Although her days of working as a professional chef are behind her, there is no end to cooking in sight.
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Founder and Former Executive Chef, Abigail Kirsch Catering RelationshipsCrowning professional achievement: Being elected a Grande Dame of Les Dames d’Escoffier International
Favorite dish to cook: Osso buco.
Has cooked for: Presidents Reagan and Ford, Prince Charles, the King of Morocco, and the Queen of Thailand.
Fondest Adelphi memory: Shaking off the crutches and cast she needed after a car accident just in time to walk in the 1951 Commencement ceremony with her classmates.
No Second Serve in the Catering Business
“I felt like a queen of the world,” says Abigail Kirsch ’51, recalling the thrill of dipping and breading veal chops as a young apprentice in her mother’s kitchen.
Ms. Kirsch fell in love with cooking as a child on the apron strings of her mother and grandmother. Her passion has fueled a lifelong culinary journey and a five-star career.
Every trip, whether it is to the neighborhood bistro or to a far-off corner of the world, is a chance to explore new culinary ideas and inspirations.
“The best meal of my life was in Shanghai,” she says. “The food was so clean, simple, and yet incredibly creative. It blew us away.”
Ms. Kirsch is accustomed to setting trends. In 1964, recognizing that she needed professional training to charge for cooking classes that she was running out of the basement in her house, she enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. She was the only woman in the program. She subsequently earned certificates from the Institute and from Paris’s famed Cordon Bleu culinary school.
When her neighbors complained that she couldn’t operate a cooking school from her Chappaqua, NY home, she took her case to the Supreme Court of Westchester County and won.
She opened her first storefront in 1971. The Abigail Kirsch Gourmet Center, Ltd. offered cooking classes, gourmet cookware and, as an afterthought, catering. Shortly thereafter, she received her first large-scale catering contract, a 500-person picnic at the PepsiCo Sculpture Garden. Her Salade Niçoise was a success, and her catering business was off to a strong start.
Her company is now a New York area icon. In 1989, she and husband/business partner Bob, decided “that is was time to stop being gypsy caterers and get a place of our own.”
Enter Tappan Hill, a historic mansion overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown, NY. Once the site for Mark Twain’s daughter’s home, it is now an historic Westchester landmark. The 1916 residence was restored in 1989 by Abigail Kirsch and has been the headquarters for Abigail Kirsch Catering since that time.
Today, her company operates exclusive sites at Tappan Hill, The New York Botanical Garden, Pier 60 and the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers, and Stage 6 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Last year, they catered over 1,500 events, including almost 600 weddings, and prepared over 400,000 meals, all with a precise eye for perfection and detail.
“In this business, you work with people on the biggest days of their lives,” she says. “You never get a second chance to be perfect.” That demand for perfection shows in her food and her reviews. Each dish is prepared to be distinct and memorable in both taste and appearance.
Ms. Kirsch has been lauded for her culinary success. She has been honored by Les Dames d’Escoffier International, the International Association of Caterers, The New York State Restaurant Association, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She has also been listed in Crain’s “New York’s 100 Most Influential Women in Business,” and is the author of several cookbooks, including The Bride and Groom’s First Cookbook.
Her four children served as assistants and wait staff while in high school and college. Three of them now pursue other careers, but son, Jim, is now President and CEO.
“I always wanted to keep the family and the business together,” she says, “I am very proud to see how it has grown.”
What’s next for this entrepreneur and culinary pioneer? “I never tire of cooking and presenting food,” she says, “but some day I would love to cater my grandchildren’s weddings.”
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