Sunday, December 23, 2012

And Where Do You "Where To?": Foundation for Second Chances and Board President Tara Davis-Quarrie

Anyone who knows me know that as passionate as I am about eating, drinking and being merry,
I’m even more passionate about giving back to the community.

And, even more importantly, I’m insanely passionate about my peers doing the same thing! My fellow college alum Tara Davis-Quarrie recently became President of the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Second Chances (FFSC), an extremely active nonprofit that provides community and educational resources to inner-city youth in the Los Angeles area, and which has also been selected as an official charity partner of the 2013 L.A. Marathon.

She invited me to cover FFSC’s 3rd Annual Leadership Awards Brunch earlier this month at Hollywood’s Premiere Supper Club. Proud of her for taking up such a noteworthy cause, I packed my camera, pen, pad and recorder with the quickness, excited to head over and learn more about what she and this organization are doing.

The brunch gathered about 50 movers-and-shakers and moguls to pay homage to the theme of the year, “A Beacon of Light.”

“We wanted to honor people in the community that have acted as a beacon of light in areas that don’t necessarily get a lot of light,” Ms. Davis-Quarrie explained to me. Award recipients (pictured below) included:

Service in Arts & Entertainment Award
Faith Evans, GRAMMY artist
Community Service Award 
Alejandro Menchaca, Esq., attorney and community activist
Volunteer of the Year Award
Su-yin Kok, Education
Service in Business Award
Brad Johnson and Govind Armstrong, Post and Beam
Service in Education Award
Fernando Pullum, Musican/
Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center

The brunch was quite a classy affair and included an informative video that explained why Founder/Executive Director Melissa Wyatt launched the NPO eight years ago, brief speeches from the honorees and even a guest appearance from GRAMMY artist Estelle to discuss an upcoming collaboration project with her own NPO, the All of Me Foundation.

As moving as the brunch was, it was even more meaningful to exclusively talk in-depth with Ms. Davis-Quarrie about her involvement, minutes before showtime.

Here’s what she had to share – read on!

What everyone should know about the Foundation for Second Chances: “I would just let them know that although there are many foundations in the Los Angeles area, the Foundation for Second Chances really prides itself on taking personal initiative and personal investment into all the programs that we do,” says Ms. Davis-Quarrie. “We have really, really dedicated volunteers. We make sure that the people who do volunteer with us are familiar with the organization prior to even offering their services, and a lot of people that we have onboard and on staff have grown up in the Los Angeles area and have a connection to it. For instance, we have a board member whose – her own nieces and nephews went through the program when they were young, so she has a very deep connection to it.”

The foundation’s programs: “We do after-school programs, mentoring, tutoring,” says Ms. Davis-Quarrie. “We also have the reading wheels program, which happens once a month, where we read to kids in the local area.”

“And our most recent program,” she adds. “We partnered with GRAMMY-winner Estelle’s foundation, the All of Me Foundation. We’re really excited to work with her on a number of projects, because her foundation focuses on empowerment of young girls, which is an area we have not tapped into yet. Although some organizations do like to focus on one thing, we like empowering youth in as many areas as possible.”

Biggest accomplishment for 2012: “[Partnering with the All of Me Foundation] was our biggest connection,” says Ms. Davis-Quarrie. “We have always been looking to partner with different organizations that are doing the same thing. We don’t believe that we can do everything to help the youth in L.A., but we’re always looking for people who are like-minded and organizations that are like-minded. And to find someone with that kind of reach and that kind of dedication to her own program was definitely a big thing for us.”

2013 expectations:  “We’re looking to have more involvement with the community,” says Ms. Davis-Quarrie. “We really want to get people to different mixers and what not, just to let people know this is who we are – this is what we do. If you want to be a part of it, you can, and it doesn’t mean that you have to be a board member. You could even be a volunteer. You could come read to kids one day a month.”

How she first got involved: “I realized that I was at a point in my career where I really wanted to get some board experience, and I reached out to a number of organizations that were looking for people; anybody that was really willing to help someone new,” she says. “I met with Melissa Wyatt, who’s the executive director. We had quite a few conversations before we decided that we would each be a good fit for one another, and that’s how I came onboard.”

