10-15 people for the dinner, we cooked for about 25 people so we had lots of leftovers. There were so many dishes that I had to prep for. It would take hours.
List three staples that are must-haves in your fridge.
Cream for my coffee, fresh fruit and vegetables and plain Greek yogurt. I always eat breakfast and it usually consists of Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, water and coffee. When it comes to lunch or dinner, I buy my food fresh to prepare what I want at that time. I’ve been cooking with fresh foods for quite a few years, even before I attended culinary school.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Ice cream! I’m lactose intolerant and my body and I agree that I can have ice cream once a month without it negatively affecting me. I do make the most of that month’s supply, usually buying from one of the ice cream shops to make sure I’m getting fresh, wholesome ice cream. I can also have the cream in my coffee and Greek yogurt without it affecting me too.
What advice would you give to someone considering culinary school?
Do it because it’s something you enjoy doing. It’s rewarding work but it’s also very physically demanding whether you’re standing for long hours in the kitchen or having to lift heavy objects.
What does it mean to you to provide service the Heartfelt Catering way?
Heartfelt Catering represents a labor of love in everything we do from the way we prepare our food to how we provide services at clients’ events. Our love for people and them having great tasting, healthier food is important, gracious, attentive service is also important. We want our clients and guests to feel as if they’re a member of our family. We create memorable experiences.