Deberah Sutter: Keeping Us Nourished
Nour-ish (nur’ish), v. 1. to sustain a living body with food; 2. To supply what is necessary for maintaining life.
Rehoboth Beach resident Deberah Sutter has been nourishing friends and family since the tender age of three and-a-half—teetering on a stool while elbowing her mother and grandmother away from the stove. Her subsequent journey through marriage, training to be a professional chef, catering to the stars, raising a son, coming to terms with her lifestyle—and even overcoming addiction—not only sustained her successful ventures, but also reinforced her personal philosophy of life.
“I took my passion for food for granted,” says Deberah. And what a passion it was! At 17, she opened “Deb’s Dogs,” her own deli and sandwich shop in her hometown of San Francisco. She married a year later, and she and her husband started a taqueria in a remodeled gas station near Marin College. Deberah learned quickly, and eventually opened eight taquerias in the Bay area. The long days took their toll, however, and she found herself fighting an ultimately successful battle against alcohol dependency—a common occupational hazard for chefs.
After her divorce in 1982, she sold her share of the thriving Mexican food chain and moved to Palo Alto with her three year-old son. It was there she met her first partner. Deberah got a job as pastry chef at the Stafford Park Hotel, and soon became Executive Chef at The Caravansary, the premier caterer in San Francisco at the time. Deberah pampered their clients with her culinary handiwork.
You know the old saying, “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.” And true to form, the two women eventually opened “All Occasions Catering,” kicking off the venture by servicing events for over 7000 people at the first Gay Games in San Francisco. Their popularity skyrocketed and it wasn’t long until Deberah was wholesaling her signature dishes to Safeway and Nieman Marcus.
After eleven years together, the two women went their separate ways, and Deberah felt the need to explore something “real.” But after much soul-searching, she realized that she had been doing just that all along: Impacting the lives of others in a deeply personal way. “I just needed to believe what others saw in me,” Deberah says. “Catering is like a drug. The ego—the adrenaline. I love making order from chaos.” She went back to Marin County and took over the operation of the exclusive Woodlands Market. Her distinctive pre-prepared meals flew off the shelves.
Deberah was living on a 42-foot powerboat with her dog, Reggae. Her son was attending school in Japan, and there really wasn’t much to hold her on the West Coast. Her sister was a chef in upstate New York, and in the late ‘90s Deberah pulled up stakes (or as much as you can do that on a boat) and started her own catering company in Bell Port, Long Island. She also distinguished herself as the Executive Chef at a popular restaurant called “Painters.” But the best was yet to come.
Her sister introduced her to Cabbage Hill Farm, recognized for providing fresh, organic ingredients to the local restaurants. Deberah was smitten by the concept, and the sisters leased and remodeled an old train station in Mt. Kisco, NY. It opened as “The Flying Pig” and became a showcase for the diversity of farm-fresh foods. Critics hailed the restaurant as “unequivocally wholesome… comfortable, agriculturally correct and just a little bit superior.” Deberah Sutter was home! Catering and restaurant clients included Martha Stewart, Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close, Irish rocker Bono, music industry mogul Clive Davis, Alicia Keys, Lisa Minnelli, Kelly Clarkson, the Rockefeller family, and even Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton.
The foundation that operated the farm also had a day-care center called “My Second Home.” Executive Director Lois Pellegrino solicited Deberah to bring her farm-to-table concept to their facilities. In addition to taking over the food service, Deberah founded the “Edible Education Program” to introduce people to the pleasures and benefits of healthy cooking. As part of the curriculum, kids and seniors planted gardens and prepared healthy meals. Deberah smiles as she describes the serendipity of her involvement with the foundation, because it was there that she and Lois began their life together.
The two women eventually bought a home in Somers, New York, but in 2008 Deberah sold her interest in the foundation and she and Lois decided that life would be a lot better in Rehoboth Beach. They quickly established themselves in the community by throwing dinner parties built around Deberah’s stellar cuisine. When gourmet market “Beautiful Foods” came up for sale in 2009, she and Lois snapped it up and created “Nourish.” The back-to-basics ideal that drives Deberah is clearly evident at the upscale deli and catering company.
Deberah Sutter prepares meals for cancer patients and others for whom healthy food can be therapeutic. She’s also planning community-based programs to teach people how fresh, organic foods can change their lives. She maintains that “tasting is education,” and she certainly has the skills and the passion to prove it.
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. He can be reached at Bob@RehobothFoodie.com.