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VOL. 35 | NO. 24 | Friday, June 17, 2011

Friends collaborate with farm-to-table catering company

By Hollie Deese

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Erika Woodard acquired her fondness for food a little later in life. A self-professed picky eater, Woodard didn’t exactly have the sense of culinary adventure her parents hoped she would.

“I drove my parents crazy because I would basically eat only cheese sticks and club sandwiches and hamburgers,” she says. Her palate improved, however, after studying in France as part of a college exchange program. The cheese sticks became a thing of the past.

A Mt. Juliet High School and Belmont graduate, Woodard put in years at F. Scott’s and Midtown Café, as well as spending time under Margot McCormack.

But the daily grind of the restaurant world began to wear on her once she started her family.

“I didn’t want to work every night and I wanted to pick and choose my schedule,” she says. So in 2006 she launched her own catering company, Cater To You, in order to better control her schedule. What she found was that her schedule was so packed from the start, she was busier than ever.

“My business grew rapidly,” Woodard says. “I had a need to expand and get a commercial space and I was basically doing all of the cooking, preparation and event managing myself.”

Then she began running into former Midtown colleague and Tayst chef/owner Jeremy Barlow last fall and winter during trips to Whole Foods.

Known for his playful American fare (pork belly lollipops, chicken croquettes with summer fruit jam), his is also the only certified green restaurant in Nashville. Increasingly, he was receiving requests to cater outside events.

“We just started talking, and he had a need for an event specialist,” she says. “I told him I was really tired of cooking, and he said we needed to talk. So we did, and then we merged in February of this year.”

The product of that merger is Local Kitchen Catering, a seasonally-based, locally-sourced catering company creating food for “green” cocktail parties, sophisticated wine dinners or casual lunches. And while Barlow plans the menus and cooks the food with his team from Tayst, Woodard handles the event planning, scheduling and proposals for future work.

“We are the only green-certified restaurant in town, so the food is sourced locally, organic and prepared in a green kitchen,” Woodard says. “At every event we remove all waste, all the food is composted and we take away all the bottles and plastic to recycle it as part of the service.”

Everything is eco-friendly, down to the bamboo-based disposable containers and the oil for the chafing dishes.

“We always bring our big compost bucket to scrape the plates,” she says. “We don’t often have a lot of waste, but what we do compost we take to Wedge Oak Farm in Lebanon, which is where we source our chicken. So it is kind of full circle.”

With the merger, Woodard brought to the table a number of regular clients and events already on her books, which, when paired with Barlow’s existing clientele, had them busy from the start. One of their biggest clients is Vanderbilt.

“They are very much into sustainable and local food, and they are very eco-conscious,” she says

And she has found that despite the rising cost of food – or perhaps because of it – customers are willing to spend a little bit more on local products for the good quality and benefit of the community.

“I do believe that people are becoming a bit more aware of what they are putting in their bodies and how important it is to be conscious about that,” she says. “They think about how far the food travels. And it is just a matter of flavor. When people taste a strawberry that has come from Delvin Farms in Franklin vs. one from California, there is no comparison.”

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