Chef Sylvia Wilson, owner of Feast Catering, lives a life woven with rich family history and creative passion. Her parents moved to America as adults, with their cooking directly influenced by their cultures.
“My dad was Egyptian and a master of flavor and spice. He could make the humblest ingredients seem like a feast,” she reflects. “My mother grew up in Finland on a small farm. Mom’s cooking was wholesome and nutritious. She made the best whole-grain bread and ground her own grains. I still daydream about her tabouli.”
Wilson’s started her culinary ventures in Spokane with Mizuna, one of the area’s first vegetarian restaurants. “I enjoyed so many parts of that business, especially the social aspects and being in the kitchen,” she says. “The restaurant grew, which was great, but hard, too. I began to feel really unbalanced, stressed out all the time and not myself. Then my mother got ill. She lived in Los Angeles, and I wanted to be with her more. My longtime manager made an offer to buy the restaurant. Imagine that, financing from a bank was available!” she laughs. “So, I sold it.”
She delighted in a year off but then started feeling antsy. “I felt like cooking. I really missed it.” She did some catering for friends and acquaintances and decided to launch Feast Catering. Now summers are booked with weddings, while business events round out the rest of the year.
“My boyfriend, Brian Fountaine, and I work together which is a lot fun… Apparently, according to him, I can be a little bossy,” she laughs. “He always says jokingly that he does all the work and I get all the credit. So I am giving him his due credit. Brian is always at the events doing the most important job, working the grill/line — not for the faint of heart — and other jobs he knows I really don’t like to do.”
This time around, Wilson is wary about letting her business overrun her personal life. “It can become all consuming if I let it.” So she purposely designs the schedule to include down time. “We work hard in the summer, take a month or two off in the fall to travel, or just rest, then work events up until Christmas. A few months off in winter follows that. It’s a good life, and I feel blessed to be able to make a living doing something I really enjoy.”
Although Wilson was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, a religion in which vegetarianism plays a role, her parents were not strict vegetarians. Still, fresh produce was always a part of family meals. Nowadays Wilson eats meat but chooses organic or local. “I’ve decided that I don’t like labels, and I just try to eat as wholesomely as possible. I was influenced by a book called The China Study. It really made me think about what I eat and conscious of how much animal protein I was consuming.”
Wilson’s diet philosophy imbues her work at Feast Catering. “I want people to feel good and energetic, so I use lighter ingredients.” She steers clients away from produce that is not in season; in traditional recipes that call for butter, she often substitutes olive oil.
In spite of her devotion to healthy eating at work and at home, Wilson admits she still occasionally gets a hankering for a good burger with cheese. “I give myself permission to enjoy every bite. The moment I deprive myself, I just want it more… It’s moderation for me — becoming more about balance, staying away from extremes and learning to be gentle with my body.”
WARM FALL SALAD
Feast Catering makes everything from scratch using fresh, not canned or frozen products. This recipe is vegan. If you wanted to add a cheese, chef Sylvia Wilson would recommend crumbled, soft goat cheese or ricotta insalata.
1/2 cup French green lentils
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cups caulifl ower (1/2 head)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon coriander
1 apple (pink lady or gala), medium dice
2 whole scallions, fi nely chopped
1/4 cup fi nely chopped Italian parsley
1/8 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (or any favorite toasted nut)
2 cups arugula
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add lentils to 1 1/2 cups of water, season with pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon cumin. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low and cover. Cook till al dente, approximately 40 minutes. Drain and set aside. While lentils are cooking, cut caulifl ower into 1-inch pieces, toss in bowl with 1 T olive oil, pinch salt, 1 tsp coriander and roast in 400F oven on sheet pan for 20 minutes until al dente.
ORANGE CURRY VINAIGRETTE
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1.5 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon orange zest (chopped small)
3 Tablespoons orange juice (1/2 orange)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon pepper (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon of your favorite curry powder
Whisk together to make vinaigrette.
Final Fall Salad preparation: In a medium bowl, toss warm lentils, cauliflower, apple, scallions and parsley with some of the vinaigrette, reserving some for the arugula. Adjust salt/pepper to taste. In a separate bowl, lightly coat arugula with a little vinaigrette — there may be vinaigrette left over. On a plate, make a small bed of arugula and place the warm mixture on top. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds or nuts.
YIELD: 4 starter salads
NUTRITION PER SERVING: 229 calories, 7.5g fat, 36g carbohydrates, 8g protein, 11g fiber