GUEST: Chef Alyssa's Kitchen - Cooking Instructors and Community Builders

Episode Transcript

Julia Landauer 0:04 Hello everybody and welcome back to another episode of if I'm honest with Julia Landauer. This week I'm very excited to be joined by Alyssa and Andrew Wilen, the founders of Chef Alyssa's Kitchen here in Charlotte. Chef Alyssa's Kitchen started as an adult cooking class in Atherton market in South End, and has since expanded into its own standalone facility in lower South End, offering cooking classes, private events, corporate catering, Family Table meals, Saturday morning brunch and classes for kids and teens. Chef Alyssa has been cooking most of her life and graduated from the Art Institute of Charlotte. She's also worked in Italy and was the Executive Chef of fern. She has numerous awards, including the 40, under 40 honor by the Charlotte business journal has been recognized by Food and Wine Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine and competed on beat Bobby Flay. Andrew's background is in corporate communications, business administration and leisure sports management. And he's had stints at Bank of America, Red F marketing agency and Living Social Ventures, before opening Chef Alyssa's Kitchen while he and Alyssa were dating. I'm super excited to be chatting with them, because I took my first class cooking class with them in 2015, or 2016. And it was just really cool to be able to take those classes and then see them as a small startup start to grow, and expand and give me such foundational tips for my own cooking experience. So this will be a fun conversation. We're going to chat about their relationship and you know, going into business with your romantic partner. We talked about some specific skills that are really important the Charlotte culinary scene at large. And I hope you like this conversation. Chef Alyssa and Andrew, thank you so much for joining me on if I'm honest. Andrew Wilen 1:37 Thanks, Julia. Yeah, this is gonna be fun. We're happy to be here. Chef Alyssa 1:40 Yeah. Thanks for having us, of course. Julia Landauer 1:42 So for our listeners, I think it was back in 2016, or 2015, when I took my first class with you. And we'll get into your origin story in a little bit. But it's been so cool to see the growth of Chef Alyssa's Kitchen to take a bunch of different classes to bring our friends there. So this is really special to be able to catch up with you in this context. So thank you again, Alyssa. I want to start off by hearing more about how you decided to take this direction because chefs kind of have a lot of different trajectories they can take, especially after being in the restaurant industry. So how did you decide on Chef Alyssa's Kitchen? And how would you kind of succinctly describe what Chef Alyssa's Kitchen is at this point? Chef Alyssa 2:26 Yeah,Julia, it's a great question. Because going through culinary school and my early jobs, I never thought this was a goal. It was always ended up some way in a restaurant. If you thought about teaching and the concept of instruction, it was just in a culinary school setting. So I knew plenty of people that kind of went into that, maybe at different points in their career. But I, I just went on to working my way up through restaurants, and then got to a point in my life where I well Andrew and I met and it was a really important part to balance, you know, work life and have time for each other. So the more we were talking, the more our, his idea of running events, being in the event industry, where he's putting on really fun things that people sign up for anything, they were time they were centered around food, or a chef was involved, because like these people love it, they get so into it, they they sell out, then and people are really engaged. And I just never had the perspective on a cooking event, or even what people know, and how they cook at home. So that really opened my eyes after he mentioned it mentioned it was like, Okay, well, let's give this a go. And the more I engaged with people aside from just putting food on a plate that they would eat, really got hooked on enjoying that process and teaching and instructing and realizing I had something to provide, instead of just, you know, with my industry skills. So it was really wonderful that I ended up on the path that I did, and it ended up here, because I would not have made the best chef to be an instructor if I hadn't really earned my stripes through the industry. And I Yeah, we love it. So at its core, which you've enjoyed so many times, being part of our shuffles as kitchen family are those events, and we make cooking and in a cooking class environment. Really fun. That's been the goal from day one. We don't want any Julia Landauer 4:38 Can confirm can confirm. Very fun. Yeah, Chef Alyssa 4:41 so we get people that you've seen that are really into establishing like being a great home cook or they are a great home cook and they're learning a certain skill. Then we also have people that are just out on a date and they want to have fun. So we set up these classes to be relaxed in a great environment with great instruction and great chefs. So we teach people and go through a whole menu back and forth, everybody gets to their to have their hand in all the dishes, not just one thing, you make the whole menu, and you sit down and enjoy it, which is the way you would want to do it if you're, if you're cooking for yourself. So make a whole great meal, sit down and eat and enjoy it. And we did that for about five years and now being in our own location are grown from our original location to being in a new spot that we custom built, has two classrooms, and we have a catering concept that is in our back kitchen. So we have a team that's dedicated to catering in the sense of like meals during the day for Office groups. And at night, people can pick up dinner, so we kind of started to understand our guests and how we wanted to make food available for them. So that's, that's what it is and how it really kind of started off. Andrew Wilen 5:52 Can I chime in for a sec too? Yeah. So something if you remember Alyssa, like when we were, we started dating, and I was running events, originally for LivingSocial. Then I moved over to a organization with the city Charlotte Center City