Her stance on nonprofits and young adults: “There’s not a lot of young people on boards in the Los Angeles area,” she observes. “If they are, they’re looked at as the token young person, which I hope changes over time because we have plenty of ideas. And I think our generation right now is the biggest. We’ve created the biggest jump in nonprofit employment over the last few years. I think it’s important for us to get that experience, and to enjoy it.”

Her thoughts on the brunch: “All of our awardees today really exemplify to us what it meant to be a beacon of light in a small area,” Ms. Davis-Quarrie says. “Sometimes people forget as big as L.A. is, there’s small pockets, and sometimes those need a little bit of extra light shone on them. We wanted to do something intimate. We didn’t want a huge, big party – that’s not really what our goal was. We have events like that, but we really wanted to just gather a small group of people and say thank you so much for what you do in the community because we help the same community.”

Her “Where To” destination:
“I really like Corkbar, downtown L.A.,” Ms. Davis-Quarrie admits. “Have you ever been there?”

[Miss Wilson inserts: “Love that place.”] “I love Corkbar,” she laughs. “That’s one of my favorite places, definitely. And I like doing stuff kind of off the beaten path. I’m a big museum girl, different exhibits and what not. There is so much to do in L.A. – so, so much to do, and you can go – there are some museums I can go to over and over and over: the Getty in Malibu, the Villas in Malibu – that’s one of my favorites…”

“So yeah…I don’t really go out too, too much,” she concludes, laughing. “But when I do, other people usually make the decision. That’s why I would have to read your blog to find out!”

For More information and to get involved:
Foundation for Second Chances, Facebook, @2ndChancesInc

 * Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for reading ease.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Where to Travel: La Droguerie Vitroly @ Montpellier, France

This international post is provided by my dear friend, Ann-Sofie Perier,
who currently lives in Paris and is originally from Montpellier, France.

The Location: Montpellier, France

The Vibes: Ali Baba’s cave

When-to-Go: Open from 10a.m. to 7p.m. every day; closed on Sunday and Monday

The $ Factor: $ to $$

The 4-1-1:
If you’re nice and smiling, the owner André may invite you for a coffee in the café next to the boutique

 Be Back…: "Every time I want to find an original gift, or to refill my tea collection"

Montpellier is the most vibrant and youngest city of southern France. Not only is it sunny and cute, but people are amazingly surprising, with their accent and their typical Mediterranean kindness.

La Droguerie Vitroly, one of the oldest shops in the city, stands in the city center, on one of the most charming squares of Montpellier, the Place Castellane.

When you arrive on the square, the store stands out immediately, thanks to the multitude of objects in the window and in front of the door, and for its wooden facade, typical of the twenties, when the shop is closed (pictured to the right). This store is so unusual that it is sometimes the background of film sets! Indeed, it’s full of charm and reminiscent of ancient times…

Monsieur Estoul started to run La Droguerie in 1920, as a place where vineyard owners came to buy copper sulphate, women lipsticks and bigoudis [hair curlers].

In France, a “droguerie” is a store where you can buy all sorts of everyday things, and it is in this spirit that the shop has grown, and has been recognized over the years by the Montpellier inhabitants. The drugstore was the place where everything could be found.

André Vitroly, the current owner of the shop, is the 3rd Vitroly to manage this magical place. He obviously went on with the tradition of “you-can-find-anything-here,” but expanded to offer elaborate gifts. Thus, for more than 20 years, La Droguerie has helped its customers to discover new objects, whether boat collections, fine teas or fragrances.

The interior of the shop reveals fabulous products - “Made in France” branded - like Mariage Frères teas or Esteban’s home fragrances.

This place is a diverse and charming universe, with its old wooden floor and all the atypical and offset objects. In addition to the beautiful products offered, André and Danièle will surely make you want to come back!

Make sure you don’t miss La Droguerie when you travel to southern France!

