THE LADIES OF CHIVE SUSTAINABLE EVENT DESIGN & CATERING

The ladies of Chive Sustainable Event Design & Catering
The ladies of Chive Sustainable Event Design & Catering
http://www.exhalelifestyle.com/2011-3-3/TheLadiesOfChive.html | Jul. 14, 2011 | IN PRINT

The ladies of Chive
Sustainable Event Design & Catering

Julia Frost, Lindsey Wishart and Jennifer Frost, also known as the ladies of Chive, are joined by Mike Raymond of First Light Farm in Hamilton, Mass. 

The simple square plates look completely ordinary — thin, papery, brown, earthy. But holding the disposable dinnerware, Jennifer Frost tells another story, the tale of the plate’s long journey from India to her kitchen in Beverly, Mass. 

She describes her VerTerra plates with the depth and precision of a scholar: the materials used to make the dishes; the environmental benefits of those materials; who manufactures them; how those workers are paid; the amount of fuel required to ship the dinnerware to New York; why they are square-shaped, not circles; and why these are better than local alternatives. 

Incredibly, she knows this much about every product in her homey kitchen on the North Shore; it is a knowledge that extends far beyond the trendy “go green” labels that are so common on products today. And she should.

Alongside her sister, Julia Frost, and best friend, Lindsey Wishart, Jennifer runs Chive, a cutting-edge catering and event design company devoted to sustainability and “consciousness” in food. The trio’s goal, as Jennifer explains, is “looking at every item and every aspect of our business in a sustainable light.” 

Jennifer, Julia and Lindsey insist their commitment is not just surface-deep. “It’s not green-washing, it’s not a trend,” Julia explains. “It’s something that’s making a positive impact not just on our environment, but our local economy and our local community.”

Each product used in the business is meticulously examined to determine if it meets Chive’s high standards. And even after an item is selected, the women continue to evaluate it to ensure it is the best possible option available — if something better comes up, they will switch and use it. “We want to be the front leaders in sustainability and that means not getting too comfortable in anything,” Jennifer explains.

The women of Chive also have a close relationship with each of the farmers and producers they source food from. This, they explain, avoids the tremendous amount of waste so characteristic of the food industry. 

“Half the time Lindsey or myself are in the fields with them [the farmers] picking the things before the events,” Jennifer says. “And that helps with the whole waste thing,” Lindsey chimes in. “I don’t have to order a case of each thing ... I don’t end up with 25 pounds of carrots if I don’t need 25 pounds of carrots. I can go to the farm and get exactly what I need.” Whatever is left gets composted.


Photograph by Ian Justice • ianjustice.comwonderfulmachine.com
Hair & make up by Kathleen Schiffmann • Team Artist Representative
Bike:The Urbane Cyclist in Salem, Mass.
Like their plates, Chive is painstakingly careful with its produce. Their menus are not only tailored for each growing season, but for the specific day of harvest. “Last week I picked up all these beautiful spinaches,” Lindsey explains, “and I was harvesting them, and I was thinking, ‘this is supposed to go in this egg and cheese tart, but I don’t even want to cook them!’ ” 

Because the leafy greens looked too good to cook, she adjusted the dish so the fresh spinach would go on top of the baked tart. “I just want to make sure I’m doing justice to the people that grew the food,” she says.

Their use of local food also supports the local economy, they say. Not only do their dollars stay in Beverly, but they also “promote the heck” out of the small businesses they partner with, which helps “send people their way.”

In addition to their commitment to sustainability, Chive puts another twist on catering — event design. More than just food, the company provides an environment for events by beautifying the food they serve and the space they serve it in. “We’re three women, we like pretty things!” Jennifer exclaims. 

The concept for Chive originated several years ago when Jennifer and Lindsey were undergraduate students at Endicott College in Beverly. The two friends would hang out at Atomic Coffee — a place they deemed the only “honest” food source in town.

“We found that there was never a place we could go to get served a beautiful meal that tasted good and was cooked with real whole ingredients that we knew where the food was coming from,” Jennifer says. 

 

Their complaints led to talk about changing the food landscape in Beverly. Maybe even opening a restaurant, they thought, or a bistro.

For the duo, “knowing it, knowing where it’s from, feeding your soul, feeding your friends, feeding your family, sitting around a table and being able to enjoy good food” is what eating was all about. 

How to get there was another story.

Born in Germany to an army family, Jennifer, 27, grew up in Colorado and Shirley, Mass., where her love of food began at an early age. While in her teens, Jennifer started working in catering, hospitality and event planning. Along the way, she taught herself to cook. 

But the amount of waste Jennifer saw in the food industry troubled her. In college, she switched gears to study interior design — but again, found herself dissatisfied, this time, because of the slow turnaround time on projects.

Meanwhile, Lindsey, also 27, hails from Pennsylvania, saying of her childhood, “I came from a health food family — I was that freak in school who brought weird things to lunch and smelled like bulgur.” 

