I’m not sure about you, but I get a bit of anxiety when I am invited to events, especially dinner parties, about whether there will be something for me to eat. I wouldn’t say I’m picky, just particular (as I believe most of you are when it comes to your eating)! I hate to be that person who tries to discreetly move the food around on my plate while pretending to eat it! I had the exact opposite experience this past summer when I attended my first Little Gem dinner party. I remember being pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful whole fish flanked by a huge, healthy green salad and a gorgeous gluten free casarecce pasta. For once I could eat everything and it was all absolutely delicious!
Little Gem is a catering and events company, which was started by Chef Tolya Ashe and his partner, Jordana Blitz in 2016. However, they are not your typical caterer…they actually understand that people want high-quality organic ingredients, that lots people have food allergies or intolerances, and that most people these days choose to eat a healthy diet to go along with the rest of their lifestyle. Thus, Little Gem has become to be the go-to for New York events.
When you are someone working at Vogue and out at events every night, it’s a challenge to sustain a healthy lifestyle eating the typical spinach in puff pastry appetizer. Tolya learned about how foods can heal you, reduce inflammation, boost immune systems, and cure ailments…The focus is on seasonal, local food that is beautifully and creatively prepared, and we try and put a healthy spin on everything we do. That being said, you will find bacon and heavy cream on our menus! -Jordana Blitz
Most recently Little Gem has added a drop-off service in New York, which delivers their healthy and delicious creations right to your home or office. Sounds like our kind of “fast food!”
In case you need some inspo, I asked Jordana and Tolya to share a typical healthy dinner menu with LivLight, as well as a few of their favorite recipes. Make sure to check these out below along with my interview with the Little Gem team. I love this idea of healthier catering and events, and I am certain that Jordana and Tolya have started quite the trend! For more info, check out their website www.littlegemnyc.com
Interview with Little Gem Catering + Events
What is Tolya’s background as a chef? Was he trained in healthy cooking?
Tolya was actually professionally trained in French Culinary and FCI with a focus on beautiful meat dishes with rich sauces and homemade pastas. His training in Healthy Cooking was informal, through his own experiences with various diets and “cleanses”, research and conversations with health experts.
Why did he choose to focus on healthy cuisine?
After working with clients who are always out and about in New York, Tolya quickly learned that what people wanted to eat doesn’t always coincide with what they needed to be eating to feel great and look great. When you are someone working at Vogue and out at events every night, it’s a challenge to sustain a healthy lifestyle eating the typical spinach in puff pastry appetizer. Tolya learned about how foods can heal you, reduce inflammation, boost immune systems, and cure ailments. At Little Gem, we not only want to bring this healthy flare to events, but we found another niche by making it easier for people to eat healthy at home and at the office without having to succumb to digital flipping through the rolodex of Seamless options. We initiated a drop off service for clients where they don’t have to feel guilty about not cooking or wonder what ingredients were going into their meals. We bring you that food that you drool over on Instagram but know you won’t ever make right into your refrigerator.
How and why did you two team up to start Little Gem Catering? Is your focus on healthy food?
Little Gem was started in April 2016 by Jordana Blitz and Chef Tolya Ashe. Jordana spent 10 years working for the luxury accessories brand Coach, most recently spearheading their global special events department. She worked with every known caterer in New York during that decade, but the options had grown stale and she knew that if she was looking for something healthier, fresher and more innovative then other event planners and brands must be on that same hunt. Meanwhile, Tolya was building a “healthy” business as an in home chef and cooking instructor for the fashion and entertainment world as well as private clients and was known equally for his delicious yet nutritious food and charming nature. After an introduction by journalist Marshall Heyman, Little Gem was born. The focus is on seasonal, local food that is beautifully and creatively prepared, and we try and put a healthy spin on everything we do. That being said, you will find bacon and heavy cream on our menus!
Jordana, you’ve been in the events world for years. How have events and entertaining changed in terms of food choices? Do you find that clients are requesting more healthful options?
People are making wellness an essential part of their lives – they spend their morning at soul cycle, go for a family bike ride, and end their day with meditation. Healthy cooking and entertaining is a natural extension of this process. We all love to eat, and it makes perfect sense to feel good about what you are putting in your body while being able to enjoy it too. I also think that our clients want to simplify the entertaining process. Entertaining at home is becoming wildly popular, and clients want an experience that mimics what they would serve if they knew how to cook and / or had the time to do so. They want a healthy, flavorful, locally sourced meal that maybe even incorporates their own nuances. For example, if you are gluten free, how special to be able to serve a delicious totally gluten free meal at home for your friends. Our clients come to us because they know that we can give them a totally customized menu, taking into account any healthy requests, and creating something for them and their families that is as tasty as it is good for everyone.
At LivLight, I’m trying to encourage readers to create healthy dinner parties and teach them that healthy food can still be delicious and fulfilling. Can you give us a sample menu of what you may serve at a healthy dinner party?
This is a classic Little Gem menu that highlights the best Winter produce, and is also gluten and dairy free.
Winter Vegetable Salad of Carrots, Parsnips, Beets and Sunchokes
Slow Cooked Salmon with Chick Peas, Mustard Greens and Honey
Caramelized Butternut Squash with Sage
Quinoa with Herbs and Butter Basted Chanterelle Mushrooms
- 750g / 1.6 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
- 2 tbsp tahini
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground allspice
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Sea salt and black pepper
For the pumpkin hummus, place the butternut in a saucepan with a splash of water and salt and cover with a lid. Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, shaking pan every now and then. If the pumpkin dries out, add another splash of water. The pumpkin is ready when it is very soft and falling apart when stirred. Allow to cool. Combine pumpkin, tahini, garlic, salt, olive oil, all the spices and lemon juice and whisk to break up the pumpkin and to combine. Adjust seasoning, adding more salt, oil or lemon juice as needed. Heat a griddle pan or large frypan on high. Coat cauliflower in a few glugs of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill / fry for 2-3 minutes on each side until charred all over. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a fry pan on medium heat, add garlic, cumin and coriander and a pinch of salt and cook for 10 seconds to release flavours. Increase the heat to high and add the beans to the pan, stirring to coat the beans in the spices. Cook for 5-6 minutes, shaking the pan often, until the beans go crispy on both sides.
Five Spice Salmon Burgers
Serves 3 (makes six small burgers)
- 1 ½ pounds salmon, skin removed and cut into 1inch pieces
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 2inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon five spice powder
- 2 tablespoon gluten free tamari or coconut aminos
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Place salmon pieces in the freezer for about 10 minutes, until very cold but not frozen. In batches, add the salmon to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it’s well minced but before it becomes a paste (about 10 one second pulses). Remove the salmon to a large bowl and blend the remaining ingredients in the food processor until very smooth, about 1 minute. Add this to the bowl with the salmon and use a fork, spatula, or your hands to thoroughly incorporate all the ingredients. Either cook right away or cover and refrigerate for up to two days. To cook, place a grill pan over medium high heat. Form the salmon mixture into 6 equal patties, and when the pan is hot but not smoking, grill burgers for about three minutes on each side.