For more information:

**Photos provided by Ann-Sofie

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Where to Eat: Produce-Driven Small plates @ UMAMIcatessen

The Eats: Swine, burgers and produce-driven small plates 

The Neighborhood: Downtown 

The Vibes: Woodsy dining hall style; casual, Top 40 music

Good for: A chance to taste seasonal autumn fare

With-Whom-To-Go: Popular date spot; accommodating for large groups

The $ Factor: Literally all over the board, ranging from sides that start at $3 to complete dinners that are $65

The 4-1-1: UMAMIcatessen is the creation from the Umami Burger team. Opening downtown earlier in 2012, the space Is actually the combination of five different kitchens, a bar and plenty of eye-catching contraptions...

I’ll Be Back…: For the macaroni salad

When I first heard about UMAMIcatessen, I thought: Wow. This place has a lot of...pork.

The restaurant says it uses every single part of the pig, and I believe it. I mean, swine manages to finagle its way in everything: fries, burgers, appetizers – even alcohol (the Bourbon Pig cocktail is a must to try, even if it's just to say you tried it).

But this fall, UMAMIcatessen introduced several new produce-driven – and pork-free – small plates to its menu.

Having a chance to experience the new items last month during a special invite, I was quite impressed with what I found.

The eight new dishes each had their own little personality, each incorporating very distinctive seasonings, spices and flavors. I also thought they were well-proportioned; ordering one to two nicely compliments a burger as a healthier alternative to fries, and getting two to three makes a pretty hearty, complete meal. And just as importantly, their price point is competitive – they're $3 to $5 bucks.

I tried all eight, and below are the ones I personally thought were the tastiest:

The Roasted Beets: incorporates three types of beets cooked two different ways that are rich ruby red, golden yellow and pale pink. They're very tender and flavorful, and the creamy dill creme fraiche adds a subtle flavor.

The Macaroni Salad: is not traditional macaroni salad. It has a flair to it, with a light Japanese dressing and raw veggies, including carrots and cabbage.

The Brussels sprouts: It's so stunning to me that Brussels sprouts have been so in this season. UMAMIcatessen sprinkles theirs with a light Parmesan cheer and lightly coats them in a honey mustard sauce.

The Quinoa Salad: It's hard for most people – including chefs – to make quinoa well, but the chefs here have succeeded. They've blended it with bell pepper, chickpeas and other veggies, and tossed it all in a citrus vinaigrette.

I applaud UMAMIcatessen for not only catering to the ravenous carnivore, but to the ravenous vegetarian/vegan as well. So the next time you're looking to please all palates, I highly recommend this downtown eatery. See you there soon!

For more information:
UMAMIcatessen; Facebook, @UmamiBurger

Monday, December 3, 2012

Where to be Merry: Lounging @ Delfini Citta

The Merriment: A restaurant-lounge that’s the perfect backdrop for events

The Vibes: Rustic meets urban meet contemporary

Good for: Those moments when you want to feel grown and sexy

When-to-Go: Evenings and nights

The $ Factor: Standard L.A. lounge prices; Cocktails average $12-$16

The 4-1-1: Delfini Citta is the sister restaurant to Caffe Delfini in Santa Monica

I’ll Be Back…: For those colorful martinis

Delfini Citta first fell onto my radar when I learned about its Thursday evening summer jazz sessions. When I went one breezy August night, listening to the sounds of a Brazilian samba band and sipping on my martini and sampling a few of the chef’s appetizers, I kept thinking to myself:

“This would be a great place to host an event.”

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one with that conviction because this past fall, I’ve returned to this Beverly Hills restaurant-lounge again and again for a plethora of exclusive events, ranging from birthday parties to alum mixers and a few “Good Fridays.”

I think what makes it such an attractive space is its ambiance. It’s intimate. It’s inviting. It’s quaint and cozy, charming in its own distinctive way. The exposed brick walls, green foliage and shiny wooden floors give it a metropolitan vibe, but the additions of lipstick bright red and teal blue couches gives the lounge a very unique, one-of-kind, creative feel that’s all it’s own.

As for the cocktails, they have a list of specialty cocktails made with premium liquors and fresh fruits that are just as colorful and eccentric as the interior seating. The True Romance (below) is a widely popular one and is definitely as dazzling to look at as it is to sip.

