Few can boast that their career beginnings were documented on film. But Liz Fowler’s start as a culinary and party maven began at the tender age of two, when grandma had the video camera at the ready, documenting the toddler as she careened around family parties with a tray of hors d’oeuvres.
“I always loved making people happy, and I guess it was through food,” Fowler says. The 30-year-old chef is now at the helm of The Savory Suite, a private event space in an old downtown Perrysburg home that is the offshoot of her catering company, Savory Sweet Finer Foods. In the rustically elegant space Fowler rules as a dream party planner and hostess for everything from bridal showers to gourmet dinner clubs, concocting creative menus, procuring delicious baked goods for dessert, and staying after to take care of the mess. (“The idea was to make it cozy, like you’re in your own home but without the cleaning,” Fowler says.) And, like the Jeffrey to her Ina, her husband Stephen works on the second floor as a graphic designer (one can imagine her hopping up the stairs to deliver a plate of goodies) and helps with the design and photography of her growing business.
The Perrysburg native’s training began in her family’s kitchen — after mastering that hors d’oeuvres tray, she moved on to more complicated tasks, learning to make chicken stock from scratch at the age of 10. Rare was an occasion for her to sink her teeth into a pre-packaged cookie or a drive-through burger — “I used to spend the night at my friend’s house so I could have Lucky Charms for breakfast, because we didn’t have that” — and instead she developed her palate on the cooking of the matriarchs in her family. (Her mother is known as ‘the cookie lady’ and now runs Deb House Baked Goods; grandma was a “whole everything” kind of cook.) When she left the roost for college at Indiana University, though, she studied hospitality management and landed afterward in Chicago at Blue Plate, an event firm where she entertained high-profile clients and planned parties. But she often found herself sneaking to the kitchen see what the chefs were up to. “All of a sudden, after doing that for a while, I said I’d rather be in the back of the house than the front of the house.” She left her hectic 90-hour-a-week job and the city and returned with her husband to Toledo three years ago, starting Savory Sweet Finer Foods.
She began selling her products, things like blueberry chicken salad with Greek yogurt and white bean cilantro dip, at the Perrysburg Farmers’ Market. Soon business grew through word of mouth, and her SSFF packages began appearing on shelves at Kazmaiers and Walt Churchill’s markets. As a caterer, she was required to work out of a commercial kitchen, which she built on the first floor of the home that is now The Savory Suite. Seeing the rest of the space unused (it was formerly a law office), she decided to take advantage of it and enlisted the help of her father and husband to re-do the space. Dad, an architect, created a lighting fixture of branches and lanterns; a bar was placed for wine tastings, and a washed-out wood and linen motif came together.
The space is open to the public for Sunday breakfasts; otherwise, her menus are created to meet the demands of her clients. The girl’s got range: she can cook up everything from breakfasts of baked egg, cheddar and Canadian bacon cups to dinners of seared steak with red wine risotto and balsamic portobellos. The recipes are original; the tunes she plays while she cooks range from Ray LaMontagne to Jay-Z. Though there is the glint of the perfectionist in her, she says the “therapeutic,” artsy part of cooking is what led her to self-made chef-dom. “It’s not about being perfect. There aren’t rules,” she says. “That’s what I like about it.”
Fowler's modus operandi
The Savory Suite maven's tips for hosting the best party
- Know your guest list. The goal is that everyone invited is accommodated — Mr. Peanut Allergy has a nut-free option and Miss Teetotaler's Shirley Temple is at the ready — "you have to make people feel special and comfortable."
- Enjoy yourself. "It's important for the host not to be in the kitchen the whole time. They need to be a guest at their own party — people came to see them and talk to them. Do as much prep work as you can and have a menu that's make-ahead."
- In this case, opposites don't attract. Seat guests based on their interests. If it's hard to connect guests, leave fun little conversation-starting cards scattered around the table.
- The U.S. Postal Service is your friend. "I know snail mail is old-fashioned but I think people like opening mail. I still get excited when I get something other than a bill!"
- Candles: also your friend. "Lighting is very important. I think lots of tea lights and candles for a really warm glow. You don't want overhead direct lighting; it's not flattering to anybody."
The Savory Suite, 119 W. 2nd St., Perrysburg. 419-215-5292.
Facebook.com/TheSavorySuite or www.thesavorysuite.com.
Open to the public Sundays for breakfast from 8:30am-1pm;
lunch events start at $25/person with a $200 minimum;
dinners $50/person with a $400 minimum.