A taste for Tahoe: Longtime chef ‘caters’ to region’s diverse interests
June 16, 2015
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Hiring the right caterer for a wedding or special event means finding someone whose taste pairs perfectly with your own.
With farm-to-table offerings, a reputation for quality service, and the option to customize each menu, it's no surprise many are choosing to say "I do" to Tahoe City-based D'lish Catering, owned and operated by award-winning chef Lee Kresy — a man for whom parties are a fun, but serious business.
"Food is a huge part of any event, and we take a lot of pride in the menus we create for our clients," Kresy said. "We customize everything based on the client's taste, and we'll work around whatever their needs are to create a special menu for them."
Putting that personalized touch on every event has arguably helped establish D'lish as one of the most sought-after catering companies in North Lake Tahoe, and Kresy is savoring in the newfound success.
"We're pretty much booked for the summer as far as weddings go, and we're still getting a ton of calls," said Kresy, who's entering his third season at the helm of D'lish.
DEVELOPING A TASTE FOR TAHOE
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Though Kresy is fresh meat in the business of catering, he's been elbow-deep in the professional chef world for more than three decades, most notably as executive chef and partner of Sunnyside Restaurant and Lodge for 25 years.
"By the time I was 17, I was already running a few pretty-good sized restaurants," Kresy said.
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Kresy pursued a degree in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America in Napa before moving to Tahoe in 1982.
"I grew up skiing in Tahoe with my family and friends, but I never thought I'd move here," Kresy said. "When the opportunity to open Sunnyside came up, I decided to give Tahoe a try, and, like most people who come here, I fell in love, and almost 35 years later, here I am."
After launching Sunnyside, Kresy was offered an executive chef position at Jake's on the Lake, where he put his culinary creations to the test under the lakefront establishment's former parent company, TS Restaurants.
While Kresy turned up the heat at Jake's, TS Restaurants was cooking up plans to add Sunnyside to the list of Aloha-inspired subsidiaries, after which they offered Kresy the chance to return to his old stomping grounds as head chef.
A CATERED AFFAIR
For the next 25 years, Kresy spiced up the menu with an innovative blend of California- and Hawaiian-inspired dishes, and while he relished his time at the reputable restaurant, he and wife, Leah, had been tossing around the idea of someday owning a catering business.
"Catering was something I had wanted to do down the road, but it wasn't anything I as pursing at the time," Kresy said. "When I heard the owners of D'lish wanted to sell, my wife and I decided it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up."
It was a bitter-sweet farewell from the kitchen and staff who had flavored the majority of Kresy's career, but he was nonetheless ready to test his recipe for culinary success in new chef whites under the old D'lish Catering moniker, and in 2013, Kresy officially took over ownership of the company.
"When I acquired D'lish, it already had a really good reputation for serving some of the best food as far as catering goes in Tahoe, and our goal is to keep that going by purchasing ingredients at the farmers market, buying local as much as possible, and working with our client's to create the best menu we can for them," said Kresy, whose culinary creations have been featured at events like Best of Tahoe Chefs, An Elegant Affair, and the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival, to name a few.
MAKING HIS JOB EASIER
The small-scale, but amply-sized D'lish kitchen — located in the Henrikson Building in downtown Tahoe City — came equipped with The Burrito Window to boot, which is exactly that: a modest burrito and taco stand that serves up a D'lish-sized plate of quality customer care.
"The amount of foot traffic we get at The Burrito Window is amazing to me – even if some of them are looking for a hotel room and not a burrito," Kresy said with a carefree laugh about the once-upon-a-time hotel space. "The (Burrito) Window is fast, it's inexpensive, and it's the same quality ingredients you'd find at D'lish."
The catered-wedding plate at D'lish may be full for the summer, but come fall, Kresy plans to keep things cooking in all things catering, including his private chef services, where he indulges smaller parties with five-course menus tailored to their specific taste buds.
And while the longtime executive chef does miss certain aspects of the restaurant world, getting to taste the catering side of things has been an exciting change worth sinking his teeth into.
"I do miss the camaraderie of working with a large staff in a restaurant like Sunnyside," Kresy said. "But I get to be more creative now, and I'm always learning new recipes or recreating old trends, and that's what makes it more fun for me.
"Well, that and my support team here – they make my job easier and I don't know what I'd do without them."
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.