I’ve also been to functions where the bar has crafted special event drinks,
like the USC margarita, pictured below.

And while specialty and special event cocktails are all fine and dandy, I did want to see if the bartenders could handle an ordinary request. To my delight, the key lime martini I ordered was quite delicious.

It’s also the little things that count: there's plenty of seating on. I know we’ve all been out and there’s been no seating whatsoever, or, it’s all “reserved,” with gnarly bouncers protectively lurking over it as if they were guarding the White House. But I appreciate that there are bar stools, couches and even chairs next to plenty of tables.

So the next time you find yourself on Wilshire Blvd., in need of a good cocktail and looking for that lovely lounge experience, I say head to Delfini Citta. See you there soon!

For more information: Delfini Citta

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Where to Drink: Made-to-Order Cocktails @ Library Bar, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

The Drinks: Individual cocktails crafted precisely to your likings

The Vibes: Classy and classic

Good for: When you fancy a beverage that fits your sensibilities exactly how you imagined it

When-to-Go: Evenings and nights

With-Whom-to-Go: A great date spot, with friends, alone

The $ Factor: Standard Hollywood prices; Cocktails average $17

The 4-1-1: Ask for the sugar cane; it’s soaked and infused with different alcohol, like tequila and rum

I’ll Be Back…: To see what the bartenders can conjure up for me next

This past summer I ran a post about all of the fabulous drinking and eating establishments
at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which included a section on the Library Bar.

Yet a recent trip back to the Library Bar (thanks to an invite to the “20K Soiree” cocktail party – very fun indeed!) left me strongly compelled to expand upon the fabulosity of this bar. The 200 words I originally wrote just didn’t cut it, so lo and behold, this post was created!

Let's dig in: 

For starters, one of the bar’s best aspect is its produce.


The veggies, fruits and herbs – bell peppers, peaches, basil, etc. – aren’t just carelessly schlepped onto a dark shelf, forgotten and only brought out when someone needs a celery stick for her Bloody Mary. No, they’re proudly displayed on the bar, greeting you when you first enter, their aromatic scents boldly drifting throughout the air. It literally feels like you’re walking into a farmer’s market.

The produce, along with other foodstuff (like marshmallows) and more traditional bar items (like bitters) are used in abundance in the cocktails. While definitely on the stronger side, the cocktails themselves pick up the flavors of the fresh ingredients they’re made with, rather than the alcohol itself.

The fun part: there is no menu. It’s all based on a verbal exchange between you and the bartenders. Let them know the alcohol you want as a base, the tastes you prefer (bitter, salty, sweet, spicy, sour) and anything else that you like, then they’ll whip something up.

On my last trip there, I said I wanted something with rum that was sweet, so they made me a fruity blend with blueberries:

On the next round, I asked for something with a little kick in it, so they kept the same base and added a few kickin' jalapenos: 

I recommend heading to the Library Bar when you want more than a beer or a standard cocktail that any bar can make. Go for the experience, and to see what kind of inventions you can come up with. Will it be with herbs? With fruit? Perhaps both? The options are endless. I’ll see you there soon to find out what you pick!

For More Information:


Thursday, November 22, 2012

And Where Do You “Where To?”: 3rd Annual Thanksgiving Edition

Every Thanksgiving, I like to take a break from all of the complaining, moaning and groaning to spend 24 hours giving “thanks” for all of the places that we’re thankful for.

Since I’m always sharing my favorite spots each week, on this day (and this day alone), I call on friends, associates and industry folks to in turn share their picks that they’re ever-so grateful for.

This year, I’m doing it a little differently and compiling a list of picks from people that I’ve interviewed throughout this year so far. There were soooooo many intriguing recommendations, that I thought they were noteworthy enough to mention once again.

So please, read on, and if you’re inspired to do so, drop a note in the comment section on what you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday as well.

See you at one of these places soon!

