RED BANK: A WANDERING CHEF SETTLES DOWN

100615covas7Lauren Van Liew in the kitchen of her new catering business. Dishes include a classic fresh spinach salad, below.  (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

100615covas5In the warehouse that formerly housed Adam Sobel’s Cinnamon Snail kitchen on River Street in Red Bank, chef Lauren Van Liew, a 32-year-old Middletown native has opened Chef Covas Catering.

Cooking in kitchens from Boston to Vegas to Boca Raton, Van Liew has been around the culinary butcher’s block more times than many of her much older contemporaries.

With her history and experience, she says “I want to bring families together at the dinner table.” She also says, “I want to conquer the central Jersey catering world.”

100615covas6A typical home-delivered meal from Chef Covas Catering: sausage and farfalle pasta with broccoli rabe.  (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

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Van Liew draws on her experience in both catering and restaurant ownership. Her plan is to produce healthy, Mediterranean inspired dishes delivered to your front door.

On the shelves of her commercial kitchen, you’ll find imported Portuguese rock salt and olive oil next to more ordinary ingredients, Van Liew’s  heritage clearly influencing some of her recipes.

A favorite dish, called Saucy Shrimp, combines shrimp sauteed with shallots and garlic in good olive oil, she tells PieHole. White wine and chick peas are added, and it’s served with crusty bread. “It’s super simple but really good,” she says.

The Chef Covas Catering website offers an option for customers to order full meals for one night or several days.

“You can order an entree, two sides and a salad and we’ll deliver it to your door,” she says. She asks clients who won’t be home at delivery time to leave a cooler on the front porch.

Van Liew, a Middletown native, “wasn’t a good student” and “barely” graduated from Mater Dei High School, she says. But she liked everything about the part-time job she had at Anjelica’s in Sea Bright, and thought a restaurant career was a good fit.

From there, she enrolled at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, where they throw you right in,” she says.”It’s like real life work.”

Internships took her to Boca Raton, and then Las Vegas, where she went “off the strip” at a high-end hotel. She decided to stay in Vegas when she finished school, honing her skills at Picasso in the Bellagio Hotel.

“I had to work for three months for free to prove how much I wanted to work there,” she says. “Their style is more European. They have different expectations.”

Family concerns brought her back to New Jersey, and while her plan was to find a position in a New York restaurant, an invitation from a friend led to a happenstance meeting with Frank de Pasquale, a famous restaurateur in the North End of Boston. He had an idea for a new restaurant, Mare Oyster Bar, and recruited Van Liew to run the front end.

Returning to New Jersey after two years, Van Liew found a corporate catering job that she didn’t enjoy and then opened her first restaurant in New Brunswick. Chef’s Palace, she says was “like a diner on steroids.” Offering three meals a day.

Opening and then closing another restaurant, Van Liew and her husband relocated to Shrewsbury with their two sons in tow. The juggling act of being a mom and having a career brought her to this new endeavor in Red Bank.

Van Liew’s desire to have dinner with her own family at the end of the day brought about the epiphany for the new business concept. Making it possible for other busy stressed out families to sit down at the dinner table together without the hassle of prep work and cooking she says, “I’ve been told that I’m saving marriages.”

SUSAN-ERICSON

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