partners, and Alyssa had just opened up a restaurant as executive chef there. And I don't come from like a food background. Like I have like that events, marketing background, and though and then we had I do events on like off hours, because that's when many events are it was still relatively Monday through Friday, I remember when we were dating, and like a list of you working like every Saturday night. And then when it was like, free time where we get to, like, hang out like if it wasn't we couldn't do like a Sunday date. It would be like Sunday night. And sometimes Alyssa would be like, oh, like, let's come over and like watch a movie. And I was like, No, I gotta work on Monday morning like. And so when we started our business, we kind of have that a little bit more in mind, kind of keeping more of this Monday through Friday. And so it took a while to build there. And so now, like, people ask us, like, Oh, why don't you do a class on Saturday night. And we're like, we don't want to, I don't know, we can work every Saturday night if we really want to. And I think it's been really cool. Where we do classes Monday through Friday, private events, public events. And when we do Saturdays, they're just some Saturday mornings, either for adults or parent child classes are really fun. You just have to take together. But now we have like a class on Monday. And people want to come and like Monday is not like a sexy night for like, yeah, like an event. You know, you think of like Thursday, Friday Saturdays for those, but it's been really cool. You know, as Alyssa was saying that you thought of teaching in like a culinary school sense. Not in like a fun, kind of interactive, like, everybody can do this, or everybody can at least enjoy themselves with good food and company. And so that can happen on a Monday night, where we do a class and or an event. Which is cool, because it definitely, I mean, it probably took like five years before we even considered doing a class on Monday because we're like, it's Monday who's gonna come? Right, on Friday? Yeah, right. Julia Landauer 8:08 So actually jumping off of that a little bit and kind of going back to getting started. So when I was reading through the bios, and recognizing that, oh, you actually were just dating, I say just dating and like, you hadn't necessarily made that commitment to spending the rest of your lives together. And it's a big commitment to get into business together. So a couple of just like specific questions. One, how long were you dating before you decided that you were gonna do this? And was Was there any hesitation? Or were you guys just like, 100%? Let's go Chef Alyssa 8:35 along the way, we stopped ourselves a little bit because of the process we take to like, the living together. Yeah, I think we've always been on the same wavelength. So we, that was immediate for us. Like we already kind of knew, like, okay, maybe we take a different path to like, get to that same result, but like, we're always on the same wavelength. So since we already knew that, coming together, and bringing our ideas together was really nice. It really well balanced, natural to, and we did stop ourselves at times, and we were like, dating and being together is what we want to pursue. Number one, we can find jobs. So do we really want to do this? And the Andrew Wilen 9:18 answer is just one. It was like a one it was it was it was like a year end with a little over Chef Alyssa 9:23 a year over a year we were dating and so cool. We're also at times in our lives, where we had already spent so many years working for other people. So we wanted to try our hand at something of our own. And also we got in it's such a, we didn't open what we have now, as you know, it was it was much smaller scale. So if we if it didn't work, it was okay. We were out, you know, our saving a bit of our savings, but it wasn't the end of the world. So we were really willing and able to get it give it a go and build that strength. Andrew Wilen 9:57 We weren't we weren't forced to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars that we didn't have, or would have to borrow from a bank or SBA or something like that. And so yeah, like, let's say, like we had, we had enough savings that we could invest where we could invest. We always talked about when we first started, we had five tables that give it four people, each 20 people total, we can only afford 10 knives. So whenever two people must share a knife, because that was just what we could do. Right? All month, then we had enough money to buy 10 More knives. That was so Julia Landauer 10:32 cool. That's such a like, I feel like and just like seeing your evolution and everything. I feel like you have taken that innovative, but also like very approachable, approachable approach. It's not the most elegant way to say that, but like, you know, like the class is accessible. Like you don't feel like you're in a hoity toity kitchen. Like it feels like you're around tables, friends, which you are and like you guys are always very conversational. So it's cool to hear that like, you know, part of that was out of necessity. But also it seems like just an extension of your personalities, brought that through. So that's, that's really cool. Were there specific challenges that weren't expected. It sounds like you guys communicate? Well, it sounds like you guys were on the same page with finances. And I think that's a big sticking point. But were there things that you were unexpected that you had to work through. Chef Alyssa 11:18 On the business side, we didn't initially have anything initially, we had a really willing and able like, open like environment for us to start our business and was a farmers market and indoor space where we could pop up. So all of that was great. later down the line, anything in business, we kind of were able and we were better able to tackle it together, I think the most kind of issues that will still arise. But we're bit we've learned a lot more as we go is just that. Andrew is like a measure twice, cut once type of person. And I may Oh, it'll work. So that's Andrew Wilen 11:55 like, Yeah, it's fine. Yeah. Chef Alyssa 12:00 So I have to have patience for that. And he has to be more trusting of my process as well. So those are the only things that they were