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Dishing on Entrepreneurship

“I’ve been working with food since I was 12 years old—culinary arts are my calling,” says Gabriela “Gaby” Weir, a 2010 Kirkwood Community College graduate who now lives near Iowa City.

She grew up in Venezuela, where she worked in her mother’s upscale restaurant and tasted Mexican, Venezuelan, Peruvian, and Columbian cuisines. She moved to the United States before she finished high school.

Her multicultural experience continued at Kirkwood through the Hospitality Arts short-term exchange program, through which students can study culinary arts for three weeks in one of six different countries.

Weir chose to study culinary arts in Japan, an opportunity that introduced her to even more flavors and techniques.

“While attending Kirkwood, I was encouraged to experiment freely with food,” says Weir, 29, who graduated with a two-year degree in culinary arts. “I was given a budget and purchased everything I needed for a four-course meal."

According to Weir, Kirkwood’s mentoring and hands-on training prepared her to become an artisan farm-to-table chef, a profession that specializes in locally grown food.

Weir appreciates Kirkwood’s emphasis on buying food from local farmers. If a chef buys fresh ingredients and applies creativity, she designs a delicious meal that also sustains local growers and vendors, according to Weir.

“I love the act of buying food from people I know, so I can create meals for people I know."

Weir and her partner Denise Bushnell, also a Kirkwood graduate, now operate a personal chef service.

 

Their business plan was hatched through class projects in the Hospitality Arts program and ultimately field-tested after graduation.

Today Back to the Table is a boutique catering service based in Iowa City. Weir meets with clients to learn food preferences and special dietary needs. She designs menus, selects fresh produce, and buys groceries. She travels with her own equipment, prepares in-home meals, and does the dishes.

In her spare time, Weir teaches seasonal, gourmet cooking classes, which begin in the farmers’ market, mosey to specialty grocery stores, and end in the kitchen.

Both Weir and Bushnell view their Kirkwood experience as a vital stepping stone that prepared them to seek certification courses through American Personal and Private Chef Association and the American Culinary Federation.

Together they recently represented Iowa City as new members of the National Association of Professional Women, an organization that recognizes the country’s most accomplished women in over in over 200 different careers.

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