As the Restaurant News reporter, I meet the best people. Chef Dane Lee and his partner Carol Ann Lee are great examples.
This catering couple from Edmonds has been married for 25 years, and have known each other for 28. They both graduated from Skagit College — granted at different times. It was love at first sight for Dane and he shared that he told Carol Ann so on their very first date. “We were 21 and 18,” he said. Total respect for their partnership paid off. They play off each other’s strengths.
Lynnwood-based Chef Dane Catering began as My Personal Chef in 2000 after years of privately catering to the many requests of friends and family. Chef Dane worked with individual clients, provided meal services with home preparation as the focus for many years. As time passed, the business focus shifted to social and corporate catering. Carol Ann joined him four years ago. “Finally lured her away from Ray’s Boathouse,” Chef Dane said with a smile.
To support this evolution, in 2016 Chef Dane Catering launched with an “artisan-built event” concept and a new kitchen to keep pace with increased business opportunities.
What makes Chef Dane catering events different? Choices.
There is no preset menu; the food fare created uniquely for each event. Whether it’s an intimate, elegant dinner for two on their anniversary, a neighborhood barbecue or a gathering with 400 of your closest friends and family, Chef Dane will design the perfect event. Clients can be involved in all of the planning or leave it entirely in the professional hands of a trusted expert — namely Chef Dane.
“A personal touch sets us apart,” he said. To know the client and understand the details distinctive to their event is important to Chef Dane’s team. This drives their business philosophy and sets the stage for an artisan-built event. Members of the culinary team showcase their versatility, flexibility and product knowledge to create a well-balanced menu for any event. They label dishes to take the guesswork away. They’re diverse; the menus already include gluten-free vegan items. “All of our food is homemade, it’s built from scratch, from breads to stock to finished product on the plate,” he added.
“My culinary foundation is built on a variety of cuisines and first class service,” he continued. “I have worked at Puget Sound’s most prominent restaurants including Wildflowers, Anthony’s Homeport, Fullers and Ray’s Boathouse.” After nearly 20 years of operating his business, Lee says he continues to be motivated by new and favorite clients to create unique memories. “I share my passion and work ethic with my family; everyone is willing to pitch in, especially when it comes to testing new recipes!” he said.
About those recipes? Carol Ann is the creative part of the team. “if she can say it on a page, I can cook it,” Lee said. “Unless it comes from Mars we probably already cooked it.”
Chef Lee appreciates the abundant local produce and product available year-round. “Our community is an international one and we can switch up cuisines easily. We can make salmon 1000 different ways, he said.
He says food should be approachable; they strive to do “the basics” really well. “We are diners’ first, culinarians second.”
They want to put comfort in the food. “That’s what folks want,” he said. “Many of our events our life celebrations, so we work with our clients, discover what foods brought comfort to the individual, and develop the menu for the event.”
How to honor a dad who loved root beer floats, when the event had 300 attendees? Root beer float cookies were served. They were delicious and for folks who knew dad well enough, they brought extra meaning.
Carol Ann does the drink side of the business. Creative cocktails are her thing for sure: The winner for best cocktail at the Edmonds’ Networking with Spirits event was…Chef Dane Catering: Voted the best in both categories — the judge’s and people’s choice.
The Lees have two kids, ages 16 and 21. Early on, in lieu of allowance, they schooled their kids to look around, to see what needs to be done. Dane beams with pride when he shares this story.“My son created the art for Chef Dane logo.” His son’s welding project from school inspired the logo art used on business cards and menus.
The kids both work in the business now, Dane’s said. “There’s always something that needs to be done. And they pitch in,” he said.
They’d like Restaurant News readers to know that they are now able to do events for up to 4,000 people. Chef Dane shared with pride, “We served food to 2,000 people, in five different buildings on a property.”
“That adrenaline rush is part of our reward,” he added. The couple is happy that clients have “no idea what happens behind the scenes” to make events come off flawlessly.
“Plan B always works” he said. “And I always have a plan B ready to go.”
We spoke about the stress in the hospitality industry. Of the top 10 most stressful jobs, number 5 is event planning. Carol Anne shared information about an organization they both enjoy and support: Big Table.
It was created by Kevin Finch, a Spokane pastor who has a weekday job as a writer on the food and hospitality industry. He discovered an unmet need and stepped out from his pulpit to create the non-profit, which support folks in the hospitality industry.
The Big Table hosts a dinner each quarter, literally at its namesake — a table that seats 48 people. Invitees range from chefs to busboys. Table discussion identifies needs and asks “What can we do to help?” Solutions include organizing a fundraiser to aid with hospital expenses, or sending flowers to acknowledge a tough situation.
Chef Dane feels loyalty is important and says his team, which includes “13 regular employees,” is amazing. “Flexibility within their work schedules creates dependable, focused workers, ones who don’t mind pitching in when needed,” he said.
Speaking about the industry as a whole, he sees a shift in attitude “from servitude to being part of a team that plans and executes events.”
“The joy of having a local business is being in my local community having a connection,” he said.
Carol Anne said they enjoy membership in the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce. “It’s rewarding. We like to give back to our community,”she said. “They say it takes a village. Well, we create our village.”
They like to create a flow in their events, with their placement of food in a venue that encourages attendees to move around and interact, instead of just moving through the line juggling plates. They arranged food and fixtures accordingly.
“My goal,” Chef Dane said, “is at the end of a dinner to have folks kick back in their Lazy Boy and take a nap. I want folks to be relaxed, well taken care of, like that scene from Eat Love Pray, when the family took a long nap waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven.”
Their motto: “We would want to be guests at our events.” I say: “ I’d like to be a guest at their next event too!”
— By Kathy Passage
A specialty gourmet food broker for over 30 years, Kathy Passage has in-depth knowledge on food and the special qualities of ingredients used in the exquisite products she helped bring to market. Kathy brings this unique perspective from the “other side of the plate” to writing about the local food and restaurant scene.