Brely Evans, Singer/Actress (Sparkle) 

Where She “Where To’s”: “I love Viceroy [Santa Monica] because when I come here, I feel like I’m out of the country. I’ve had the pleasure to do a lot of traveling, and this is one place that when I walk into the door, I forget I’m in LA. I feel like I’m somewhere else. The décor, the friendly staff…the food is amazing, the drinks are great. I just love being in a place that exudes high society and high class, yet still has a real urban side to it, where it’s attainable.”

Donnie McClurkin (GRAMMY Gospel Singer)  
Where He “Where To’s”:  “Oh yes, there is some place that I do go. I go – there are two places that I go to find peace, to find fellowship and camaraderie. I go to West Angeles Church of God in Christ and I go to City of Refuge in Gardena! Those are the two places that I go, when I am here to find escape, relaxation.

Because if I go to West Angeles, ain’t nobody going to bother me there! I’m not Donnie McClurkin there. I’m just Donnie. If I even go to Gardena and I go to Noel Jones’ City of Refuge, ain’t nobody going to mess and ask to sign no autographs. Because we’re all in there worshiping together. Those are my getaways. It’s not a beach. It’s not a restaurant. It’s not a museum. It’s West Angeles Church of God in Christ and the City of Refuge in Gardena.”

KD Aubert, Actress (Turning Point, Percentage) 

Where She “Where To’s”: “You know, I’m on this weird vegetarian kick right now and I don’t really know where it came from, because I started it right before Thanksgiving, which is really weird, and then I went even further and did the organic raw. So the SunCafe. But, I had a steak the other day, so I don’t what I am now [laughs]. And then the other thing is, it’s like, I have favorites and I have different genres. Like for Jamaican food, We Jammin’ is the best, but then my friends own Coley’s, so I probably shouldn’t say that [laughs].”

Luka Prado (Fashion Designer) Where He “Where To’s”:
For the best drinks: Village Idiot
For the best nightlife scene: Cobras and Matadors
To find the best late night food: Toi on Sunset Blvd.
To have the best brunch: Toast on 3rd
To be inspired: Coffee shops, museums, walking around the city with my dog
All-time favorite place to hang: Chateau Marmont 

Aleya Desne, Executive Chef & Owner (Culinary Princess Catering) 
Where She “Where To’s”: “I love Pete's Cafe in Downtown LA. It may not be ultra swanky, but the food is great and the environment is comfortable. Plus, I have a crazy schedule and they are open really late.”

George Blodwell, Gen Lux Editor and Fashion Stylist

Where He “Where To’s”: “I like the Petite Ermitage. I like Chateau Marmont. And there’s a little place in the Valley I like to go called Tony's Darts Away. It’s a vegan bar that has lots of different homebrews – different beers and vegan food. I’ve been vegetarian for 40-odd years. I love being at home and having lots of good friends over, some celebrities and such. I’m a stylist. I dress people and I’m editor of fashion magazine, so I get around [laughs].”

Brook Turner, Writer/Filmmaker (Thankful for a Million, One Day Too I Go Fly) 
Where She “Where To’s”: “I know what you’re thinking: 'Art Walk only happens once a month.' Well, you’re right. However, a number of these galleries hold regular hours and will open up if you make an appointment. My favorites include: drkrm and Robert Reynolds Gallery. drkrm has more traditional prints and Robert Reynolds Gallery has a number of installations. The work displayed in both is bound to get your creative juices flowing.”

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Where to Eat: Fried Brussels Sprouts @ Freddy Smalls Bar

The Eats: Fried Brussels Sprouts!!! … and other eclectic options

The Vibes: Gastropub, bar scene; always chill, although it can get crazy packed some nights

Good for: When you’re up for taking a trip on the culinary wild side

When-to-Go: Open 6pm-2am; also a 5:30-7pm Monday-Thursday happy hour

The $ Factor: Standard LA prices; Cocktails average $10, meals averages $15-$25

The 4-1-1:
Parking is kind of a pain; sparse street parking scattered along side streets and Pico Blvd.

I’ll Be Back…: For those Brussels Sprouts and the Cheeseboard

I don’t know about you, but I love me some hip-hop.

