Save for breaking in, how can someone gain entry into a family's home and hear about the experiences that form the tapestry of their lives?
By cooking for them — or so Bay Ewald and Nick Nigro, founders of comewecreate, have found.
The Costa Mesa couple, self-proclaimed foodies, launched the in-house catering service last summer after picking cooking as their creative outlet of choice.
Since word got out, they've served at birthdays, business events and Christmas parties, provided romantic meals for two and even fed people with special dietary needs. You name it, and in all likelihood they've done it, Ewald said. Despite this, they don't want to be known only for their culinary abilities.
"Eighty years from now, we may not be able to crack an egg with one hand or construct elaborate pastries, but we will hope to have maintained many friendships and relationships that have come as a result of our ability to connect with people through the portal of cooking and of food, and through the sharing of meals," Nigro said.
"Food is about the emotional state that it elicits in those we are serving. It is not about the recognition we are getting as the chefs."
Love at first meal
The 24-year-olds met in San Francisco on Dec. 30, 2011, upon the insistence of a common friend. Their relationship began over crab cakes, salmon and calamari at Fisherman's Wharf, where they discovered a shared appreciation for writing, music, film and, especially, cooking. It was love at first meal, they joked.
Within days of their first encounter, the two embarked on a monthlong culinary adventure that included Thai food in the Marina District, margaritas and nachos at Sandbar in Santa Barbara, cupcakes on the Manhattan Beach pier and avocados on the Ewald family farm in San Diego.
Afterward, Nigro stayed in Orange County while Ewald returned to San Francisco State University, where she earned a master's degree in English and creative writing while also working as a food blogger and photographer for SF Weekly. When the two reunited in May 2013, growing an herb garden, drinking tea every afternoon and filling their home with refurbished furniture were priorities. It was then, as they settled into a new life together, that inspiration struck and comewecreate was born.
Ewald and Nigro have since carved out a gastronomic niche for themselves. Unlike other caterers, who cart dishes of prepared food, the pair cook at the client's chosen location.
"We really like the people we are working with to get involved in the process," Ewald said. "It's almost like exhibition-style cooking and becomes a form of entertainment. It's really fun because sometimes we are cooking for them and they are making drinks for us."
Travis Goul of Los Angeles recently tapped the duo to handle a Christmas party for 30 nurses and physicians. He was impressed when Ewald and Nigro provided several menu options and offered to serve the hors d'oeuvres so he wouldn't need to hire tray passers.
At his twice-a-year parties, Goul usually wanted caterers to bring cooked food that needed only a bit of warming before being served. He explained that guests must pass through his kitchen to access his home's outdoor area, and he didn't want them to witness a mess.
He went against his norm with comewecreate and was impressed by the level of neatness exhibited by Ewald and Nigro, as well as how affable they were with the attendees.
"I've actually had three people ask for their business cards," Goul said. "Everyone who sent thank-you notes and emails praised their fresh, presentable and unique items. I'm actually planning another party for July 4, where there will be 150 guests. [Ewald and Nigro] don't know it yet, but they will be the ones I hire."
Crack that coconut
Although comewecreate started out with a menu, that has since been done away with. It was too limiting, Nigro said. Now they adapt not only to people's varied tastes, but also their budgets. The culinary artists aren't looking to help only those who can afford meal services, but also those who might have very limited funds.
Early on, Ewald and Nigro encountered a family's picky kids. All it took to change their minds was for Nigro to crack a coconut.
"They were so intrigued by watching him that they became eager to try the coconut milk and meat inside, regardless of what it looked, smelled or tasted like," Ewald said. "So much of food is in the experience of it. If people — kids especially — are excited about the event of cooking and preparing, then they get excited about the event of eating as well."
A group that employed comewecreate for a 30th-birthday celebration refused to let them clean up or do the dishes. Instead, Ewald and Nigro wound down by spending a few hours on a rooftop deck overlooking Los Angeles chatting with the longtime friends who warmly welcomed the couple into their world.
"At the core, we are writers and we are storytellers," Nigro said. "We are people who want to share our love with the world around us, and food is the best way for us to do so."
Nigro, who grew up in an Italian family, said it was common for his grandparents to discuss dinner before breakfast was done. Throughout elementary school, he recalled eagerly awaiting meals of spaghetti, meatballs and Parmesan. Even returning home felt like an event because of the ever-present aroma of a sauce that had simmered all day.
For her part, Ewald recounted her mother's one strict rule — be kind to others. So when she cooked soup (hot water, carrots and celery) and cupcakes made only of flour, water and sprinkles, her siblings were forced not only to eat them but to also say nice things about her concoctions.
These experiences continue to be reflected in comewecreate: Nigro is drawn to homemade pastas and sauces, and Ewald needs just about any excuse to grab pipe frosting and colorful sprinkles.
Having recently been part of the Hass Avocado Board's new "Love One Today" campaign, Ewald and Nigro will now spend the coming months fine-tuning concepts and recipes for a cookbook that's due in stores next year.
Cooking forms the backbone of most of their daily activities, whether for their own or others' consumption, they said. The couple, who rarely make the same dish twice, don't subscribe to the adage that it's best not to do business with a close friend or relative. If anything, working together and feeding off each other's energy enhances an already pleasurable activity, they said.
"Sometimes we joke around saying we don't go to church — we just go to Trader Joe's, sometimes three times a day," Nigro quipped.
Owners: Bay Ewald and Nick Nigro
Home base: Costa Mesa
Year founded: 2013