The Ivory Table Catering Company's chef and owner, Kristen Ward, sees much more than platters of food when she envisions an event. "Hosting is the craft of building a world that your guests can enter," says Ward. That requires attention to everything from the decor — candles, lighting, flowers — to the food, music and more.
Ward's path to owning a catering business has taken some unusual twists and turns, a process that left her uniquely suited to creating memorable events. After graduating from Seattle Central College's Culinary Academy, Ward rose quickly through the westside food scene for 11 years, ticking off stints at Wild Ginger, Le Pichet and Le Gourmand, which Gourmet magazine once rated as one of America's best restaurants. She also taught cooking classes and led culinary tours while living in Chinon, France.
After returning from France, she detoured into art — trying her hand at painting — and then forayed into music. Ward honed guitar and songwriting skills, formed a band, toured and recorded four albums between 2006 and 2012.
But by 2014, Ward decided to return to her hometown, Spokane, and to the food business. She intended to buy an existing catering company, but the deal fell apart at the last second.
"I had no idea what a blessing that was," Ward says, laughing.
By chance, she was driving on East Sprague and stopped in at The Flying Pig, which the current owners were hoping to sell. Within 48 hours, she had the keys, lease and all the equipment.
"Talk about the stars aligning," Ward says. "A little elbow grease and a few cans of paint later, and voila! The Ivory Table was born."
For three years, the café served signature buckwheat crepes, salads, sandwiches and soups for lunch until Ward felt the need to pivot. "I loved the cafe but had always dreamed of running a high-end catering company," says Ward, who credits her mother and grandfather with inspiring her early love of food.
"My mother exemplified 'farm to table' long before it became a catchphrase in the food world," Ward says. She remembers her mother's massive garden, her homemade yogurt and the bread she baked with home-ground wheat. "I would get lost in her collections of cookbooks and spend long weekends covering the kitchen in flour and chocolate, sauces, and various concoctions," Ward says.
Meanwhile, her grandfather instilled a love of outdoor cooking, including wild meats and freshly foraged fruits and vegetables, which Ward says he called "living off the fat of the land." She remembers being on her grandfather's Montana ranch and tasting horseradish for the first time, as well as digging for Yukon gold potatoes that, when cooked, were so sweet they didn't need butter. Once her grandfather took her rabbit hunting in the Nevada desert and then prepared a feast. The rabbit meat was stuffed into cabbage rolls and cooked over a sagebrush fire. "He roasted potatoes in the coals and even made a vinegar pan sauce in the rabbit drippings," she remembers. "It was mouthwatering. We roasted bananas in his clay horno oven for dessert and watched the stars. Absolute magic."
That's a little bit of what she's trying to create with every event through The Ivory Table.
"We are not just in the business of cooking," she says. "We are in the business of connection and beauty. And that's happiness."