By KEVIN STILLMAN/Farm News staff writer
FENTON – After operating an in-home daycare for almost 30 years, Vickie Gangestad thought she knew about long days, tough schedules and particular customers.
That was until she decided to accept a one-of-kind challenge catering for a friend’s wedding reception. Her kitchen has been a flurry of activity ever since.
“I’ve always been very organized,” Gangestad said, while flipping through the large and full day planner she uses to keep track of her business.
“Even when my kids were in school I was the one they looked to for dinners – prom night and special occasions like that.”
Vicki’s Country Catering, the business that started in 1997 and grew even as Gangestad was playing daily host to more than half a dozen extra children, now covers multiple events each week and added its own dedicated wing to Gangestad’s home in western Kossuth County.
A typical day begins around 4 a.m. – and an hour or two earlier during graduation season – with Gangestad beginning or finishing the preparations on multiple tins of bars, cookies and brownies; pounds of pork tenderloins and other meat; and cake of almost any variety. It’s a lot of work, but it’s built on a lot of experience.
“My folks were farmers and we would have three meals and three snacks a day,” she said. “I started pitching in when I was about 9 years old; and, of course, when I did daycare, you know how picky kids are.”
After starting her catering business Gangestad set to expanding on her already significant culinary background. From her first reception job she received more requests with new challenges, learning to take on events with specialized menus from vegetarian to Mexican and everywhere in between.
Gangestad said she now reads cookbooks, “like other people read a book,” always looking for and trying new recipes. She has taken on the event planning side of catering and keeps her own store of themes, decorations and specialized menus.
“I do as much or as little as the customer wants me to,” she said. “Especially with events like receptions there is a huge range. Some families have something in mind and just want someone to handle the food. Others just want to be able to enjoy themselves, so I take over and all they have to do is show up.”
While her menu is always expanding Gangestad said most of her customers come to her because she is known for doing simple things well.
“We do a lot of pork loins, buns, potato sides and things like that,” she said. “People really enjoy that kind of down-home cooking, so the menu doesn’t have to be so special so long as it is done well without any headaches.”
Avoiding headaches can take a bit of quick thinking and a lot of being prepared. Despite meticulous attention to planning ahead Gangestad said that having encountered almost every last-minute glitch possible has taught her to “live on Plan B.”
“It never fails that when you get there, there’s something. Maybe they don’t have enough of the right plug-ins or the table setup is totally different than we expected,” she said. “We just try to bring enough stuff along to work around those problems or come up with a way to make it all work.”
Overall, Gangestad said, the most important factors to her success have been earning a reputation for excellence and remembering that every job is about creating an enjoyable event for the customer.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a wedding reception, a meeting or graduation; it’s always a party,” Gangestad said. “Even if it’s a funeral it’s a party, because when you have people come together and socializing they are going to have a good time.
“That is the attitude you need to have about it.”
Favorite egg bake
1 8-ounce can crescent rolls
Chopped sausage or diced smokies
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6-8 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons diced green pepper, pimento, mushrooms, onions.
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
Spread crescent rolls in 9-by-13-inch pan and top with sausage and cheese. Mix remaining ingredients together in a bowl and poor over crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until set.
Make and cool regular brownies.
In a bowl melt:
6 ounces white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons milk
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
8 ounces Cool Whip
Mix and spread on brownies. Top with slice of strawberry and chocolate curls.
Contact Kevin Stillman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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