they were like, bigger arguments in the beginning and frustrating, but we always knew, Okay, we're getting to the same goal, we're just taking the different steps to do it. So it's patience and learning how each other approaches that. And that's why when people tell me Oh, I couldn't be in business with the person that I am in the relationship with, I just couldn't do it like, Well, you do it in a lot of different ways that you may not realize it's just a little bit more of it, when you're also spending your life in your work together to and then you're just totally exposed. Like, I can't go to work and maybe slack off and like, hide that from my husband. Like, I can't be like, Oh, today was such a hard day. Like he knows what I went through. And so things are like, you know, we just see all facets of each other. And I think that's also just a relationship. Julia Landauer 13:00 Yes. Andrew Wilen 13:01 What with I'll jump in there. I mean, like lately, talking about like our days, like there's some days in the business has grown to a point where listen, I we we are in the same building, but the same hours a day we drove in together, we're gonna leave together. And we will have hardly spoken minus like catching up on a couple of things. Because of like the different areas that were in a list always said to chefs can run the business. And so because we have different parts that we're focused on, they all obviously, they all overlap, and they work together. But we're not often we're not doing the same thing at the same time. So we could spend an entire day working together but not like being like, Oh, I haven't seen you for like four hours. Chef Alyssa 13:41 And a lot of that's due to the fact that our team has grown. So we just have, yeah, our are involved. But I would say Andrew Wilen 13:48 we've had two challenges that stick out one from a business level and one on a personal level related to the business, that we're that we're really hard in a hard decisions to make. Even even though I think we make the right decision on the business one that was you know, it's still you still used 1000. And that was one on your mind. That was when we reached the point we're going after to market a farmers market. And so because of that ability that was I mentioned that we kind of start with a low investment. Low investments aren't forever at some point, you got to kind of, you know, put your chips in the pot there a little bit right. And we were in south end and you remember from the market, you remember it was like before the whole area just like exploded with developers. And so yeah, we got an A really nice rent deal that if we were there today would not be by entrepreneur. And so we had to make a decision of like, alright, the business is growing. How where do we think the business will go to? We had several developers reached out to us we reached out to other developers. We had a commercial real estate person. They worked with them. We're like, what is the next step of chef was his kitchen, and now it was like a really hard period. We had over like six to 12 months, we were making those decisions while we were working like our tails off working four or five nights a week because we had low staff, low expenses. But you know, we didn't have kids, we worked every chance we could every startup. Yeah, we were startup. Every day we worked, we can be profitable, why would we not work? Yeah. And so it was really hard making those decisions, then making the decision of what we saw the evolution to go to Now, where's it going to be? And what's it going to cost? And so then we make that decision. And we move to where we currently are in lower South. And then there's like, oh, yeah, now that you've made a decision what to do, you have an architect, you have a builder, you have a superintendent or project manager, you have a lot of decisions to make. And like, that was like a really hard, like, from a business perspective of working together for our lives, in our personal lives and our business lives. And like having to make this big decision, that's what was gonna cost a lot of money. But it was an investment. Fortunately, we had four years under our belt, so we knew direction, yeah, we had some direction, like we knew. Like Alyssa said, we couldn't have started off with that in year one, we would have failed quickly. But instead, you know, we had that opportunity to advance ourselves. Julia Landauer 16:18 So cool, we're gonna take a quick break. But then we're gonna come back with Chef Alyssa and Andrew and keep talking about their incredible cooking journey. We are back on if I'm honest with Julia Landauer. And we have Chef Alyssa and Andrew. So we were just talking about kind of some of the unforeseen obstacles or hard spots in working with your partner and also a lot of the great parts. And, you know, I look at my relationship with Ben. And I think like, we have really complementary skill sets, but kind of to your earlier point, like I know, kind of what things about him I see as potentially problematic. But then as part of our relationship, like we know how to deal with them. And I'm sure he sees those about me and like, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses. And so it seems like just a cool extension of doing that in business with your partner. And so like, I think it's super admirable. And I hope that maybe one day Ben and I have the opportunity to do that. So yeah, you were talking about how, you know, we're making these big decisions in this kind of way, once you get to the big space and having all these other things you have to do in those six to 12 months being really challenging. Andrew Wilen 17:29 Yeah, and so that was definitely hard getting to that point. But then, that our take our next big hurdle as business owners as this point, at this point, a married couple was when we started when we started having kids. Yeah, our daughter already was born. Fall 2019. So before pandemic, and when obviously, we everything shifted for a little bit. But it was like how do we take time off? How does the business run when we are so integral to like the day to day operations. So we put these in place, we had like the right team, you know, like I had, like brought on an assistant for a little while to kind of help manage that on