And no, I don't mean Lil Wayne (commercial rap) or J. Cole (rap), although they're cool too, but I mean real hip-hop: The Pharcyde, The Roots, Blackstar, Outkast, old school Common…Rza, Zion I, Dead Prez, Digable Planets...

That’s why last year when I heard about a new bar opening up that strictly plays hip-hop, my heart did a little leap of joy. I could get my eat and drink on and hear “I Used to Love H.E.R.” blasting from the speakers? Brilliant!

But while the music might have initially drawn me into this gastropub, one thing in particular has kept me coming back to Freddy Smalls: the Fried Brussels Sprouts.

I know what you’re thinking: what? Brussels Sprouts? Word? For real?

Yes, for real

As you might have noticed, Brussels Sprouts have been making a big debut this season, and I’m not talking about grandma’s soggy, overcooked, boiled Brussels Sprouts. Nowadays, this vegetable is being pan-fried, sautéed, roasted, thrown in with cheese, nuts, sauces and more.

But in all fairness, Freddy Smalls was one of the first restaurants I saw taking Brussels Sprouts to a new level by featuring them on the menu last year, and Smalls continues to remain a top contender in the game. Tossed with smoked goat cheese and an apple cider glaze, these bad boys are light and crunchy, slightly sweet with earthy undertones. I’ve never had anything like them before, and they are really worth getting at least two orders.

Aside from this dish, Smalls offers some pretty avant-garde options that I haven’t seen anywhere else. There’s the Buffalo Deviled Eggs with hot sauce and chicken skin…and then the open faced smoked trout club (pictured below), which includes smoked trout on top of a bed of crushed avocado, garnished with tomato and basil.

Even the smoked fingerling potatoes (pictured below) have somehow been turned from standard to unconventional, with a tangy dipping sauce made with the fiery espelette pepper.

Probably one of the most "normal" items I've seen on the menu is the cheeseboard (pictured below), which is actually one of my favorites - after the Brussels Sprouts, of course - as well. Aside from a variety of types of cheeses ranging from soft to firm, bold to subdued, the board features great breads, spreads and fruits.


So the next time you’re in the mood to listen to some classic hip-hop and to get your five servings of veggies along with a few different kinds of unique dishes, I say head to Freddy Smalls. It's a great atmosphere, great food and of course, great music. See you there soon!

For more information:
Freddy Smalls, Facebook, @FreddySmallsBar 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Aleya Desné of Culinary Princess Catering

As we inch into autumn, millions of holiday affairs are starting to sprout up. I thought about all of the Christmas parties taking place in restaurants and hotels – the holiday functions being catered at banquet halls, work offices and homes – and one particular person popped into mind: Aleya Desné.

Aleya Desné is the Executive Chef & Owner of Culinary Princess Catering (CPC), a successful boutique catering business that creates specialized dishes for a variety of clients and events, ranging from holiday gatherings to wedding buffets and food preparation and delivery.

Over the past few months, I’ve seen her articles pop up in local newsletters, greedily ogled and drooled over the dishes she’s posted online and learned a lot about food (like the benefits of Brussels sprouts) from reading her blog. So, I decided to reach out to her to learn more about how she launched her business – especially in an economic time like this – and to find out what it’s like being a young entrepreneur.

Perhaps I’m a bit biased because she’s a fellow USC Trojan and she’s also a member of my sorority, the amazing Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., but I don’t think so. Aleya truly has an inspirational story that’s realistic and not sugar-coated about what it’s like to step out on faith and to follow one’s passion...

Continue reading to find out how she got started, what her most popular mouth-watering dishes are and what fabulous pearls of wisdom she has to offer!

Miss Wilson: What prompted you to launch your own catering business?
Aleya Desné: I discovered my passion for cooking in a non-conventional way. After working in the apparel and cosmetic industries and then being laid off, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to do something with my life that made me truly happy every day. After exploring my creativity by doing things like scrap booking, writing poetry and reading, I was still direction-less. I prayed and asked God to show me what I should be doing with my life. Boom: Cooking happened. I had always enjoyed cooking, but had never thought about making it into a career before. I decided to attend Le Cordon Bleu and combine my cooking knowledge with by undergraduate degree in Business from USC to build a life for myself where I could continue to strive for my passions daily and build a legacy for those who follow me.

