|Chowgirls Heidi Andermack (l.) and Amy Brown
"I have joked that starting a catering company was really just the long and complicated route I needed to take to get a book published," said Amy Brown, a former bookseller and publisher rep and, with Heidi Andermack, co-founder of the Minneapolis catering company Chowgirls Killer Catering. Andermack and Brown created Chowgirls more than 10 years ago, and last October they published the cookbook Chowgirls Killer Party Food: Righteous Bites & Cocktails for Every Season (Arsenal Pulp Press).
"It's been a dream of ours since the beginning," said Andermack, referring to the creation of a Chowgirls cookbook. "But we never had time to do it when we were cooking, serving and selling events." Both she and Brown were English majors in college, she added, and so were "very proud having a published work."
The cookbook features Brown and Andermack's original recipes, along with the stories behind the creation of those recipes. The trickiest part of making the cookbook, Brown said, was thinking backward, in order to scale down recipes that they typically make to produce hundreds of servings. Many of the recipes have become so second nature to Brown and Andermack that they had to constantly remind themselves to measure ingredients and time various cooking processes.
"It was great fun, however, thinking back to the origin of these dishes and telling their stories," said Brown.
Booksellers who attended the opening reception at Winter Institute 2017 in January likely sampled some of Andermack's and Brown's recipes, and in October booksellers had the chance to talk to them and get signed copies of their cookbook at the Heartland Fall Forum. Since the book's publication, Brown and Andermack have also done cooking classes, signings and tastings, along with a photo shoot for the magazine Midwest Living, featuring a staged party with recipes from the cookbook.
Andermack and Brown met in 2003, when Andermack and her husband were living in Minneapolis but considering a move to Paducah, Ky., to take part in the revitalization of the city's downtown. While spending time in Paducah, Andermack and her husband met and immediately bonded with Nathan Brown, Amy's brother. He couldn't believe that Heidi and Amy didn't already know each other, Andermack recalled. He introduced them the next time he visited Minneapolis, confident that they would "be fast friends because we shared common interests in food and entertaining."
Brown and Andermack were also both newlyweds at the time and consequently "had a lot of new housewares." Perhaps because of that, said Brown, they were throwing a lot of parties, and it turned out that they had similar styles and were fans of each other's cooking. Around that same time, there had been a round of layoffs at Random House and so Brown was "kind of looking for a back-up plan." Meanwhile, Andermack had been helping her husband run his own business as a bookkeeper and business manager but was looking for an entrepreneurial outlet of her own. They also shared a desire to express themselves creatively through food.
|Grilled Roasted Veggies with Saffron Aioli
"As my husband's art career blossomed, I took on the role of organizing his art openings, including preparations of appetizers," said Andermack. "And then I started making food for other artist friends' openings. I realized how much I loved to express myself creatively through food a couple of years before I met Amy."
According to Brown, at that stage in their lives and careers, neither of them wanted to "go work on 'the line' with a bunch of 20-something male chefs," and opening a restaurant of their own seemed like a huge risk. Starting a catering company, however, would require very little overhead and a smaller upfront cost, and the decision was made. The name Chowgirls grew out of "banter back and forth" from Ciao Baby to Chow Chicks to Chowgirls. The operation began with just Andermack and Brown renting a commercial kitchen on an as-needed basis. Now, years later, Chowgirls Killer Catering has grown to be one of the largest catering companies in the Twin Cities, with more than 125 employees, and construction has begun on an 11,000-square-foot headquarters in Minneapolis.
The Super Bowl will be in Minneapolis next year and the Chowgirls are "in the throes of preparation for a busy start to 2018." Brown and Andermack have chatted about shooting a pilot for a food and travel show, but nothing is officially in the works. And according to Andermack, both she and Brown would love to "do this whole cookbook thing again soon," though there are no concrete plans yet for a follow-up. --Alex Mutter