the day to day and especially with our first kid new parents like going on. And then once it became time for like, Alright, it's time to kind of listen to get back to work a little more regularly, how we sort of manage that, like, alright, we still have a four month old at home, who requires plenty of care. We had a nanny and the nanny share. But I think our big, none of dilemma, but like our problem to solve then was how do we manage our personal with our business, and our child that we want to be around and raise the pandemic, hip did a lot of things. But ultimately, when we came out of it, it changed the way our business operated in a positive ways. So Alyssa, went from teaching multiple nights a week, to teaching a lot less in the evenings. And so and in turn, added more classes during the day. So she could still have that involvement and still share that same experience. It allowed some of our other team members who were on our team to elevate to new levels that they always had the potential to, and they've been kind of ready for the opportunity. And we saw some of our team members really rise and it changed the way it changed the way that we do now how we develop and look for great talent. Yeah. So everybody, when they start, this is where you're going to start, here's where we're going to go and here's where you're going to end up. And so we got to set that and so throughout, you know, a couple of years of folks with us we see different levels that they that they rise to that's Julia Landauer 19:49 got to be really satisfying to like also and like part of what I didn't mean to cut you off but part of what you know I was thinking earlier is you know when you were talking about taking time away starting a family and everything was more of this For us, because as the founders and the creators, like you want to be involved, or was it, you know, and then like that, that, you know, kind of having a hard time stepping away? Or was it not having the people in place? And so it sounds like, you know, kind of more like, outsourcing where you need Yeah. Which I can only imagine is so hard when it's like, that was your first baby that you kind of like, raise. So yeah, Andrew Wilen 20:22 yeah. And then, you know, Alyssa, and I love working together. And so, you know, at first were like, Okay, listen, we'll work this night, I'll be home to watch the baby. And then just kind of figuring out how we could like, work together on that, for Julia Landauer 20:34 sure. And it sounds like, and I, you know, I hadn't quite known this to this degree. But obviously, you guys are great team personally, professionally, but it's really cool to hear that prioritizing your relationship with each other, and you're spending time with each other has kind of driven so many of the decisions. And I just think that's so nice and romantic. And I'm a I'm a hopeless romantic. So I love hearing that. Do you guys have any tips for if people want to go into business with their partner? Chef Alyssa 21:03 I think it's like accepting that you're gonna be living it and breathing it, and it's going to enter into your home life. And that's not a bad thing. It just means you're talking through decisions. You know, Guest Relations, community relations, your whole strategy, and how you go about problem solving, you're talking about it at all hours, there's not separate business hours. So if you just accept that, and then different times, of course, you shut it off. But, you know, it's kind of like part of your weekly life. And then then I think you can, if you're comfortable with that, and just knowing that it's gonna be present, then it's great. Andrew Wilen 21:49 Now, I would say patience with each other. Because there's different parts of your brain in your lives that are working simultaneously, sometimes within the same conversation will have will be in a work conversation. It's like, oh, look, we've got this great picture of our kid at school, like, you know, and back and forth, having patience for each other. Because certainly, for us raising a family, but even have relationship together, you know, you just being being patient, I think helps us understand each other and enjoy all of our time together. Yeah. Julia Landauer 22:24 Oh, that's great. I love that. Well, switching gears a little bit, I want to talk about the classes themselves and some of the stuff that I've learned. And Ben and I have taken a lot of classes, I took classes before I met then, and one of the ones that I remember so clearly that I utilize all the time is your knife technique or knife skills class. And, you know, it was everything from like, how to hold the knife properly, how to how to uniformly dice an onion. And that was probably my biggest takeaway, where I was like, Oh, my God, this is so much more efficient. How How are people not taught this in, like, you know, high school or something, it was so much more efficient? Are there any golden rules that you would be comfortable sharing with our listeners for, like things that just like need to master or need to have in like, just kind of the setup for effective cooking? Chef Alyssa 23:17 Oh, that's, that's great. Because I do refer to them as foundation skills. They're not beginner level, they're just foundations. So anybody at any time could need to take a look at have I really formally learned this have I really focused on the attention that it takes to sear something properly or am I just like kind of doing something, the way I know how to do it and hoping that the end result is going to be like the way I expect it to be. So I think there's lots of things that people are grasping for, whether it's How and when do I add the oil to the pan, and when when I'm heating it up. And then of course, cut a slice. So golden rolls, I think are to really respect your knife to love it to care for it, because it's your main tool. And if you don't love working with it, then you're not going to have fun doing the stuff that it takes. And you're going to opt for pre done things and then your food's not going to be as good. So if you have the ability to take anything from a whole ingredient down to the preparation of it, like whether it's a, a whole space, toasting it and grinding it, or a whole vegetable that you're then peeling and slicing. Like if