Yesterday we shared our amazing summer salon menu; today we're bringing you an interview with the wonderful Molly Schemper of FIG Catering. Get to know the woman behind this husband & wife run business and see why FIG Catering has us calling out for seconds (and thirds!).
You and your (now) husband launched FIG 9 years ago. What has surprised you most about owning your own company? About the catering world? About working with your partner?
I knew it would be hard work and long hours. I didn't really think about the long-term as far as having employees and being more of a manager than in the kitchen and at every event. When we first started Justin and I always worked side-by-side (in the kitchen, at events); now we are more often in different areas so it's actually a bit more normal (we don't see each other 24/7).
I'm continually surprised by our hourly employees (wait staff and bartenders) – that they care so much and take so much pride in their work. I'm surprised by other caterers' approaches to the same problems and how we deal with everything a bit differently.
FIG has a strong commitment to local farmers, green practices and partnering with other vendors that share an interest in sustainability. Have you found Chicago to be a good market for partnering with like-minded farmers and businesses? Is this something that serves as a major point of differentiation vs. other catering companies for clients? Since we started FIG we have grown with the local food economy. When we first started we had time to go to farmer's markets to buy ingredients, but now farmers deliver directly to us. Also there are more distributors sourcing from local farms so being able to buy things in bundles is becoming easier. We hooked up with many like-minded people when we first started and were original members of the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition (new Co-op) and the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance, so we've developed those relationships and learned from our peers. Some clients are really in to the fact that we're "green" and practice these things and others just like us because of our great food and service. Regardless, they're all eating the same locally grown food so we're happy!
FIG caters for special events up to 150. How does limiting the guest size impact the food/complexity of offerings you're able to provide each event's guests?
It means we're able to produce the food fresh rather than having a lot of items prepared and just heating them up. Because most of the spaces we work in do not have commercial kitchens our capacity is limited so by limiting the guest count we give the clients fresher, better food. We are also able to order from smaller farms that may not have the capacity to provide beef for 1000 guests per week but are able to serve our needs.
You served a custom cocktail at our summer salon - The Front Porch, featuring spiced New Orleans rum, chamomile sweet tea & homemade bitters. This is part of a soon-to-launch extension of your business - FIG Drinks. Tell us a bit about how Fig Drinks came to be and what you envision for the future of this business.
We hope to officially launch FIG Drinks soon. Basically, we think of it as a bar catering service. We noticed that most catered events had very boring beer, wine, and liquor selections (even though bars and restaurants in Chicago are far ahead of the game, it is like catering is stuck in the 90s). We wanted to create a catering bar service that offered the kind of things we would want to drink while making it very simple for the client (not a huge warehouse of inventory, licensed and trained bartenders, a one-stop shop). Our selection would range from locally brewed beer, environmentally friendly wines, small batch spirits and seasonal hand-crafted cocktails. The goal is to have your event feel more like hanging at your favorite bar than the hotel lobby.
This sounds fantastic! We'll be keeping our eyes peeled for the official launch of FIG Drinks!
Do friends ever hesitate to cook for you because of your awesome skills?
Our friends are often intimidated to cook for us, but we'll be the first to admit that if anyone cooks for us it's automatically going to taste good because someone else cooked it! We're really not very judgmental – we love good food, but prefer simple stuff. So, I guess what I'm saying is – we're available on Monday evenings to be party guests.
Do you like to cook for small intimate gatherings you host for friends and family outside of FIG, or are you tuckered out from doing it all day?
I like to, but rarely have time or energy anymore. Maybe once I retire.
What do you love most about your job?
Seeing the event come to fruition and the smiles on the guests (and clients) faces.
Describe your perfect meal.
That is so tough. For me, location plays a huge role - I don't think I'd like anything more than eating it on a beach somewhere or on a crowded city sidewalk café/patio. Freshly shucked oysters, cheese and bread, perfect nectarines, BLT sandwiches, and ice cream.