Growing up in a big Greek family, cooking for large groups was a natural part of Marissa Daskalakis Tsangaropoulos’ youth. She eventually turned that passion for bringing people together over food into a business, Fete Fraiche, first as a personal chef, and now as an event chef and caterer for the likes of Google and Stanford. Marissa shares the challenges of unanticipated growth, why saying no is such an important part of success, and the reason she’s such a gigantic fan of… lists and spreadsheets?
We start by talking about being born Greek, growing up in Queens and Chicago, and learning to cook at her grandmother’s side. Her best friend’s graduation gift led to a California visit, where she met her husband and they now live with their four kids. Before she started her cooking career, she earned two degrees (in Philosophy and Industrial Organizational Psychology) and started an MBA. After living in Florence, Italy for a minute (where she got her first chance to cook in a commercial kitchen), she returned to the States and completed her culinary training at the legendary California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. A stint at Michelin-starred Commonwealth, Ladies Who Lunch, and a few other local establishments, and she was ready to strike out on her own, creating Fete Fraiche.
She didn’t initially plan to do catering and events. She started as a personal chef, making meals for for families in their home kitchen. Her clients loved her so much, they started asking her to cater large gatherings and events, eventually requiring her to sublease a commercial kitchen to handle the unanticipated growth.
We chat about how her nightmare scenario of arriving at an event without any food almost came true, and the value of word of mouth in both marketing and hiring (especially when your website is “incomplete”!). And while her time in CCA didn’t completely prepare her for running a catering business, it turns out leading weeks-long holiday events for your kids’ schools most certainly does.
We wrap up with a frank discussion about the challenges of educating customers who want custom catering for less than what they’d pay at Chipotle, and the importance of telling those customers it’s not me, it’s you....
Links and Show Notes
Starter (bread) (https://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-bread-starter.htm)—“A bread starter is the base for many artisan breads, including sourdough and Amish (https://www.wisegeek.com/who-are-the-amish.htm) Friendship Bread. It uses naturally occurring wild yeast (https://www.wisegeek.com/why-does-yeast-make-bread-rise.htm) as a leavening agent, lending a distinct flavor and texture to the bread that cannot be replicated by commercially harvested yeast. Some bread companies use starters that are over 100 years old to create dependably flavored bread every time. Many home bakers make their own starter as they explore the varied world of bread baking.”
How To Make Sourdough Starter from Scratch (https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-your-own-sourdough-starter-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-47337)
California Culinary Academy (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Culinary_Academy)
Commonwealth to close on Aug. 26 (https://hoodline.com/2019/08/sf-eats-commonwealth-says-goodbye-kezar-bar-restaurant-adds-brunch-more)
Stage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stage_%28cooking%29) —“An unpaid internship when a cook or chef works briefly, for free, in another chef's kitchen to learn and be exposed to new techniques and cuisines.”
Ladies Who Lunch (http://lwlcatering.com)
United States Personal Chef Association (https://www.uspca.com/)—“USPCA provides a one-stop shop for everything you need to effectively and efficiently manage your Personal Chef business with day to day support from the association as well as the NETWORK with other Personal Chefs to help you grow your Personal Chef business.”
Sole Proprietor vs. Partnership vs. LLC (https://www.legalzoom.com/knowledge/limited-liability-company/topic/llc-sole-proprietor-partnership-comparison)
Pared (https://www.pared.com/) —Making restaurant life easier
Word of mouth marketing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word-of-mouth_marketing)
Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive%E2%80%93compulsive_disorder)—“a mental disorder (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_disorder) in which a person feels the need to perform certain routines repeatedly (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsive_behavior) (called "compulsions"), or has certain thoughts repeatedly (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intrusive_thoughts) (called "obsessions"). [...] The phrase obsessive–compulsive is sometimes used in an informal manner unrelated to OCD to describe someone as being excessively meticulous, absorbed, or otherwise fixated.”
Marzipan (https://www.thespruceeats.com/marzipan-521098) from The Spruce Eats
Yoga (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga)—“a group of physical (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_body) , mental (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind) , and spiritual (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul) practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_India) .[...] The term "yoga" in the Western world often denotes a modern form of Hatha yoga (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatha_yoga) , yoga as exercise (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_as_exercise) , consisting largely of the postures called asanas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asana) .“
Meditation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditation)—“a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness) , or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.”
“Steven Hollifield walked into a kitchen dish-pit, found it magical, and remained in food service his entire career.” Listen to episode 17 of Lettuce Wrap (https://www.lettucewrappod.com/17) “BBQ is a Little Mystical with Steven Hollifield of Seismic BBQ.
Our thanks to Marissa for joining us. You can find her on Instagram @fetefraichecooks (https://instagram.com/fetefraichecooks) and www.fetefraiche.com (https://www.fetefraiche.com).
Thank you for listening. You can follow us on Twitter and Instagram:
Lettuce Wrap: @lettucewrappod (https://twitter.com/lettucewrappod)
/ @lettucewrappod (https://instagram.com/lettucewrappod)
Christine Doerr: @christinedoerr (https://twitter.com/christinedoerr) / @neococoaconfections (https://www.instagram.com/neococoaconfections/)
Tammy Tan: @spicehound (http://twitter.com/spicehound) / @spicehound (https://www.instagram.com/spicehound/)
or email us at email@example.com (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org).
That’s a wrap!
Amazon (https://amzn.to/2DBzg5j) and other links may be affiliates. Purchases help support the show. Special Guest: Marissa Daskalakis Tsangaropoulos, Fete Fraiche.