you're taking something from its original form and breaking it down yourself, you have the chance to get optimal flavor. So if you think about things like that, that's that's a lot of missed opportunities by people and one of the things that can develop flavors, so that would be one thing and we can go to like different example but that kind of like one little thing I think that people shouldn't overlook. Utilizing acidity and citrus and fresher versus dry, those are all things that can really like develop your flavors. But also with like the the knife part of things, it's, it's like keeping a chart knowingly comfortable handling it. I have actually, during the pandemic, we did a lot of virtual classes that were weekly basis, I would do like two a week, and really dive into something. And those were really fun, because they weren't based around a whole kind of meal, it was like making something out of what you have, because we were trying to tell people to go shopping for all these nuanced ingredients, just like, this is more of a technique. So I have a library of classes. And I always just tell people, like go grab our knife skills class that we have living on our website that you can like, buy, because it'll help give you a little bit of that. And break it down a little bit more. Julia Landauer 25:54 Yeah, yeah, it's so and like, again, to your point, it's like such a foundational thing that really transforms the way that you cook. And, and the other thing that I remember from that class is, so I tend to be quite frugal with the equipment that I use in the kitchen. And I think it comes out of you know, because I'm going to wash the dishes if I'm cooking for myself or Now Ben and I kind of you know, alternately whoever does majority of the cooking then doesn't clean. But I was always pretty frugal with my equipment. And I remember like something that you said was also like making sure you have enough room on the cutting board and not letting stuff get piled up. Because then like want, it's a little more dangerous with the knives but then also you're just cluttering. And then it's inefficient. And so yeah, there's just little side note, that was a big takeaway that I now think about, because I still have the inclination to be frugal and just use one board. And then I think, no, no, no, no, we grabbable we need a bowl. I also like even little things like, I noticed that Ben would use a small bowl to put the end pieces of this like end of garlic or end of green beans or whatever, and just put in the bowl instead of like taking the time to like, throw in the trash and everything. And I just thought that was very cool, too. So yeah, hey, Chef Alyssa 27:07 I will stand there for an extra five minutes and whip whip cream, instead of getting out my mixer to do it. Because I just don't want to do this whole thing, this whole process of getting the equipment out to then wash it. And that Julia Landauer 27:23 makes me feel so much better. I really appreciate that I'm sure our listeners also appreciate other professional chef also does that that's, that's awesome. Chef Alyssa 27:32 It was really good practice. When I was first designing recipes for classes, I was coming from a restaurant perspective where time is not it doesn't matter, you know, you can make a dish that really if you go back and you look at all the pieces to that dish, it took three days to make it, whether it's all these components, the demi that it takes to make a sauce, the like, prep work it took to you know, cure something or whatever it is, and you just don't have that kind of time and I can't guide people into making something because it's really great. If I could spend that time they shouldn't that saved for the restaurant which you you know, go to. But when I would come up with dishes and try to gain like a perspective on how our guests are going to take this he was always my sounding board and now not as much because you're maybe for ideas and stuff but you have a team that bounce ideas off of. And I can be that filter but for a while I was like what people want to learn this is important. And that was always like him cuz he was like, I don't know how to cook picked something up over all these years but helpful things. Julia Landauer 28:46 So what, Andrew, what was your process for kind of deciding if it was worth it? I don't know if there was if it was something formulaic or if there's like, just from your own personal perspective, being the non, I don't wanna say non cooking enthusiast, but the non chef in the, in the couple like, was there? Were there key key guiding factors that you thought about when looking at her recipes? Andrew Wilen 29:08 Oh, I think sometimes when, whenever, because Because Alyssa was like she said she was thinking about more complex recipes that would take more time. And so especially for some of more, the beginner thing classes, you know, trying to feel like asking me, like, Would you do this? Do you find this interesting? And so kind of thinking, you know, I'm feeling coming from more of like a like an everyday person perspective. And we have classes that are meant for more intermediate and advanced cooks, home cooks, and some that are meant for people right in the middle and so I think I kind of helped hit that demographic and you know, and so and then Alyssa will be able to to kind of take like a fun take on some of these more simpler recipes and like over the years, has a really really hones it in to be able To provide like restaurant and like high quality style meals that anyone can make at home that aren't going to take a million steps and a ton of ingredients and pages of notes, like things are like short, like they'll take some time, but they're very executable, and they're going to provide like a great, a great meal and better yet they're good provide leftovers that you get to enjoy, especially with like, busy times. Great. I've got lunch tomorrow to heat off Dover's Julia Landauer 30:25 are critical I feel and that's something Ben doesn't like leftovers, he would prefer to like eat everything as it's freshly made. I'm like Benjamin, I need lunch in the middle of the day tomorrow, like, Andrew Wilen 30:37 I don't get the dishes. It's so good. Now, Julia Landauer 30:40 I don't want to do dishes every night of the week, like, I