With Nonna Eats, Boulder chefs cook meals on your turf

Adding a performative element to catering

By Tatyana Sharpton Oct 29 2020

When Callie Cavanaugh re-launched her innovative Boulder catering business Nonna Eats this January, her driving vision centered on empowering talented local cooks and chefs to create meals and food for a variety of clientele.

Nonna’s model, which began as a personal chef service, evolved in response to the uptick its founder Callie saw in chefs needing creative outlets — and later, jobs. Nonna Chefs come right to your home, or whatever space you plan your event, and take over the kitchen. It focuses on presenting chefs as an integral part of the dining experience.

Most of these chefs don’t currently have their own restaurants (though some have); they connected to Nonna to cook at a larger scale and have a chance to create a series of their own seasonal menus. They may have come to your house, but once the party starts, you’re on their turf.

Callie Cavanaugh

The genesis

Callie grew up in a family that loved food. Some of her early memories involve hosting her own cooking show for her parents as she concocted dishes in the kitchen out of whatever she could find.

After graduating from college and working in both catering and creative design, and receiving a Master’s degree from CU Boulder in Strategic Communication and Design, Callie combined her passions into the thing that felt most meaningful: a return to the kitchen and sharing that love for food, and connection, with others.

Her company, named after the Italian word for “Grandma,” offers a roster of eight chefs who create three menus every season based on what’s locally available. (In total, they create 12 menus a year.) While the chefs have total creative freedom, Callie reviews the menus as well as helps with food-costing logistics. Based on these menus, clients can request to book a specific chef for an event.

The cost of events runs between $50-250 per person, with bookings made at least three days in advance; price varies based on the number of courses — at a minimum of three. Meals average two hours in length, but can vary between one-and-a-half to three hours depending on the group and number of courses.

Some of the chefs Callie currently works with include Sam Friedman, Gary Silverman who spent nearly 30 years at Cork Boulder, Jacqueline Malcolm-Peck, founder of Summer in Greystone Castle, an event venue on Flagstaff Mountain, and two former restauranteurs in Rosetta Hall’s chef roster: Modou Jaiteh who previously ran Jacaranda and Alberto Sabbadini of La Tigella.

Nonna chef Sam Friedman preparing a corn gazpacho with burnt cucumber, chili oil and cilantro and a chocolate tart for dessert, with salted caramel ice cream and macadamia nut crumble. Images: Nonna Eats.

“We’re really looking at food as an art and how to play with it,” Callie tells BLDRfly. “That’s part of the mission and why I created Nonna — for chefs to feel that creativity again and have space to work with that.”

Boulder has approximately 20 catering companies along with its over 350 restaurants and cafes, but this one gives chefs a chance to step outside the lines and create the experience they get to share from the bones up.

[The vision behind Rosetta Hall’s immersive experience.]

Food as experience

Along with the chef preparing food from one of their own pre-set menus, Nonna also curates dinners specially for a requested theme, region or even physical space. In the latter option, rather than a hard-set culinary menu, Nonna’s chefs craft menus from their expertise, vision and what’s local and in season.

For example, Nonna has discussed working with local brands such as Wonder Press or Kiln, a local coworking space. Using the identity of each space as a palette for inspiration, Nonna will create food tailored to it — from fresh-pressed juice to the architectural details of Kiln’s building.

“Kiln is super new to Boulder,” Callie tells BLDRfly. “At a dinner, potentially for VIPs, they want to talk about why they think they’re special — about the values of the space and what sets them apart. And those things we’ll somehow bring to the menu.”

Though Covid-19 put a bit of a bump in Nonna’s road (originally, it was on track to have 200 events booked through 2020), it continues to grow and has so far executed 12 events. This partly has to do with its switch from public model where people could reserve a seat at a table with other strangers for a dinner event, to private parties only.

Callie Cavanaugh and Neda Raeva, who helped Nonna serve an event earlier in the year, pre-Covid. Image: Nonna Eats.

Header Image: Callie in the kitchen, prepping food for a meal. Image: Nonna Eats.