Women of The Wedding Industry Wednesday, Kristy VerSnyder of Island Thyme Catering
Not every Women of the Wedding Industry Wednesday blog is going to have such a great transition.
But if you stopped by last week, you knew I led this series with Cammie Buehler, the creative business owner and entrepreneur who hired me to work with her team over the summer of 2017 with Epicure Catering at Cherry Basket Farm in Northern Michigan, and in doing so opened my eyes to a love affair I never knew I had with beautiful weddings.
I did know I had a love affair with good and beautiful food, and during that summer I was also planning my own wedding for the fall in Northern Michigan. Like a total newb, I still hadn't booked my caterer, because I knew I didn't want "wedding food" and I had no idea what my options were for our upcoming nuptials in less than 6 months. I wished I had known a year earlier what I know now about the abundant farm to table food culture of Northern Michigan.
So I asked Cammie for a recommendation, and she led me to Kristy VerSnyder of Island Thyme Catering. Kristy lived just across Lake Leelanau on the Peninsula, and had started her own catering company out of her house a few years before.
Kristy was everything I needed in that moment, and was the final piece of the puzzle that came together for my wedding. As someone who had been mentored at Epicure Catering and appreciated the intention behind their process, events, and menus, I knew she understood what I was looking for.
Photo by Jan-Michael Stump for Traverse City Record-Eagle at Loma Farm CSA farm dinner
In July, with four months to go until my wedding, we met up and I was able to tell her, in lurid and whimsical detail about how I was having a Jewish, Viking inspired ceremony and Game of Thrones reception on a full moon October Thursday at Castle Farms in Charlevoix.
"I need to recreate The Red Wedding scene" I said. "With less blood." She didn't flinch. And she didn't say no.
"Awesome", was her response. And she set to work creating a fall harvest menu that would be served family style at long wooden tables in The Knight's Castle that October.
I don't really need to tell you the rest. It was amazing.
It fulfilled every one of my fantasies and earthly visions. My husbabe and I sat for an hour uninterrupted in gigantic gawdy Medieval chairs in a candlelit room and feasted with our best friends sitting next to us, sharing bowls upon bowls of food that Kristy had prepared in the kitchen with her tight team of a few key people and her wonderful parents. (Her mom Wendy makes a sweet sourdough bread that is served with every wedding meal and is probably the most memorable bread you'll ever eat).
Kristy warned me that she does a little something special to surprise each couple on their wedding day. By the time mine came along, I had forgotten to look forward to this moment. But Kristy didn't forget. She sent a platter of leg of lamb out to the head table that evening, a dish I wanted SO BADLY to have on the menu but couldn't because lamb is pricey, especially for 150 people. It was the most generous, thoughtful gesture and I felt like the luckiest bride in the world.
It was no question that after our wedding and our little trip up to the UP to hike Pictured Rocks, when Kristy asked me if I was available to help her with her last wedding of the season, a biggie out at Fieldguide Farmhouse, I would be there.
I had such a greater appreciation for what goes into a wedding day after my own. I was in awe of the production of how these events are executed, how much time caterers invest into this day. That particular wedding was as gorgeous as a wedding day could be. It was planned, designed, and coordinated by the oh so lovely Stacy Horn of Juniper and Lace Events, and was Fieldguide Farmhouse's first wedding.
There was a moment at that wedding, after the ceremony had started between the two large maple trees in my new friend Lee Maynard's yard, with the golden hour taking it's sweet time as it does at the end of October, where I was pouring rose champagne and was finding a weird sense of delightment (is that a word?) in watching the bubbles rise to the top. It was a moment where I knew that this was where I wanted to be, where I wanted to channel my energy. Submerged in moments that carry weight and meaning, offering what I can by way of hospitality, creating and appreciating beauty simultaneously, and slowing time enough to watch the rise of champagne bubbles and think it was just about the best feeling in the world.
Kristy gave me the opportunity to join her in the kitchen a few time this past season, a place she thrives and creates warmth and makes me feel like I am a part of an ancient ritual and rite. To be a woman in a kitchen is forever something I'll associate with power and grace, even if society begs to differ. Female chefs and restaurateurs are still vastly underrepresented in the commercial food industry, affecting everything from how food is prepared to how it's served, to how young women are treated within the industry. I'm an optimist, so I think there's good times ahead for women who love to eat and feed people. It has been beyond a pleasure to find my home in Northern Michigan, where female chefs are not only successful, but are recognized, appreciated, and celebrated for their work.
Without further ado, let's celebrate this woman.
Photo by Jan-Michael Stump for Traverse City Record -Eagle at Loma Farm CSA Party
You were born and raised in Leelanau County, did you ever leave?
I did. I spent my first year of college at Butler University in Indianapolis and finished my college degree at NMU in Marquette (yes, I used to enjoy the winter). I also lived in Black Mountain North Carolina for a wee bit as I helped my brother in law open up a wood fired pizza restaurant.
You always talk about your family’s food and cooking heritage. Can you tell everyone who doesn’t know you about it.
My mother was a cook at The Bluebird and that is where her water broke with me. My father was a commercial fisherman for Carlson's. My grandparents on my dads side had a large vegetable garden and raspberry patch that they would harvest for local restaurants (I've been told that as a child I ate more raspberries than I picked for the restaurants). My grandparents on my moms side had a large cherry orchard and my grandma was also a cook at The Bluebird. My entire childhood centered around meals that were locally grown and foraged.
You and your brother are both entrepreneurs and small business owners, how did that happen? What’s it like to be in a family of small business owners?
