For someone who had just finished cooking and delivering Thanksgiving dinner for multiple families in multiple locations, Monica Kelso flitted around the kitchen of our rented vacation home with buoyancy and joy as if we were her sole customer. Her equally affable and industrious teenaged son hustled back and forth with steaming pans of food, doing his best to keep up with his mother's instructions. I was amazed at the volume of food she prepared for our family - moist turkey, fluffy sweet potatoes, insanely cheesy macaroni, and crisp green beans topped with crunchy home fried onions - just to name a few dishes. Everything Monica had prepared was perfectly seasoned and nothing was wilted, soggy, dense, or otherwise sad.
For this year's Thanksgiving, my husband's family gathered at a beautiful property with a barn and several homes located in Maryland on the edge of the Catoctin Mountain and steps from Camp David. Rather than cart in a truck full of groceries and wanting to keep the kitchen of our rented home clean, my mother-in-law asked the property owner for a catering recommendation. I was skeptical but boy, did we get lucky, because Monica can throw down.
MONICA started cooking because she was bored at home. And she wasn't home because she wanted to be. "I was working for my husband, and was driving one day when I [sic] unexpectedly had a blackout. State law requires you to be episode free for six months before you can drive, so my license was suspended." Suddenly at home with no drivers license and living nowhere near public transportation or a major metro area, Monica spent her days on routine household projects and watching PBS. There was no Food Network and she didn't have cable anyway - but the PBS shows were wonderfully produced, engaging, and beautiful. Her favorite programs included "The Galloping Gourmet" (I loved Justin Wilson's show) and soon found herself insprired. Monica recalls her 'aha' moment as watching a tutorial on making homemade spinach fettuccine and declaring to herself:
"I CAN DO THAT!"
And so she did - that night using a blender instead of food processor, creatively improvising, and exploding all over her kitchen, but her resultant pasta "was pretty good" and her career as a chef took off. Monica first cooked for her family, but built her skills quickly. She soon found herself hosting her husband's insurance clients for dinner and started serving as personal chef to several families in her local area.
Once Monica caught the cooking bug, she seized on opportunities to learn, which led to a stint with a catering company. She learned the ins and outs of the business, and enjoyed more freedom to develop her own courses as opposed to the specific requests of private clients. Monica Kelso Catering was born.
Monica's talent for food and flavors is organic - she didn't grow up in a household of cooks, nor did she attend culinary school. She built her skills on the job. And she is very particular about product. Though she goes out of her way to source her product from local producers, it can be cost-prohibitive for her small business. Monica does not let that discourage her, emphasizing her "passion for buying as local as possible." But everything Monica prepares is fresh and whole, and she avoids processed foods. (I am compelled to give another shout out for her green bean casserole.)
Monica sees food as a means to care for people and it is through food that she has engaged her community. That includes feeding the dedicated personnel at Camp David, such as soldiers with no local family with whom to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, while my family was tucking into our dinner in the farm house, Monica was feeding an army next door in the barn. "There is always room at our table for Thanksgiving."