Cosmos Catering: Innovative, Local, Green
Sitting with Laura Davis in her office while the phone is ringing off the hook reminds one of the analogy made famous by actor Michael Caine: “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” Perhaps as a result of practice—Laura has been owner, head chef and party organizer of the highly successful Cosmos Catering for exactly ten years—she’s unfazed by the endless incoming calls, the answering machine belching out recorded messages and the wall calendar looming over her desk filled with events from May through October. Like many Cape Cod business people, Laura makes the lion’s share of her income (she reckons it’s about 90 percent) during the peak season.
Brown-eyed with a mop of dark hair and a broad smile, Laura welcomed us to her professional kitchen on Race Point Road in Provincetown one recent summer afternoon. As it was Monday, there was no staff prepping for the next big event. We wanted to talk with Laura because we’ve observed her on the leading edge of food trends since we started publishing Edible Cape Cod, first embracing the local foods movement, then making the considerable effort to get Green Certified.
Laura grew up in Mountain View, California, and got a degree in business from UC Davis in the mid-1980s. Rejecting a career in Silicon Valley, she found herself working as a server and bartender in Puerto Rico before somehow ending up in Boston. She loved the Northeast and decided she would work on an organic farm in Maine or move to Provincetown, both places she had visited and liked, although she didn’t know a soul in either area. She gave herself one day to look for a job and a place to live in Provincetown and found both in less than a day. That was 24 years ago and she’s never looked back. Until she started Cosmos Catering in 2002, she worked in some of the best kitchens—restaurant and catering—on the outer Cape, starting as a bus girl and working her way up to head cook.
During the high season her business will cater two or three large weddings each weekend—sometimes as many as 12 events in three days—requiring a staff of up to 25-30 professional cooks, servers and bussers. It’s a point of pride with Laura that she hires local people (teachers, landscapers, bartenders) and pays them a living wage. She finds comfort in having professional staff, which is reflected in the positive feedback she gets from her clients, who in turn appreciate being in capable hands during for their important events.
Weddings dominate the calendar in June and September, while smaller and more frequent events like cocktail parties, clambakes and birthday parties fill up the months in between. Weddings are the backbone of her business; they have to be perfect and there are a lot of details that must be tended to in order to ensure perfection. Every party has a dedicated head chef and floor manager, and fortunately, Laura has been able to hire full-time kitchen manager, office manager and prep person to help share the burden.
When she first launched her business, Laura donated a lot of food at low cost or highly discounted prices to local non-profits to get the word out about her business. She didn’t have money to advertise, but felt that by having a presence at events for organizations she had an affinity with she would attract the type of clientele she wanted. Over the years, she’s continued to stay involved with Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill. Working with the same groups year after year allows her an opportunity to get creative. Last year at a fundraiser where former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl was guest of honor, Laura and company created an Asian street food menu—something she’d like to do more of. That said, most of her menus include intriguing-sounding items: zucchini-carrot fritters with charred local tomato jam; profiterole with bluefish paté; curried lamb and potato samosas with mango chutney.
During the six months of the year when events are few and far between, Laura spends time meeting with clients, doing tastings, sending proposals, catching up on office work and buying new equipment. She and her business/life partner Nancy Nadeau also travel to find new flavors and food combinations. They’ve been to France, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal and Spain. And, every winter, Laura makes the trip to the West Coast, where she goes home to eat, as she puts it. While her travels inform her cuisine, Laura says she’s learned the most from working with really talented people like her co-chef/kitchen manager Susan Pasko, who spends the winter cooking at her own restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Most people who hold events on the Cape are interested in highlighting our local seafood. Laura sources hers from Cape Tip and Mac’s Seafood. Chowder, lobster and oysters are popular fare, but Laura has seen an increase in demand for lesser-utilized fish species like hake. For local produce, she looks to Longnook Meadows Farm in Truro, a ten-acre farm that grows a wide range of organic vegetables, and Cape Cod Organic Farm in Barnstable. Other than ravioli from Nada’s Noodles in Dennis and Iggy’s Bread, everything that comes out of the kitchen at Cosmos Catering is made from scratch.
At its most hectic, there are as many as eight staff in the kitchen prepping for service. While they will cater a party of any size, the biggest wedding they’ve handled is about 200 people and 350 for a cocktail reception. Although seated dinners are more popular than buffets, family-style service—sides and starches available on the tables for people to serve themselves, with protein served by the staff—is becoming more common. Laura says these family-style meals offer a nice balance: not as expensive and formal as seated meals and not as casual as a buffet. Other trends include a more organic approach to table settings, with materials such as burlap and barn board and wildflowers in Ball jars used for decoration.
This past spring, Cosmos Catering became Green Certified by Cape and Islands Green, an environmental initiative organized by a committee of representatives from the Cape business community with the support of several local chambers of commerce. Being Green Certified encompasses everything from conserving energy and water, to utilizing socially sustainable purchasing practices, to minimizing solid waste. Laura switched to non-petroleum-based products (i.e., plastics) about six years ago, and never passed along the extra cost to her customers. It’s that important to her. Every week, Cosmos Catering sends five to six five-gallon buckets of food waste to the Provincetown Community Garden for composting. Laura firmly states that they recycle everything.
Laura acknowledges it’s more expensive to use local ingredients, pay a living wage and be green, but adhering to these practices is an essential part of her business philosophy. She’s been part of this community for a long time and plans to be involved for many years to come.