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Personal Profile
Leah Nielsen

QUALIFICATIONS

15 years experience in Food Service
Bachelor of Science in Hotel Restaurant and Travel Management
Lover of traveling and trying new and exciting foods
Instructor of cooking classes
Have current Food Handler's Permit

EDUCATION

BYU-Hawaii: Bachelor of Science in Hotel, Restaurant and Travel Management, April, 1989
Georgian College of Applied Arts and Technology: Resort and Hotel Operations Diploma, April, 1986

TRAVEL
Canada, United States (including Hawaiian Islands), Greece, England, Scotland, Wales, Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Japan, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Costa Rica

 SIGNIFICANT ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Attended the Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley, California, June 1996, to study Mediterranean Cooking
One of a team of four chosen from Georgian College to participate in Hotelympia, The International Hotel and Catering Exhibition, London, England, January, 1986
Won silver and bronze medals for food preparation and displays, 1985, 1986

 

Adapted from
Catering to Cache
The Herald Journal – June 11, 2000
By Mike Ingraham

"It was the longest ride of my life," Leah Nielsen of Lewiston is saying. "You don't realize how bumpy that road is."

Nielsen is "The Caterer" and, yes, catering can be a long and bumpy road. But since Nielsen's career has barely begun, she's speaking instead of I-15 and a trip she made to Salt Lake City.

She prayed the whole way, which most of us do, except in her case the lunatic traffic had nothing to do with it. Her prayers were with the wedding cake in the trunk.

"Please, please don't fall," she prayed.

That's the caterer's prayer, one of the many. Most often "don't fall" refers to rain, but sometimes to the carts of food in the back of the truck rounding a curve in Logan Canyon, or to the china being carried to the tables.

...The rewards are enough, however, to motivate Nielsen to invest in a new kitchen, shop for a new van, order dishes and generally pump everything back into her new business.

...Even Nielsen, barely up and running, is doing four weddings a week on only word of mouth.

...Caterers swallow some of their profits. Since shortage, along with tardiness, is a cardinal sin, the food should be in larger volume than the consumers.

So in preparing her menus for $8.25 per person, Nielsen plans for a 10 percent overflow.

Nielsen is in a fine position, at the beginning where she can build the reputation she wants.

True, she hasn't a restaurant, "the hub of the catering business," ... "Would you want to buy a car without test driving?"


 

Catering to Cache (continued)

But Nielsen is no novice; at 14 she was feeding farmers in Canada, and has been feeding folks ever since, from tourists in Hawaii to firefighters in Logan Canyon. She's catered at Sherwood Hills and Utah State and now is the catering chief at Logan Regional hospital.

As a new mother she sees a chance to start her own business while staying at home, working part time at the hospital. Her family's help with plumbing and construction held her new kitchen costs to $2000, including all four sinks and special drain in the floor as mandated by the state.

While the delivery trucks roll up to USU three times a week, Nielsen is picking herbs from her garden and pushing carts around the supermarket. "Sometimes the prices are better," she says. She calls ahead when she needs, like, 70 liters of 7-Up. You might want to find out when she's coming so you don't get behind her in line.

Her work has begun in interviews with the hosts. They want 700 little Logan Temple mints? They'll have 700 little Logan Temple mints. Their wedding colors are purple and green? She'll get flowers to match. She herself prefers simplicity, but if you want a cake with horseshoes on it, she'll do that. If you don't know what else to eat she'll give you a few recipes, let you test and decide.

She collects a $100 deposit. There's an agreement to pay in full when the event is concluded.

Back home she hits the computer "There are some great programs for quantifying recipes. That's the one kind of math I can do."

She starts three days ahead, thawing the meat and waking up nights and writing herself notes.

She's brave. She does wedding cakes, starting at $150. They usually take eight hours and are finished the night before "just in case."

Then it's cut the potatoes and ...my how the times flies in her new kitchen.

"I can go out there and shut the door and know I'm there to work," Nielsen says. "I can stay hours and enjoy it, as long as my husband can babysit."

Finally, with an hour to spare, she showers and dresses. She opens the oven, whisks everything off to the car (and sometimes other cars she's recruited. She needs that van!).

...She checks her lists.

"Utensils, tablecloths...I have to be really sure I haven't forgotten anything. Living in Lewiston, I can't just run back home."

When she arrives at the event, with an hour or so ahead, there will be a big sigh of relief from the hosts, but she'll be "a little nervous. When I deliver a wedding cake I want it to be exactly what the bride wants."

It always is, and that may be the reason that Nielsen takes on the cake challenge: she's smart enough to play her strength.

"I'm really good at wedding cakes and decorating buffet tables and setting out foods and pies. I have a sweet tooth, what can I say?"

In the final 10 minutes before the event starts, "you're running around like crazy." And hours after it ends the adrenaline is still running. Mac, when he was starting out 14 years ago, didn't realize how "addictive" this business could be. Tell Nielsen about it; her own wedding was a business move. She catered it herself, hoping her guests would become customers. And they have.