know, I'm the human dishwasher. But okay, we're gonna take another quick break. But when we come back, I want to talk a little bit about ingredients and sourcing and kind of how you've looked at that. We're back on if I'm honest with Julia Landauer, with Chef Alyssa and Andrew. So we're just talking about making recipes and catering them to the different experience levels. But something I've always loved, especially, you know, doing cooking classes in Charlotte has been your commitment to locally sourced foods and farms and working with partners. Can you go into a little bit about if that's been the case, since the beginning how you decided to do that and kind of how you pick and choose where you source your ingredients? Chef Alyssa 31:29 Yeah, I love that. That's part of our business. It was very much what we went into knowing that we wanted to be part of the business. So Oh, that's great. Yeah, it, it was it was very focused, we were lucky enough that the where we started was a farmers market itself, it was an indoor farmers market out there to market if you're in the Charlotte area, it's in lower South End, but those same vendor are in South End. But those same vendors are part of what they refer to as the south end market. It's right outside of Appleton. So you can go on Saturday mornings, mostly year round, and see a lot of the same vendors. So when we entered into the market, it was a great place for us, because working with local food was always my goal. And my focus when I worked in restaurants, so it was more of, you know, whatever you want to say farm to table, like, had farms delivering to me all the time, and I sought them out. So when we started in the market, we got to know all the vendors there. And I would say 90% of the class ingredients were all from the vendors there. And that was bracing. Yeah. And they also had Queen City pantry up at the front. That was, you know, all the other little things like you could get, yeah, you could get milk and eggs and some of the other things that you know, some of the other vendors weren't bringing in. But yeah, meat, vegetables, all that was all there from the market. So every all the classes like we weren't going to do something unless it was seasonal, and we would build all the classes around those and I had so many classes on the calendar that I wouldn't even put a menu on there for it would be you know, fall harvest, and then the menu would come a few days before the class. And that was always like really fun. And now that we've moved, we have sought out a lot of a lot of vendors. So our catered meals are also very elusive of local. We go through a lot more food now. So but we're still getting weekly deliveries from I can tell you like five or six farms individually. And then also there's a great company called Fresh list that started about maybe six or seven years ago it was after we had established, but they bring together a ton of farms and people directly as you know, individuals, but their main goal for their business was to cater to restaurants they pull that are from the region, and all places that they've vetted and are doing things really well. And they bring all those ingredients together. So on a weekly basis, I can order like a larger quantity of all these great local ingredients. So we're still basing all of our classes around the seasonality and our menus on our our our meals and our school meals. So all of that is still woven into everything that we do I wish that I could be in a better position to tell people where to get all these ingredients themselves. I try my research all those things on like where to get your fish where to get your meats. But I think that I'm I'm lacking because Charlotte doesn't have an like a commissary or place even even the small grocery stores like say healthy home market that used to be around. A lot of these places have closed within a place on a weekly basis. You can go and get local food you can Sign up for a CSA you can get. You can go to the farmers market yourself, but I feel it's part of our mission to help be that bridge. Yeah, for our guests to get their hands on the same food that we're using. So I try not to use something that people can't get themselves. That's really Julia Landauer 35:19 considerate, yeah Chef Alyssa 35:20 pensive to get Julia Landauer 35:22 so well. And it's tough because like, you know, I've been in Charlotte for nine years at this point over nine years at this point. And like, I see a huge difference in kind of the food scene, both from market like where you can get food perspective, but also restaurant. But yeah, it feels like there's still some work to be done on being able to find that more locally produced, and like we've built relationships with different farmers that are nearby who are more amateur. But we know like, we know that where the stuffs coming and coming from, and that's really important. Do you know if there is there are resources in Charlotte for like, produce or food that's not used? I know, that's a nationwide area of waste for us. But I don't even know like if there's something in Charlotte that does that, whether it's I don't know exactly how food banks or food kitchens work. But do you know anything about that? Chef Alyssa 36:17 There are a lot of companies that work out of the Innovation Barn, which is a zero waste circular economy, like, nonprofit here in Charlotte. So they have a facility that is promoting all kinds of businesses that are reusing things, they have a kitchen there that a lot of people work out of, they do pull ingredients that are leftovers and make soups out of them. So there's a lot through them. Julia Landauer 36:44 I'll be sure to link that in the description, because I think that's really important for people. Do you know if it's something that only businesses can contribute to? Or is it something that individuals can as well? Chef Alyssa 36:53 I don't know the answer. I don't know that. Andrew Wilen 36:57 But it's a great team there. So we could certainly reach out. Yeah, yeah, no, thank Julia Landauer 37:02 you for top Chef Alyssa 37:02 there that you can like go to and so anybody is looking at a great little meeting, but go check it out. It's great. They do school field trips, they have aquaponics, they have just a lot of really fun