Read about some of Alyssa Shultis' favorite garnishes here.
“We didn’t have ketchup in the house.”
That’s a statement Alyssa Shultis adds for emphasis as she talks about growing up an only child in a family of foodies in Eden Prairie.
“My parents made elaborate, decadent meals—that was the norm. I didn’t realize until I was older how special it was that we sat down to eat real food together. My friends would open the fridge and go ‘what’s chutney?’” says Shultis, rattling off her many relatives who’ve been involved in the food industry. One uncle runs a sustainable oyster farm. Another is a professional chef. An aunt specializes in pastries. “Eating well is kind of engrained in me,” she says.
At 19, when other college students were eating boxed macaroni and cheese, Shultis threw her first dinner party, pulling together a beautiful meal—and, ahem, lots of wine—without much counter space or even a reliable oven. She’s since gathered loved ones around delicious food for wedding showers, birthdays and every occasion in between.
As a food writer and blogger for brands like Seven Sundays muesli, Pillsbury and Heavy Table, food has become a full-fledged vocation. “But food was also this grounding thing for me … it was the one thing I could count on,” she says. “I cook for people all the time, and friends asked why I don’t do this professionally, why I wouldn’t hire myself out to do it for other people.”
So she started cooking for friends’ and family events, and word spread, eventually morphing into a private catering business. Shultis builds unique menus around clients’ budgets, goals and dietary needs, prepping at a shared commercial kitchen on Lyndale and then creating full-service, in-home dining experiences.
With no intention of becoming a large-scale caterer, Gatherings by Alyssa is a one-woman show, and Shultis focuses on creating intimacy and connection between the people she serves. She’ll work with homeowners and corporate clients to design fully custom events. During an initial consultation, ideally held a month out, they’ll walk through the space, dishes and tools they have to work with. They’ll chat about the mood they’d like to create and the feel and flow they’re going for. From there, Shultis works her magic, drawing on years of food-centric gatherings to create a multisensory experience.
“I feel like I can fill this need for people who want a homecooked feel and a custom menu—but are intimidated by trying to pull it off themselves,” says Shultis. “I think we’re starting to lose human-to-human connection, as a culture. I love when people sit for hours, lingering over a meal—when they don’t even want to get up to let me out the front door. That’s when I know I’ve succeeded.”
“If you’re putting it in your body, you should care where it comes from,” says Shultis, who shops local and sustainable as a matter of principle—and flavor. Her favorite spots for stocking her kitchens with healthy eats are all within a short drive from her home near 50th and France.
Shop Like Alyssa
The Good Acre
In the warmer months, Shultis and her children receive boxes of fresh produce as part of their Falcon Heights-based Community Supported Agriculture farm share. They love unpacking each box of veggies and coming up with ideas for how to cut, cook and eat them. “I remember three-year-old Hunter picking up a delicata squash and going ‘what is that?’” she says. “Kids are so much more willing to try new, healthy foods when they’re involved in the process.”
Honey and Rye Bakehouse
Honey and Rye in St. Louis Park is a pick-up spot for their CSA box, but it also conveniently doubles as a go-to source for decadent pastries and freshly-made, crusty bread. “Oh God, everything there is so good,” Shultis says.
Linden Hills Co-op
Locally- and regionally-sourced organic produce and dairy are the norm at Linden Hills. Natural cleaning products, bulk dry goods, kombucha and prepared foods just round out the experience. “I want to know the stories behind my brands,” Shultis says. “Connection and community are an intention behind my meals. Shopping small and local just seems more meaningful. I love that place!”
France 44 Wines and Spirits
Everyone needs a quality liquor store in their back pocket, and this one also happens to have a stellar deli and grocery selection. “Everyone who works there is so well-versed,” says Shultis, who admits she knows nothing about beer and leans heavily on professionals for advice in that department. “And the cheese and meat are out-of-this-world ridiculous.”
Clancey’s Meats & Fish
Shultis loves that this business is owned by a woman who doesn’t compromise on quality. She goes weekly for a whole chicken or large cut of whatever pork looks good. She’ll fire up her oven on a weekend and use the meat throughout the week, seasoning it differently as a quick sandwich base, a salad topper or soup add-in. She has a favorite, simple Thomas Keller roasted chicken recipe that retains moisture and amps up the flavor of a whole bird. “I can seriously do that one blindfolded. It’s embarrassing,” she says.