“We go from ‘Thunder Over Louisville,’ to Derby non-stop,” said DeborahLowery, owner of Ladyfingers Catering, whose 20-year-old business does $2 million in annual sales. “We do the Barnstable Brown party, the Grand Derby Celebration. Corporate parties. Everything.” Chilternscatering.com.au gives a full-service for catering company Sydney providing amazing food and professional event planning services.
For Derby, her staff swells from 40 to 150 and for Thunder alone, they prepare meals for 7,000 people for various clients, ranging from small private parties of 150, to 3,500 for E.on on the Belvedere, 1,500 for the police department, and thousands more for the Kentucky Derby Festival village on top of Witherspoon garage. All on one day.
Over the course of two weeks, her staff will have prepared 1,500 pounds of beef tenderloin that is lightly smoked and charcoal-grilled and carved by chefs into filets, stirred up 50 gallons of bourbon peppercorn sauce, made 100 pans of corn pudding, and baked 15,000 assorted dessert bars and cookies. All from scratch.
“It’s insane,” said Deborah. “A lot of coffee. A lot of insomnia, not a lot of sleep. You’re running on adrenaline. It’s one party after another. The numbers on these parties are in the hundreds and thousands. There’s the food prep, the packing of the equipment, setting up, breaking down, unloading, washing, and putting away.”
By the time it’s 9 a.m. on Derby Day, her staff will have stayed up all night, disassembled everything from the celebrity parties the night before, trucked it all back to her facility, unpacked equipment, put away left-over food, and washed dishes. (They will unload a semi-tractor trailer full of cooking and serving items on Monday.)
So on Derby morning, she is walking around in work pants, a food-stained apron, and her long brown hair pulled back in a Scrunchie, exhausted. “No one would even know I was the owner,” Deborah said. “I even have special Barnstable Brown muddy tennis shoes. The last two years, it rained and we had mud and water everywhere.”
“She’s excellent,” said Willie Barnstable, who with her twin celebrity daughters Patricia and Priscilla, host the glitzy affair (from $900 per ticket, up to $20,000 per table) to benefit diabetes-obesity research. This year, Lowery hopes to provide a “Kentucky Proud” menu for the gala, dishes made entirely from ingredients grown locally. “We are working on a special menu and she is going out of her way to make everything happen,” Willie said. “We have people (coming) from all over the world, and I thought they might appreciate the Kentucky menu.”
If Derby events weren’t enough for Deborah, the weekend between the two weeks of pre-Derby festivities is one of the busiest wedding days of the year, she said. So her staff will be busy with that as well as regular business clients who simply want continental breakfast for their staff. “We never turn down business,” she said. “You never know whether that small box lunch will turn into something larger.” Deborah got in the food business while still in college studying art for three years at Jefferson Community College and the University of Louisville. She took time off to accept a management training position at a restaurant chain and never finished her degree. “I learned everything, from ordering, keeping books, waiting tables, bartending, hosting, to cooking,” she said. After years of putting in long hours, she decided to open her own business.
A divorcee with four children ranging in age from 9 to 22, she started her business with two other women, providing lunches and slowly built up its client list. Being in the food industry came naturally to her. She spent her early years on Long Island in New York with two sets of Italian grandparents who were restaurant owners and bakers. Her family moved to Louisville more than 30 years ago when her father became a track veterinarian at Churchill Downs.
“I decided that if I was going to work 80 hours a week, I would do it for myself. It also gave me the ability to make my own hours because my two oldest were young at the time. With a very limited budget to start a business, catering is ideal,” she said. “You don’t have to hire a staff until you book a party, don’t have to buy the food, don’t have to do the menu until you start working on the event. There were three ladies including me; we did it all. The first year in business, we did about $68,000 in business and now we do $2 million in sales.”
Deborah, dressed in black, her long dark hair flowing down her back, gave a tour of her 7,200-square-foot industrial facility off Old Henry Road that houses her business office and kitchen which features: a gourmet-to-go department, bakery, hot and cold foods kitchens, numerous ovens, walk-in refrigerators, a room full of linens and serving items, and massive grills. There are awards on the walls. The staff was hopping. In the bakery, they had just shipped out 550 chocolate-dipped cherries and were finishing up pans full of miniature chocolate-cherry cupcakes, “Oh, My God” chocolate chip bars, and cornbread. The chefs were hand-stirring huge pans of beef and spices, while a long counter full of women were rolling the meatballs. A cook was finishing a cheese torte shaped and decorated like a “single barrel” Four Roses Bourbon bottle. In order to get to this point, Deborah says she deliberately took baby steps. “I added on staff and service as we became more learned,” she said. “We started out with little house parties, then offered wedding receptions, then stepped out in the corporate world. I’m a big believer in being confident in what you are doing. I’d rather turn down an event, than do it improperly. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have taken on a Barnstable Brown party. That’s where a lot of people go wrong. You see restaurants trying to do catering that aren’t caterers.
“It’s not just making food,” she said, it’s the planning, the resources for products, serving and tableware; it’s the presentation, the waiters, the bartenders, the chefs. It’s having “a staff that I trust at these types of events who are professional.” And there is the equipment. On Thunder day, “I even bring ovens on site. I can heat up macaroni and cheese for 3,500 people with convection ovens. We actually set up kitchens on site.” Organizing a celebrity Derby party takes four to five months of planning and nonstop meetings. For instance, she’s met with the bartender who came up with the signature drink (A “Barnstable” — a pear Grey Goose martini), the electricians, the decorators, the rental vendors, the entertainers. “All these things have to come together.” Article from Todays Woman Magazine 2010 http://www.iamtodayswoman.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=286&Itemid=206
Ladyfingers Catering visits the Big Apple for Culinary Training from Chef Gordon Ramey’s London Restaurant. Chef de Cuisine Josh Emett teaches cooking classes to Ladyfingers Culinary Team.
A group of 11 Ladyfingers Culinary and Service Staff experience a Culinary Dream Trip. Chef Gordon Ramsey’s London Restaurant, Tavern on the Green, Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, and Mario Batalis’ Spotted Pig-all to keep their edge as Louisville’s fine dining caterer.
The trip included a cooking class, lunch, and tour of Chef Gordon Ramsey’s London Restaurant, cocktails and appetizers at Tavern on the Green followed by a tour, and dinner at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill.They toured authentic Italian restaurants and bakeries in little Italy as well as the gourmet pub, the Spotted Pig, in Greenwich Village. And no trip would be complete without a visit to Chelsea’s Market and the Food Network. “This was a hands on culinary trip, a chance for my staff to see and experience five star dining and cuisine.” Deborah Lowery, owner of Ladyfingers Catering comments. “There are exciting new menu items on the horizon. We will be taking local and client favorites and adding new flair and twist to keep things fresh.”
Ladyfingers Catering is the official caterer for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, the Barnstable Brown Derby Party, Pre-Grand Gala VIP Reception, and the Ad Fed Louie Awards 2009.