Friday, November 14, 2003

Meet Darius Somary Part 2

Successful marketer becomes a professional chef and now caterer

Part 2 Striking out on his own

Why did you decide to go into catering after working at Oliveto?
The restaurant experience was really good, it was a perfect experience for someone fresh out of school, in their early 20's who is all excited about working hard and partying hard. But I was beyond that. I couldn't stay up until 3 am partying. And then the salaries in the restaurant industry are very low.

Also, I don't necessarily want to be a celebrity chef. If I make it on TV that would be great but it's not my goal. I like Jamie Oliver's style. He's all about understatement and simplicity. He is very creative, using basic ingredients and basic techniques. He goes shopping with you and takes you every step of the way. Cooking should be very intuitive, tangible and understandable. I love his cookbook; it's very modular. By that I mean he includes the variants without specifying exact quantities for each.

One of my key strengths is balancing the four flavor dimensions sweetness, acidity, bitterness and heat. Also, I've learned very interesting ways of boosting existing flavors without introducing more and more different seasonings, a common mistake in home cooking.

Does your past experience in market research influence your cooking/career?
Tremendously. It helps me because I know how to identify my customers' needs and what works and doesn't work. What they appreciate. For example I hardly use garlic or onion for corporate lunch clients. Onion and Garlic are essential flavor components in French cuisine, but people don't like smelling of them when they go into an afternoon business meeting.

Do you do surveys?
I haven't done surveys yet, but I plan on it. I get verbal feedback, and I have a good understanding the corporate environment. It's not about showcasing your food, but leaving people pleasantly surprised while they are focussing on other things. I have two things I do; I try to use seasonal ingredients and food produced in a sustainable and socially responsive manner. I am against hydrogenated fats, especially in pre-manufactured foods. I buy some things imported from Italy and Switzerland and it's worth every penny. I don't use products with hydrogenated fats for health reasons. It sparks conversation about what people eat.

How is the catering business working out?
It's working out very well! It took off much more quickly than I expected it to, Doing lunches at Landor (the design company where Darius previously worked) has really helped get things started. I change my menu slightly every week. As simple as it is, it has something for vegetarians; low carb diets, it's modular, people can pick and choose and they appreciate that.

Business is coming through friends or existing clients. I'm doing events, corporate events, engagements, weddings, office blowouts, holiday parties, etc. Weekly lunches help but they're not my bread and butter. Lunches alone are not enough to make a living, but it helps me stay top of mind.

What's the best thing about a career in the culinary arts?
Before when I was in market research, when I told people what I did for a living, the conversation usually went nowhere. Now it's always very animated, people are always very interested in what I do, food is highly relevant to everyone. People love to share their recipes and talk about food. It's a very exciting career to be in.

For more information about Darius Somary or his catering business, please visit SpringLoaf Catering