By Clayton Moore
Business and aviation catering is a tough gig. With flights hurriedly leaving at odd hours and meals wedged between meetings, busy business professionals can sometimes overlook the fine banquets prepared for them, no matter how great the food and service may be.
One California catering company has been working hard at this challenging art for nearly a decade. In March, the professionals at Isaac’s Catering received a very public “thank you” when the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce awarded the caterer with its Small Business of the Year Award.
The chamber, which recently celebrated its 85th year in operation, awarded the honor to Isaac’s during its annual awards dinner held March 2 at the Four Seasons Resort in Aviara.
“It was very humbling,” said owner Richard Bier. “My staff and I were very honored. When the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce does an event, they do it right.”
A panel that included the chamber’s CEO, vice president and three board members (whose identities remain anonymous to protect the veracity of the awards) chose the winners.
Along with the award, Isaac’s Catering received letters of recognition from the U.S. House and Senate, the Assembly of the California Legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It was well-deserved praise for the hardworking cooks, delivery staff and other pros that have served more than 2,000,000 plates since Isaac’s was launched.
Starting from scratch
Isaac’s Catering has experienced some changes recently, all for the better. The company, which also runs a small café for local businesses, is located in a building across from McClellan-Palomar Airport (CRQ). Last year, the kitchen went through a full remodel that made it smaller but more efficient. Since removing three stations and folding in their functions to the remaining space, the cooks are able to create better dishes with faster preparation.
“We went from 8,000 square feet to about half of that size, in terms of operating space,” Bier explained. “The changes were largely driven by in-flight services. Our kitchen had to become the most efficient catering kitchen that we could achieve. Now our chefs have everything they need within three steps.”
On January 24, Isaac’s held an open house to exhibit the remodeled facility and show off new menu items, dreamed up by Ignacio “Moe” Valencia, executive chef and general manager.
Bier comes to the business with marketing experience along with almost 30 years of food service background. He spent many years on both coasts, marketing food service products and helping instruct chefs about food quality.
“Being in the kitchen isn’t my gift, so I hire people who know what they’re doing and can provide the best meals available,” Bier said.
Isaac’s secret weapon is the masterful Valencia, a gifted chef who worked his way up through the country club circuit. Wanting to work for Bier, Valencia offered to cook without pay during his first month at the business.
“This was a window of opportunity for me to show exactly who I am and what I can do in the kitchen,” Valencia said. “Other chefs don’t always let you fly. Isaac’s is a place where I can go where I want to go. I have no restrictions here; I have real freedom.”
Valencia’s cooking style is an eclectic, robust stew of his own Latin roots and his serious training in traditional French cooking.
“I was very lucky to have trained with a lot of professional people,” Valencia said. “I started washing dishes and worked my way up to cook. It makes me feel so good when I make something for customers, and they smile and say, ‘Thank you.’ It’s what keeps me going.”
Bier praised the chef’s flexibility, talent and keen eye for ingredients. While attending a National Association of Catering Executives meeting, Bier and Valencia attended an “Iron Chef” competition. Bier was amazed when Valencia quickly sketched out an entire menu nearly identical to the winning menu.
“He approaches food with a passion,” Bier said. “When he creates something, it’s the best, to the outer limits of his capabilities for cooking and presentation. I’ve dealt with some of the most qualified chefs in America, and Moe is in the top five. He really learned the hard way.”
While Valencia has the talent to fashion nearly any foodstuff, his favorite recipes come from his early days.
“My own favorites come from the French tradition,” Valencia said. “I love to cook duck a’lorange, rack of lamb and filet mignon with a beautiful béarnaise sauce. I started my training on these dishes.”
Over the years, the team at Isaac’s has continued to hone and improve the menu. While Isaac’s Catering will satisfy any request for a foodstuff, its menu offers a truly dazzling variety of plates. A small sampling of new items includes delicacies like prosciutto and smoked salmon-wrapped asparagus, shrimp and scallop ceviche and broiled Alaskan salmon with a raspberry jalapeno glace.
Bier explains that his chefs start fresh with every meal.
“We do it from scratch,” Bier said. “That differentiates us from every other caterer in the area. Most caterers evolved from a deli or some other type of restaurant. The challenge is that they still don’t understand the food quality needed for the market.”
With Isaac’s, you won’t get a rubbery ham sandwich as an in-flight meal. The chefs at Isaac’s carve their sandwiches from fresh bone-in turkey breasts that they’ve wrapped, seasoned and roasted.
Because the caterer has five delivery vans outfitted with hot and cold delivery boxes, Isaac’s is also able to deliver great meals on time and at the right temperature.
Isaac’s has provided a big improvement for both business and aviation clients.
“Before we came in, corporate lunches were pretty boring around here,” Bier said. “You’d get a sandwich and a cookie. We’ve established that we can deliver dishes like chicken Marsala.”
That quality has led to substantial corporate business for the caterer, which has catered events for multinational corporations like Sony, Costco and Starbucks. Isaac’s is the official caterer for the San Diego Shockwave, the city’s official National Indoor Football League team. It’s even served a few meals to flights carrying celebrities like Martha Stewart and Jennifer Lopez.
“Catering is really where we want to be,” Bier said. “We carry a customer base of about 250 corporate clients in the greater Carlsbad area, and many are on this airport. We’ve also been fortunate enough to serve most of the fractional aircraft, which is about 85 percent of the traffic here.”
In addition to in-flight catering, Isaac’s is a favorite among many of the more significant aviation companies in the industry. Isaac’s has served Gulfstream, Eclipse, Adam Aircraft and the Porsche Business Aircraft & Jet Previews.
The caterer is so popular that it often fields requests from other California regions. To meet that demand, the company is investigating the potential for satellite locations.
“We’re planning to move into other geographic areas,” Bier said. “Right now, we’re streamlining our phone systems, computers and administrative functions so that we can clone those processes and take them into other areas.”
Every meal is unique, and every day is a challenge for Bier, Valencia and their dedicated support staff. But they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We meet every request that comes in,” Bier said. “We’re in a position as a caterer where there’s absolutely nothing we can’t do for you.”
For more information about Isaac’s Café and Catering, visit [http://www.isaacscatering.com].