Melissa Clark is the chef (and dog mom!) behind two fabulous food-focused small businesses, What Clark Cooked and Fairchild’s Fromage. “What Clark Cooked is a personal chef and small events catering business. I cook for households during the week doing family meal prep, and have had clients who span from Vegan to Paleo to GAPS, to everything in between! On weekends, I chef dinner and cocktail parties, where I create bespoke menus focused on local, seasonal ingredients,” explains Melissa, who honed her craft studying and training under French chefs in the Bay Area of California.
Fairchild’s Fromage was born after her clients raved about her cheese platters, saying they would hire her just to make those. “The Fairchild’s Fromage menu and offerings have grown over time, but the gist is abundantly, thoughtfully curated cheese, charcuterie and crudites boards and grazing tables, delivered to your home before an event,” says Melissa. We spoke to this talented entrepreneur about her services, tips for holiday entertaining, and charcuterie board must-haves. Plus, the one component every good holiday party should have.
What areas do you service, and how can people hire you?
I currently service the tri-state area. I will be offering Fairchild’s Fromage services for Christmas – I do a Welcome Board delivered on Christmas Eve – and will be in Greenwich full time, servicing southern Fairfield County by mid-January! My websites are www.whatclarkcooked.com and www.fairchildsfromage.com, both of which have a contact form to inquire with me through. I’m available at [email protected], and am very active on IG @whatclarkcooked@fairchildsfromage.
What are your some tips for foolproof holiday entertaining?
- Don’t be a hero! Keep it manageable for yourself in a way that allows you to enjoy your own party, whether that be by outsourcing the aspects you don’t enjoy or aren’t your forte, or by choosing a format and menu that allows you to space out the preparations over the week leading up to the event.
- Décor! I will die on the hill that if you set a gorgeous table with linens, candles, and a botanical tablescape, with good lighting and music, you can serve spaghetti and meatballs with table wine and people will say it was fabulous.
- Place cards! It might sound micromanage-y, but bringing people together is as much about catching up as it is about making new connections. If you’ve got two friends you swear would hit it off, play matchmaker!
- Tunes! After 8 years putting on dinner parties, music is a crucial component to creating a mood and setting a tone. When it doubt, Django Reinhardt.
- Theme! Avoid the “what are you wearing?” texts between guests beforehand by stating in the invitation what level of formality you’re hoping for. Bow ties + Ball gowns, Cocktail dresses + Cummerbunds, Ralph Lauren and Bruce Springsteen grabbing a beer downtown, Iris Apfel and John Waters taking lunch at BG, get cheeky with it!
Do you have any pandemic-era tips?
I hate to say it because I’m the biggest fan of family style dining, but we are in an era of plated service! It’s a bit more work, but puts people at ease. For cocktail service I keep things easy to grab, either as a crostini, or skewer. With boards and grazing tables, I set aside several cups of cheese knives, bamboo picks and small tongs. There are great biodegradable options these days, but I’ve made a sport of sleuthing out antique silver.
What entertaining trends do you love right now?
I try to steer away from trend and stay true to style. Within my own style as a maximalist who is irreverently preppy, considered but casual, and addicted to antiques, I love that we are currently treating tables as a canvas for not only a good place setting, but an artful centerpiece, and I love a good mix of different plate, silverware and glass patterns within a cohesive color story. I’m also thrilled to see us move away from plating things in a stuffy, contrived way with tweezers and architectural integrity – it just never made sense to me. I love the organic, painterly platings of today.
What is the one thing every holiday party should have?
This will sound self-serving but, a cheese board! I truly believe they belong at every gathering. They’re beautiful, delicious, welcoming, and make a hosts life that much easier. I can’t think of another aspect of a party that covers all of those bases at once!
What components does every food board/charcuterie board need?
My answer is informed directly by my best seller: the Kitchen Sink board, which is a mix of cheese, charcuterie, and crudités. For cheeses, have one hard, one semi-soft, and one goo-ey gal. My heavy hitters are Humboldt Fog, 6-month Manchego, and St. Stephen by Four Fat Fowl. That said, I always ask the monger what they’re excited about, or share what drinks are being poured for their recommendations. For crudites, I always have carrots, radishes, and cucumber, accompanied by hummus. Sprinkle a spice mix overtop for a zhuzh. In the charcuterie arena, I slice a log of something like finocchiona, rumple up some prosciutto, and fold some thin sliced soppressata. Find a funky jam to serve alongside it all and Bob’s your uncle!
Why is getting a little help so worthwhile?
My answer is controversial, so I’ll preface it by saying: don’t get me wrong, I am by no means suggesting we just phone it in – this is a passionate business steeped in feelings of integrity and creative drive – but my biggest observation over the years has been that any caterer or personal chefs value isn’t in the food. It just isn’t! The food is great and yes, having devoted our careers, hearts, souls, blood, sweat and tears to this endeavor means we can make a dish taste and look better than most can. And yes, we have industry access and know-how to sleuth out the thoughtful details that elevate a culinary experience. But in reality, the service we actually provide is giving people their time back. They get back time they don’t have to spend planning, coordinating, shopping, prepping, executing, and cleaning up. It’s therefore time they get back to consider smaller details that excite them, or time to keep living their life! Events can get very complicated very quickly, and the first things people usually give up in taking the time to plan an event are exercise and self-care, compounding the stress of the endeavor! Being a sustainable host is being a measured host.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m not a mom, so what am I doing here? Being mom-support! As I mentioned in my answer above, it’s about giving back time to dynamic and demanding lives. It can be hard to let go of the food component because nutrition is so important, and feeding a family is so intimate, but I consider that with every meal that I make, and I never ever feed people something I wouldn’t confidently feed my family myself. In that way, this career is a lot like mom preseason!
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