The beautiful food of chef and entrepreneur Laura Bowman ’13 makes us very, very hungry.
When Laura Bowman ’13 arrived at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) straight out of Williston, she already had exactly what she needed to succeed at the highly regarded cooking school in Hyde Park, New York. Not the knife or sauce-making skills, which she would learn there. Not the culinary language or the restaurant experience, which the students coming from the trade schools and hospitality industry were steeped in. But the drive. “Williston encourages you to take risks, pursue passions, and be open-minded to different outcomes,” she explains. “It gives you confidence in your skills, your leadership. I don’t have any fear now, owning my own business—even though there’s no safety net.”
Her own business is Blue Door Gatherings, a small-events catering company that she opened in Holyoke, Massachusetts, in the spring of 2018. Visit her website (bluedoorgatherings.com) at your peril, and only if her stunning cheese and charcuterie boards, her baby roast potatoes with quail eggs, her meatball sliders on cheesy gougères aren’t going to flood the rest of your day’s concentration with craving. In addition to her work as a chef, Bowman is a skilled photographer (her events photographs are deeply delicious), a Napa-trained sommelier, a de facto business manager, and her own publicist. She’s also in the process of building a commissary space in an old paper mill, where she’s hoping to move her business next year. “I wear a lot of hats,” she says, laughing a little exhaustedly. “But my day never looks the same, which was the most important part for me about curating my own business—that it would allow me to showcase a lot of different interests of mine.” She credits Williston with this ability, too: “We were always balancing school, sports, social activities. That balance becomes very real-life when you own your own business.”
She moved back to the area only after finishing her culinary degree, getting her business degree (also at CIA), and living between the Hudson Valley and the Napa Valley, traveling intermittently to Northern France. “Oh, my God, Napa! The year-round growing season!” she reminisces. “Everything is beautiful and tastes perfect. But you get spoiled.” Here, in the place where she grew up cooking with her great-grandmother and her grandmother—“both excellent home bakers”—she’s got to make the best of every season, the way hearty New England folk have always done. “There’s more pressure here—in a good way. You’ve got these perfect tomatoes, but just for a little while. These perfect apples, these Concord grapes. You have to work a little more to preserve them—or just celebrate them while they’re here.”
Plus, the area gives her a chance to support other women entrepreneurs. “Going through CIA as a female culinarian, I was definitely outnumbered,” she recalls. “And I’ve definitely worked mostly in male-dominated kitchens.” Now she’s able to support local women-owned business—like Small Oven in Easthampton, where she buys bread—and she’s hiring young entrepreneurial-spirited women, giving them a place to work where they can “grow and learn and someday achieve their own aspirations in the field.” Her chosen career can be a notoriously challenging, even oppressive one for women. “But I think,” she says—her sparkling optimism and intelligence amplifying the prediction—“we’re about to see a real sea change.”
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