I actually wrote a blog post on why I made the switch from corporate to culinary when my journey first began (mostly so people wouldn't think I was crazy). It might fill in some of the gaps:

Miss Wilson: Did you ever think about joining a restaurant or an existing catering team prior to launching your own catering business?
Aleya Desné: I had never even thought about opening my own business prior to starting Culinary Princess Catering! My focus was on Marketing and Public Relations. I thought that I would have more stability by working for someone else. That was proven to be incorrect when I was laid off on a whim. I do not have plans at this time to open a restaurant, but I will continue to grow my catering business, including the private chef and in-home cooking class components.

Miss Wilson: Is it a balancing act to manage both the business/operational side and the creative, culinary side?
Aleya Desné: Yes! It definitely keeps me busy, but I enjoy both the analytical and creative sides of my business. I get to design amazing dishes and then play my own devil's advocate by asking myself questions like, "How much is that going to cost?" and "What type of ROI will that yield?" I will admit that it is easy to get bogged down with routine tasks. I can't wait until I get a bit bigger and can hire more office support so that I can focus on the strategic vision to drive my company forward.

Miss Wilson: How did the current dishes end up on your menu – what was the selection process like?
Aleya Desné: All of my dishes start with my favorite foods. Usually, if I don't like to eat it, it will not appear on my menu. I test out dishes prior to revealing them to the public and if it makes me say "Mmmm," then it is a winner. I also enjoy being inspired by seasons, new ingredients I find at the farmers market and past experiences. Some dishes are created to evoke a good memory or feeling. For example, the Baked Dijon Ranch Chicken reminds me of dinnertime with my mom and my Curry Chicken is inspired by my father. My menu is forever evolving and improving, which is part of the beauty of being in the culinary industry: Your art grows as you grow.

Miss Wilson: I noticed that you mentioned on your menu that the Ginger & Scallion Crab Cakes with Sweet Basil and Lemon Aioli (pictured to the right) is frequently requested. What would you say is the top favorite amongst Culinary Princess Catering clients – is it this one?
Aleya Desné: That is definitely one of them. Other CPC Client favorites include Mint & Basil Brussels Sprouts, Sauteed Spinach with Elephant Garlic and Shallots, Shrimp Puffs, Dijon Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb and Roasted Beet Salad.

Miss Wilson: What about you – do you personally have a favorite dish off your own menu?
Aleya Desné: Usually, when people ask me what my favorite dish is, I respond, "food" lol! What I enjoy eating usually depends on my mood, but one of my favorite comfort foods is Boeuf Bourguignon (pictured below).

Miss Wilson: What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?

Aleya Desné: My greatest accomplishment has been being brave enough to step out of my comfort zone and go after what makes me happy. I used to be very set on relying on the corporate structure for stability. Now, I feel more empowered and much stronger as a person.

Miss Wilson: Do you have any words of encouragement for aspiring chefs and aspiring business owners?
Aleya Desné: Keep going! Starting a business can be a very daunting task. Setbacks can take a toll on you physically, emotionally and financially. However, if you keep working your passions, you will be successful. Infuse your day and your vision with positivity and purpose. Post inspirational quotes, bible verses and encouraging messages around you, and surround yourself with people who believe in your goals. My relationship with God has been critical in propelling me forward and keeping me encouraged. I would also recommend building your network with people within the culinary industry and outside of it. Join professional organizations, such as the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and learn from your peers. There is no "right" way to do anything, but by listening to the experiences of those who came before you or those who have concurrent journeys, you can better form your own way.

Miss Wilson: Where is your favorite “Where To” destination in LA (i.e., your favorite restaurant, lounge, museum, nightlife or social destination, etc.)?
Aleya Desné: I love Pete's Cafe in Downtown LA. It may not be ultra swanky, but the food is great and the environment is comfortable. Plus, I have a crazy schedule and they are open really late.