When she moved to Beverly for college, she immediately fell in love, and knew the relocation would be permanent. “When my mom dropped me off she was like, ‘Uh oh, you’re staying here forever, aren’t you?’ ” Lindsey laughs. “And I was like, ‘Yep, I’m a North Shore girl now, Mom.’ ” 

Lindsey studied fine arts at Endicott, but with a strong interest in growing food, later moved to California to work at an organic food co-op. But Lindsey’s cross-country move didn’t mean abandoning her ideas and dreams with Jennifer — it was in her absence that they started coming to life.

Working at a company on Beacon Hill at the time, Jennifer’s younger sister, Julia, was charged with planning an event to promote global business travel courses at Suffolk University. Julia called on her sister for help, shucking the school’s standard Sodexho fare in favor of Jennifer’s homemade cooking and handmade decorations. The event was a hit. 
Unlike Jennifer and Lindsey, Julia, 25, is the more business-minded one in the trio, and only recently became interested in food and sustainable living. “I’m probably one of the best examples, I think, of what Chive is trying to educate people about,” she says, citing her previous bad eating habits and inability to cook. 

Along with her sister, she grew up in Colorado and Shirley, Mass., and went to business school at the Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University, where her jam-packed life included a full course load, a part-time job and a work-study job — and heading her school’s women in business organization.

Soon after Jennifer and Julia’s successful event at Suffolk, the sisters got calls from the mayor’s Office of Environmental and Energy Services, the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Allandale Farm in Brookline — all requesting their services in catering and event planning.

“From that first event, without a name, without knowing or recognizing that that’s what Chive would become — that was the start of it,” Jennifer says. With no kitchen, no staff and no business plan, Jennifer and Julia accepted the offers. 

Coincidentally, Lindsey returned from California just as the requests started rolling in, and Jennifer immediately recruited her. “I called her and we had coffee at our place, and I said, ‘Lindsey, you know that thing we’ve been talking about? Well, I need you next weekend because we have 200 people coming to Allandale Farm!’ ” Jennifer recalls.

The event at Allandale was another success, and with that, Chive was born. “That was the ‘this is what we’re going to be doing with the rest of our lives’ event,” Lindsey explains. And the chive, they realized, perfectly symbolizes their vision. 

The purple blossom of the plant represents the design portion of the company, creating food that not only tastes good, but looks beautiful — as well as an attractive environment for events. The thin green stem represents the menus that are specifically prepared for each season; and the roots represent the promise of sustainability that anchors the entire company. 

With Jennifer’s background in interior design, Lindsey’s experience in food, Julia’s knowledge of the business world and their common commitment to sustainability, the three women found an effortless harmony for their talents.

Now, their list of clients includes higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, fellow sustainable businesses, with some weddings and corporate events mixed in. 

But in catering they also found a vehicle for their values — one they had never considered before. “When we talked about food, that was not what came up,” Jennifer says. “But the cool thing we found about catering is the number of people we can reach. ...It actually has become a very excellent vehicle for food in our community, one that I wouldn’t ever have imagined.”

n addition to practicing sustainability in their own kitchen, Chive uses its events as an educational platform to bring others into the fold. The women explain to guests where all the food came from, who they partnered with, and of course, how to compost and recycle after a meal to eliminate trash. 

But for Jennifer, Julia and Lindsey, their distinctive vision of sustainability goes far beyond the food they eat and the products they use — for them, it’s a way of life. 

“Sustainability is so much more than your daily practices, it’s your whole life,” Lindsey explains. “If I’m not happy at home — if I’m too busy selling events and I’m not spending time with my family, then my business is no longer sustainable.”

The family and friendship that brought them together to create Chive is also what sustains the women — and they hope never to forget that. “We’re three women who think that family and friends are at the very top of our list,” Jennifer says. “Helping them and ourselves live a good lifestyle goes with that. And our business is third.”

Like their commitment to sustainability, their commitment to each other is more than surface-deep. Their mutual affection is clear — they laugh when reminiscing, jump in to each other’s stories and finish each other’s sentences.

Mixing family and friends with business is commonly warned against, but in keeping each other first, Jennifer, Julia and Lindsey seem to have avoided this frequent pitfall. “We’re doing this because we love it and we love each other,” Lindsey says. 

“Trusting, understanding and supporting one another just as much as we support our business, just as much as we support our families, just as much as we support our eating habits,” is what has allowed them to be a sustainable business, Jennifer continues. Halfway into their third year, the women are optimistic and excitedly talk about the future, but are cautious to keep their egos in check. “Our business plan is this,” Jennifer explains, “support one another on a daily basis, remind each other what sustainability means to this business ... and don’t get too big for your britches.”

Although they are a profitable business, their growth has been slow and steady — something the women see as an advantage. Many businesses “grow too fast” and “lose sight of” their original mission, and “start to cut corners” in order to save money, Jennifer says. “But that’s not something we ever care to do. We want to figure out how to do it right ... in order to hold true to our beliefs.”