FLATHEAD BEACON, SEPTEMBER 5, 2007
WHITEFISH – In the woods north of U.S. Highway 40, in a kitchen painted lime green and eggplant purple, chef Anna McCabe takes a break to explain how she comes up with her concoctions.
“Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep at night, I think about what I can make,” the owner of The Simple Chef said. One restless night resulted in a dessert: almond Kahlua moose cake. It’s now served at Pescado Blanco in Whitefish. The mind of a chef never stops ticking. Along with spur-of-the-moment ideas, McCabe peruses cookbooks and adds her own touch to family recipes to create unexpected flavors.
Malpeli, 31, is just one of 28 chefs who will be on hand at the 20th Annual Taste of Whitefish, a town well known for its fine cuisine and glut of talented chefs. The Taste draws hundreds of people to the O’Shaughnessy Center to sample the gastronomic offerings of local restaurants. The proceeds, which are expected to bring in about $9,000, go to the Whitefish Visitor and Information Center.
“Without it, we would have to find another funding source,” Whitefish Chamber of Commerce President Sheila Bowen said. Yet the Taste consistently sells out and chefs embrace both the chance to promote their respective businesses and give back to the chamber for one night. This year the theme is “Whitefish Goes to the Movies” and Bowen said, “We can’t event begin to know what to expect.”
A week prior to the Taste, neither could McCabe, who was baking blue cheese crisps for a party she would cater that upcoming weekend. She hadn’t yet taken a breather to think about the following week’s dishes, which is normal in the busy summer months that often require 14-hour days, seven days a week.
She did, however, list some possibilities: Mexican mud cake, cinnamon pecan bread pudding with brandy caramel sauce, Alaskan king crab nachos and sugar bacon. She hared the sugar bacon, and for someone who thought bacon couldn’t possibly taste better, the glazed, bite-sized morsels convinced him otherwise.
McCabe customizes her menus to her clients’ needs. She buys mostly local produce, is an hors’doeuvres specialist although she does cook full dinners)( and is big into healthy eating – the sugar bacon constituting an exception. “My food is very unique, intense, and flavorful.” And, like other chefs at the Taste, people want to talk about her food and her business throughout the evening. Conversely, she will have two people working with her at the Taste, when about 650 people are likely to file past her booth.
In some ways the Taste is the storm before the calm for local chefs. McCabe planned on working several days to prepare up to nine dishes. Then, as winter approaches, caterers and restaurants see a lull until the holiday season picks up. The event once awarded the chefs who had the best food. Hanging on her wall MCabe has three plaques she won in the previous years. The competition portion is no defunct and the Taste has become more about camaraderie between cooks than rivalries.
Bowen said the presentations at the Taste are almost as good at the food. “The caterers,” she said, “for the most part, always do a display that pretty much says, “take me for your next event.”
And for Bowen, the displays must make do, because she’s so busy the night of the event she doesn’t get to enjoy the food. “Since I work it, it’s so disappointing,” she said. “I’ve never actually eaten at the Taste of
By Lynnette Hintze
The Daily Interlake
It wasn’t long after Anna McCabe earned a degree in accounting that she realized a desk job was out of the question.
“I just can’t sit behind a desk all day,” she confessed.
So what does a super-organized outdoorswoman who loves to hunt and ski and who’s “really good in math” do with her life?
McCabe, 31, found the answer in the kitchen. She became a personal caterer and started a business called The Simple Chef Catering in Whitefish five years ago.
As a persona caterer, she doesn’t have a set menu and prices but rather adapts her skills and services to each cooking engagement. If a family needs a vegetarian wedding meal for 100, Malpeli searches through her repertoire of 400 menu items and finds what will best suit that client.
She’s a stickler for using fresh ingredients.
“I really focus on health, nutrition and freshness,” she said. “I use a lot of organic meat and veggies and I can accommodate requests for organic [entrees].”
Flexibility and a staunch work ethic are prerequisites for catering, along with organizational skills.
“I’m very organized, and it’s list after list after list,” she said. “If you’re not organized, you won’t make it in this business.”
MaCabe’s clientele ranges from small private sit-down dinner parties to dropping off meals for a family entertaining guests, to grand openings that feed 700. The grand opening for First Interstate Bank in Whitefish was her biggest gig to date – a 200 person breakfast, followed by a 400-person day event and 150-person evening meal.
“I loved it. It was a huge success,” she said. “I couldn’t do 700 every week, though.”
As it is, McCabe works 18-hour days all summer in a business that’s feast or famine.
“It’s famine right now, ” she said, referring to the typical April lull. “It gets really rolling by mid-June, and last fall I was slammed. A lot of older second-home people are staying now through October.”
The Christmas holiday season is equally as busy as summer, she said, but come January, “nobody wants a party.”
Catering is the perfect business venture to allow time for her other passion: skiing. she and her husband, Bill McCabe, just returned from a heli-skiing trip to Chugach Wilderness in Alaska, where they got engaged on a mountain top, then skied down in waist-deep powder.
This was McCabe’s third helisking trip to Alaska, and she’s addicted to the sport. A helicopter drops skiers off at the top and picks them up at the bottom.
It’s a risky sport, she said, so it’s important to go with a reputable company. Skiers go down one at a time, skiing to safety-zones along the way.