My brother was always the "green thumb" in the family and always dreamed about owning his own orchard. He was able to attain that goal by starting his own orchard on the family farm over a decade ago. My business was actually my husbands idea. I used to cook for his family for their fathers birthday celebration. At that point in time it was the most people I had ever cooked for as he has 10 brothers and sisters who are all married with children of their own, so there used to be about 60 of them. He looked at me six years ago (before we were married) and said "You love to cook and host parties. I think we should start you a catering business" I said yes........I had no idea what I was getting myself into........but I wouldn't change a thing!
The nice thing about being in a family of small business owners is we understand, without holding grudges, that the chances of us having any memorable family time during the season is pretty much not going to happen. We're able to forgive each other for missing birthdays, anniversaries, family dinners, family reunions etc.
Like a lot of people, you started out in a restaurant. What lessons did you learn in the restaurant that transfer over to catering, and what’s different about the two environments?
Lessons I learned in the restaurant would certainly include how to hustle, how to multi-task, how to be a contributing member of a team, and communication on all fronts. The biggest noticeable difference between the two for me is just the "mobile kitchen" aspect of catering. Trying to crank out 100+ meals in 20 minutes in a 20' x 20' cook tent off of four 8' long banquet tables. There are multiple times during an event when I say to myself "what I would do for an oven right now".
Who are some of your favorite market vendors or local growers?
I love, love, love working with Boss Mouse Cheese, Loma Farm, VerSnyder's Orchard, and Leelanau Cheese. These are my go to every week farmers. During the catering season I spend more time with my farmers than I do with my own family and I am thankful for the friendships that I have with them.
Who are the foodies in the industry you look up to?
Cammie and Andy at Epicure Catering are two of my all time favorites. I learned so much from them when I worked for them and to this day whenever I have an industry question they always have advice for me. Stephanie and Jonathan at S2S are always inspiring, especially with their work ethic. Matt Fitzke-Loll inspires me with not only his food creations but the calmness he is able to carry regardless of how much stress he is under. When I worked at 9 Bean Rows chef Paul Carlson was a huge inspiration to me.
One of my 2019 clients described her feeling after going to your tasting as “food she could feel the love in”. How do you infuse love into your cooking and why does it matter at weddings?
That was by far one of the best compliments Island Thyme has ever received. All of those vendors/farmers that I listed above grow and infuse their goods with love. Seriously, you haven't seen love until you unpack a box of goodies from Loma, or open the cooler from Boss Mouse with perfectly beautiful packages of cheese and butter, or pickup freshly harvested peaches from VerSnyder's Orchard. All of these small business owners are sacrificing time with loved ones in order to bring the best food to the plate......the love starts there. It's no different in the catering kitchen. Clients end up being our extended family. They are trusting us to feed their closest friends and family and knowing that makes us go the distance for them. Food is grown with love, and then it is handled with love, and then it is prepared with love, and then it is served with love, and last it is consumed with the people we love the most by our sides.
You’re kind of always involved in some food event. What are some events besides weddings that you love cooking for?
We have been able to be part of the Loma Farm CSA party a couple times and I always love spending time at their farm. Last year we were able to be part of the Power10 rowing camp for breast cancer patients and breast cancer survivors and that will go down as one of my most favorite events. We have also had the pleasure of cooking for some golden anniversaries and it's pretty amazing to see love in its purest and truest form. My first catering event ever was for a group of ladies who call themselves 'The Whiners".....a group of gal pals who spend the weekend together partaking in wine tours. I've had the pleasure of cooking for them four different years and always love hosting them......they are the epitome of "squad goals"
You're skirt steak and chimuchurri is my husband's favorite food in the world. I would find him eating your leftovers out of the box at midnight in the glow of the fridge. He literally dreams about it. What is chimichurri?
Chimichurri originated in Argentina and is an uncooked sauce typically used on grilled meat. Ours consists of parsley, garlic, oregano, red wine vinegar, olive oil, citrus, and red pepper. I consider it the "drag it through the garden" sauce perfect for grilled summer dishes.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Leelanau and why?
How sad it is that I don't get to go and eat out often enough, but when Vince and I can manage a night out I love going to Wren in Suttons Bay. The food is rustic, simple, and delicious and the space is warm and comforting.
What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
Just one? My favorite go to cookbook is The Elements of Taste by Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky. It always pushes my abilities and makes me walk away with a new understanding of food.
A month without coffee or a week without any sun?
NOPE not going to choose!
You catered my largest and most complex wedding in September of 2018. It was so much fun and so much work! You gave me a a lot of great feedback after that event. What is something you’d like wedding planners to understand about your work, and/or needs as a wedding caterer?
Logistics of course are the backbone of any wedding, so the more detailed the planner is the better chance we all have at being successful. We of course all have an approximate timeline we follow the day of, and events often run behind schedule. It's nice to work along planners who keep you updated on how far ahead or behind schedule we're running because both have a huge impact on the catering staff and quality of food.
What’s something going into the wedding season you’re excited for?
I'm really excited to announce some big news in May! I'm also so extremely excited about the team I have going into this year.......they are what dreams are made of!
We like 99% of the same music, which makes working together a blast. Do you think our girl, Brandi Carlisle will beat Cardi B for Record of the Year?
Although I feel that all of the artists nominated are worthy, Brandi is my girl.....she has gotten me through many a tough times in the midnight kitchen.......and The Joke.....has me feeling all the feels!
Do you think Hawaiian pizza is an abomination?
Who am I to judge......life is short, eat whatever makes you happy!
If you aren't cooking, what are you doing?
I would be on a boat with my husband and my dogs with a fishing pole in my hand.
And I believe that's what Kristy is up to now, snowbirding with her husband Vinnie and their pups in Florida and planning her annual tropical vacation. Well earned.