things. And you get inspired to compost and get involved and do a lot of things that will aid in this whole circle. Yeah. And Andrew Wilen 37:24 through their health. We now have three grow towers, our space and so we grow different, like herbs and lettuces and, and things that we use for classes. And so and so innovation barn kind of helped set us up, but that they still kind of provide some maintenance and some help with that when needed. But yeah, we have that like in our space now. They're really cool. You've probably seen them like on Instagram and things like that, but we enjoy them and they're kind of a lower maintenance, indoor garden for us. Innovation Warren has like hundreds of them. We have hundreds, like hundreds Julia Landauer 38:00 they have a lot. They have a lot of a lot. And where is the innovation barn in Charlotte? Chef Alyssa 38:04 It is in the Belmont neighborhood which is just right by Andrew Wilen 38:09 Plaza in that Plaza. Julia Landauer 38:12 Oh, very cool. Okay, innovation barn, we're gonna check it out and do all that because that's, yeah, that's, I like to hear that. That stuff's going on to help be a little more environmentally friendly, less wasteful, super important. Yes. Speaker 2 38:27 Amy Aussieker and Daniel Heaton and they are part of the established envision Charlotte which is all about sustainability and simple practices. And then this was an extension of that as a place for them to like do that they link up with a lot of businesses that are trying to give back and that kind of thing too. Very Julia Landauer 38:49 cool. Well last thing before we get to the rapid fire if you're honest, kind of going off this theme of the food scene in Charlotte changing and you guys you know catering your menus based on what's available. And from the from the start of Chef Alyssa's kitchen to now have you seen culinary tastes change in terms of your customers or like what types of dishes are going for? Or are you still pretty much like touching on a whole lot of different types of cuisines? Chef Alyssa 39:15 You know what I want to let you answer Julia Landauer 39:19 the hard hitting questions would Chef Alyssa 39:21 but you know, our guests just as well as I do. And the Charlotte scenes though. Andrew Wilen 39:27 I think what's really fun. We see it in different ways, of course. And so sometimes we call different menus, sexy menus, like when we have a Greek menu and for like cooking octopus, something that's like really exciting. And we're making like a really cool kind of pasta and Italian class. And for a while. Those ones were like ones that people would gravitate towards. Yeah, and like and then there's just different times where recently a few weeks ago we put like 20 new classes on the calendar, all different themes all across the board to kind of hit every little packet that we could. And the ones that filled up the quickest were the healthy classes. They were like fresh autumn dinners and menus like that, that weren't with these, like really close addressing ingredients, or these like very interesting global flavors, they were just like, good, fresh, hearty meals that are gonna fill you up and not weigh you down. And so I think that it always surprises us, even though it shouldn't. But that we get to move towards that direction of those types of menus. And, you know, and sometimes like, we take chances with different types of menus, like, we want to do like a soup menu, or like a nice French menu and those, and once you start getting a little more specialty, your, your demographic gets a little bit smaller, we don't have big events. So it's doesn't always like, like hurt us or anything like our classes are between like 12 and 24 people. So like, so they're never huge when you're signing up for a class. And so it doesn't always take a lot to get there. And so, with our growth, it's given us the ability to like, try new things and see what happens and adjust as needed. Like when we started our day classes, we started doing some of those like Italian or healthy weeknight meal themes. And we learned that the day classes really do great when they're skills based, like making pie making fish Cookery, where we can like break down fish and cook it in like three or four different ways. Julia Landauer 41:30 So cool. Chef Alyssa 41:32 I think if I'm being honest, that's Julia Landauer 41:35 why we love on it. Thank you. Yeah, okay. Chef Alyssa 41:39 I think that there's a stigma in Charlotte, if people kind of following trends, maybe go into the hot place, and then it dying off and kind of goes hand in hand, like the Charlotte guest will tell you, Oh, well, the restaurant wasn't consistent anymore. And I couldn't get it service wasn't good anymore. And I just kind of stopped going there. And I think it goes hand in hand. Because all of a sudden, you know, the newness and the hotness of it kind of fades a little bit. They're not still not getting the traction. So they they adjust a few things. And then that affects the experience. And so there's all these things that I think there's path that there's a lot of restaurants end up down. And we're getting this influx of a lot of places that didn't start here, they're their, their their companies from out of town, they're opening a place. And so they have the funds to just make a big splash. So there's just this like constant tension of like, how do I be creative, like really creative, like really push things and really give people great experience. And those places, I think have to find homes, like right out on the outskirts of Charlotte or right on the edge. Or they have to have a real mix on their menu of things that will be really appealing. And maybe a few things that appease their culinary desire to like, show people something really great. And that's honestly what happens to us too. Like we get inbound inquiries all the time for pasta and sushi making. And I don't think there's an understanding of what really goes into it. So people are always extremely surprised. I mean, we don't do suit, we did it sushi for a little bit, because we had a great sushi chef that wanted to do classes with us. And so we gave him the platform to like do a few. And that was great. And I enjoyed his his approach to it. But it's not something we're keeping up because you