Beverly catering firm Chive did not emerge from a slew of spreadsheets and business plans cooked up by MBAs. It came from the hearts and minds of three women—Lindsey Wishart and sisters Jennifer and Jules Frost, who are all passionate about food, health, and the planet. What they do is a way of life, and they hope what they do will inspire more of the same in the region.
In just three years, the trio has created a business using food that’s locally grown, pesticide- and hormone-free, sustainable, and 100 percent compostable (if not reusable or recyclable). The design of Chive’s catered events is as meticulous as the food presentation is inspired.
The name and the logo, a chive flower and stem, are a direct connection to their rolled-in-one concept: The chive blossom recalls nature; the delicate stem recalls their approach of serving hearty, delicious food wrapped in a delicate presentation, and the roots punctuate their anchor in sustainability and commitment to the community.
Creating the menus starts with looking at what is in season, talking to local farmers, and having in-depth discussions with clients. Connecting with clients allows Chive to formulate a customized design presentation for everything from the table settings to decorations and the way food appears on the plates.
“We need to learn about our clients, what their habits are, what excites them, and that, of course, varies from party to party,” says Lindsey, the self-taught head chef who does all of the cooking. “I have the seasons in my head and generally know when, for example, the radishes will be up.”
Linday says she is in constant communication with her farmers to ensure the crops she’ll turn into menu items come up as planned. Stretching her culinary creativity to accommodate the unpredictable is just part of the job. “I come up with all of the recipes,” she says. “I read food blogs and am obsessed with cookbooks! I am also not afraid to try things, and I test. I test a lot. But I also think the love of food helps me work recipes out,” she notes. Two people currently work side by side with her in the kitchen, and when things get really busy, she brings in other chefs she’s come to know and trust for contract work.
“We work to develop an atmosphere where people want to work with us, and we draw people in who have the same values about sustainability,” adds Jennifer, noting they’re drawing foodies from the West Coast as well as Northern New England states. “We hold dear to our hearts that we produce an environment and atmosphere that fosters people who want to talk about food and food justice.”
Jules, who happily jumped to Chive from a job in the city, runs the business end of the company, while sister Jennifer focuses on event design and food presentation. “Our intent is to present food in a special way. And from the start, we have been building an inventory of vintage platters, lighting elements, and recycled goods. My background is in design, and I have a blast creating and using materials over and over in new ways,” Jennifer says.
Last May, the Chive women made their fourth trek to the Brimfield Antique Show (see page 62), where they roamed through acres and acres of antique and flea market dealers, looking for treasures in the form of interesting platters and unusual design elements. “For the first couple of years, we pulled items from our own homes, but our collection has grown significantly from going to flea markets and Brimfield and from stopping at those ‘Free’ signs on the side of the road,” says Jennifer. “So we give a lot of things a second life.”
The Chive team prefers not to work with linens because of the continuous cleaning they require, and that, of course, impacts many things environmentally. But when linens are a must for a client, Chive works with providers who are green in philosophy and use materials that are the easiest to clean and use the least energy.
But how it all gets executed, from the color palette to the smallest of details, all begins with the clients. “We talk to them about the vibe they want, what’s the energy they are hoping to have. Sometimes they send me words or an image and I go from there. Then I look in our inventory to see how to bring it together,” Jennifer adds.
“We get locally grown flowers, too. I meet with the farmers, and they grow colors and varieties that we commit to buying directly from them,” Jennifer says.
It’s no surprise that Jules, Jennifer, and Lindsey are all members of Chefs Collaborative, a national network of 12,000 chefs, food professionals, and producers whose focus is the sustainable food landscape. It was created nearly 20 years ago, when the concept of a sustainable food system was in its infancy. The founders of the organization include sustainability luminaries like Rick Bayless, John Ash, Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, Nora Pouillon, Mary Sue Milliken, and Ann Cooper, who believed chefs could have significant impact on food production, distribution, and consumer buying habits. As the group’s website, chefscollaborative.org, succinctly explains: “Chefs have a unique opportunity to influence change in the food system—both through their connection to their customers and each other, and through their own buying power. Chefs Collaborative is the only national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainability among chefs in both restaurants and institutional food service; fostering local and regional networks of chefs; and ensuring a strong voice in the media for the chef perspective on a more sustainable food system.”
And it is Chefs Collaborative that helped bring about an exciting new chapter for Chive last year, when the organization invited Chive to host an Earth Day Dinner, a celebration of local, sustainable cuisine. Serendipitously, Lindsey (who is, ironically, a vegetarian), had completed a pig butchery class, which taught her how to use every part of the pig, from snout to tail. She describes the Earth Day Dinner she made based on what she learned:
First course: cured ham and pig-liver pate. “I cured the ham by hanging it in my basement,” Lindsey notes
Second course: local salad with baby lentils, baby greens, and fresh pork sausage.
Third course: slow-braised shredded pork shoulder served with homemade rhubarb barbeque sauce and corn cakes.
Fourth course: paupiettes created with slices of ham and freshly ground seasoned pork. The ham wrapped the ground pork and was then poached.
Fifth course: grilled pork loin with grilled baby bok choy.
Dessert: homemade batch ice cream with homemade chocolate tarts.
Drinks: local beer and local cider was paired with each course.
They sold 65 seats to the $100-per-person event, making it a huge success, with a portion of the proceeds going to The Essex County Greenbelt Association. This inspired them to host subsequent local seasonal dinners they bill as Sunday Suppers.
“We were in love with this idea of a seasonal community meal and continue it with Sunday Suppers, where we bring all kinds of people together, including local farmers and artisans together,” Lindsey notes. “So much of what we are as Chive is really these people behind what we make. There was zero waste with this dinner, zero trash, and proceeds stayed local, too. It’s our best practice!”
Does this trio take their food practices home? Absolutely. It’s a seamless move from work kitchen to home kitchen.
“We practice what we preach. We all compost and recycle, and our cupboards are filled with bulk items. We have no plastic in our homes. You can’t run a sustainable business unless you sustain yourselves! And that means we also get home in time to be with our families. It’s important for us not to follow the path of the workaholic.”
In the end, Chive’s owners hope they’ve set an example for other businesses so that Cape Ann and beyond will encourage locally grown food, farm to table, and no waste.
Beyond the food, the three women give back to the community on many levels, such as teaching children—from elementary schools to high schools and beyond—the importance of culinary sustainability. It is a recipe, itself, for all things good, responsible, future-minded, and just plain right. It’s a delicious concept. chiveevents.com.