A life-long love affair with food has led Lauren Van Liew, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, to cooking in highly-acclaimed restaurants around the country and winning not one—but two Food Network champion titles. But it’s through her powerhouse Monmouth County catering company, Chef Covas Catering, that she gets to design and execute beautiful and delicious events by bringing her clients’ personal touches and vision to life. This mama of two boys says much like #momlife, her business is all about juggling and pushing forward through obstacles to create memories that last a lifetime. We got a chance to chat with her about how being your own boss is so worth it, the “random” cooking game she plays with her boys, and the Sea Bright restaurant where she always feels at home.
featured image via Marcella Shook Photo
How did you get started cooking professionally? Take us through your journey to opening Chef Covas Catering.
My whole life has been my culinary journey—as a child, cooking with my mom, and coming from such a prominent Portuguese family, food has always been there. I have been cooking since I was 14 years old and only had jobs in the restaurant and food industry. It’s what makes me tick. I love the fire, pressure, and competitive side of this industry. I worked at a restaurant in Sea Bright (Anjelica’s) throughout high school until I went to the New England Culinary Institute. Since then, I have worked at places like The Ritz Carlton Resort in Las Vegas, Picasso in Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, and Mare Restaurant in Boston.
When I had my kids, people kept calling and asking me to cater their events. I have always loved the restaurant world, and I love bringing people together in important life moments. Chef Covas Catering started in my kitchen on weekends as a side gig and has now grown into my full-time job. We began at Red Bank and were there for 5 years and then moved to our current location in Long Branch, where I built my kitchen. I have never liked working for someone else. I got fired twice for not following rules. So I knew and have always wanted to own a business, and it’s become who I am now. I get to do what I love every day and enjoy every part of it. Being your own boss is the top of the chain—you have your good and bad days, but it is all worth it.
How cool that you’re a Food Network Chopped Champion and Supermarket Stakeout Champion. How did you get a spot to compete on the shows, and what was it like?
I love the competition, and I am a big fan of both the shows and the fantastic chefs on the shows. For Chopped, I always wanted to try it, so I filled out the application online. Production reached out after that, and I did a couple of interviews before they called and told me I would be on. As for Supermarket Stakeout, their casting company reached out via Instagram, followed by the interview process. Both shows were a complete blast to be on and challenging–not only is it a challenge chef-wise, but you have to be a person who can think on their feet, get out of their comfort zone, and shine. Both times were some of the coolest experiences ever.
You say the magic of your business is all in the details. What is your favorite part of creating and executing catering for someone’s special event?
Chef Covas is different from other catering companies because we do everything from the food and beverage to the floral, day-of-event timing, favors, and more. I try to get to know my clients by meeting with them, learning about what’s important to them, and bringing it to their event. I pride myself on the one-on-one attention given to each client. Being the executive chef and owner, I hold myself to a very high standard and lead by example, ensuring my staff does too because they are such an essential part of the execution. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a client’s face when they walk into their event and know that I could make their vision board come to life.
Do your kids like to cook with you? What are their favorite dishes that you make?
So I have two adorable, loving boys with big personalities who think my job is pretty cool. In their eyes, being on TV and winning twice, I am their “rockstar,” as they say. They both like to be in the kitchen with me, and I have learned that if they are part of helping and making things, they are not only more likely to eat it, but they ask questions. I see the creativity wheels start turning in their minds. They are both excellent eaters and love to explore with food. Our favorite thing to do is what we call “random.” We all stand in the kitchen, and I ask, “what random thing are we making?” This has turned out to be homemade rainbow bagels, apple cider donuts, and buffalo chicken meatballs, so nothing is off-limits.
What’s the most challenging part about being an NJMOMpreneur?
Guilt—it’s the worst part of being a mom, in my opinion. Sometimes, we all want to do the best, and if we mess up or miss something, the guilt creeps up. I am very focused on my career and being a great mom. My job takes a lot of time, and it’s not your typical 9 to 5. Sometimes, I am working and juggling mom-life while getting dinner on the table, making sure all uniforms are clean, and helping with homework. But, I am the busiest on weekends or nights, which means missed quality time with my family—the ‘mom guilt’ is real.
Tell us about some of your favorite local businesses and what you love about them.
I work with many small businesses for my events, and building a great relationship with them helps build a community. Little Silver Bottle Shop, in Little Silver, is a higher-end liquor store, and Bill, the owner, knows his clients by name and gives you that personal feeling and attention when you go into his store. The salon I use is called Vanity Room in Shrewsbury. Inez & Vince Baldi (husband and wife team) own it, and they do everything and anything for their clients. And I can’t go without mentioning Anjelica’s in Sea Bright. It’s a restaurant that feels like you’re being invited into a home for dinner—there is nothing better than that.
What words of advice do you have for other budding NJMOMpreneurs?
The road to achieving your dreams or goals is never easy. Surround yourself with a healthy, robust community that believes in you and challenges you. There will be obstacles and doubters, but you will overcome them, learn from them, and grow. When you want something and work hard for it, the pay off is fantastic. Never settle for anything less than what you dream for yourself.