know, he's not doing them as much. And we are I'm not going to teach them. So that's a whole different thing. I'm not gonna sit here and tell you that I can do sushi. But then pasta, like it's in my repertoire. I have done it for a long time. But I didn't offer my first pasta class at our kitchen to like your five, because there's a lot that goes into it. And I didn't think it was a skill I was really into skills being something that people could use on a daily basis at home, and Would it improve their lives, not something that was like, a one off and you do it every now and then. But then we started getting into it because I fell back in love with like the process of pastan and teaching people that I still don't do it all the time. Because I think there's there's there's other things I want to do. Yep. And for the same reasons. Yeah, for the same reasons. So there's a little bit of that if like, I want to do the thing that like I expected class to be like because I see it on TV. And there was not the desire to teach that because I don't think people really look are as interested in getting to the whole like the depth of a simple thing. Like was much interested in learning the rice on sushi as much as holding it. So it was kind of like we want to show teach the appreciation of it. And so there are some things that we don't want to do because they're just trendy. I want to show people how to appreciate certain things. That's our we have the ability to do Do that with the decisions we make. And hopefully we do a mix of things that are popular and fun and interesting. And the thing that people will make a quick decision to want to book and then other things that they're just really trying to deepen their understanding of food, and does they want to learn this, this thing, but there's a lot of themes that I would love to offer, but I kind of hold back on because I'm a little afraid of it not being received. And so I give it a little time and see how into something. Yeah, Julia Landauer 45:34 yeah, work your way up there work your way into it. But no, that's a super interesting perspective, and especially kind of the almost like fickle nature of restaurants, at least here in Charlotte of Yeah, like, you know, really have some good momentum and then kind of fizzle out. And, you know, I think Whether it's cooking or if it's musicians, or like anything creative like this, it seems like I would assume that the artist or the chef, wants to evolve, right, and wants to change and wants to grow. And so yeah, that balance of keeping people excited about what you're doing. But also growing yourself has got to be tough. And I don't know if like maybe Charlotte just doesn't have the density of people going out to restaurants regularly that maybe like makes even less wiggle room. So I don't know, that's an interesting, I hadn't thought about it like that. But you're so excuse me, you're so right, that it's got to be tough. Yeah, Chef Alyssa 46:23 I like the way that you've related it to like really can to kind of take that perspective for a lot of things that you do that are creative. Yeah. Yeah. I mainstream and what's gonna sell, and then what? You know, and while you still love it, we don't offer a single class we don't love. Now, not to say that. It's just, I probably could teach positive classes every single day. And you know, but I want to, I want to expand that. So yeah. Julia Landauer 46:48 Well, guys, thank you so much for giving so many great insights. And for the honesty with the whole process. This has been really cool to learn more about and to hear more about your story, even though I feel like I know you super well. We're gonna end on this rapid fire. If you're honest. And you guys are both good. They might not all be relevant to both of you, but feel free to both have both of you answer. So the first one, what is the hardest produce ingredient to work with? Chef Alyssa 47:18 Oh, my gosh, I wish I could hear good. Julia Landauer 47:22 I can ask a different question to there's nothing um, Chef Alyssa 47:24 spaghetti squash. It's like you can only be one thing. And it doesn't transform that well. Oh, Julia Landauer 47:32 interesting. Do other squashes transform better? Is this. Chef Alyssa 47:37 Something I can dice it? I can season it at the end of the day. Spaghetti squash is just like a replica of spaghetti. You Andrew Wilen 47:43 can do a lot more with butternut squash and spaghetti. Yeah, Julia Landauer 47:45 that's That's brilliant. Thank you. I didn't think about that. But it makes total sense. Okay, what is each of your favorite restaurants in Charlotte right now? Andrew Wilen 47:54 We don't go out quite enough. Counter. Yeah. Counter. Yeah. Julia Landauer 47:59 We're members as well. Love that. Okay, what is a country that you'd still or haven't been to? But you'd like to visit for the foods specifically? Chef Alyssa 48:08 Thailand? Andrew Wilen 48:11 That was that was a great answer. I think Spain. Julia Landauer 48:17 Nice. I haven't been to Thailand. I've been there for like a day. Not enough to really revel in the culinary experience. But yeah, yeah. Oh, that's great. Okay, what is something that you're both grateful for right now? Oh, Chef Alyssa 48:32 I just family. Yeah. family stability within our family and our kids. Yeah, yeah. Andrew Wilen 48:42 Good question at an interesting time in the world for us here. But yeah, we're grateful for ourselves with our family and kind of having that time together every day. And like with good help with their kids and our our parents and you know, in our extended family. No, Julia Landauer 48:59 that's beautiful. All shuffled. Alyssa, Andrew, thank you so much for joining me. Where can you direct people to learn more about you and I will put this all in the description notes as well. Our Chef Alyssa 49:10 website, And then on social media, we're @chefalyssaCLT perfect. Julia Landauer 49:16 We'll make sure everyone's check them out. It's very great. Thank you so much for joining me That is our show. If you enjoyed this episode, I hope you'll share it with someone who you also think would enjoy it. Definitely check out checklist as kitchen to get those foundational skills and they are such fun classes. And thank you for letting us be honest with you and I will see you next week.