Story By Cindy Reid Photos By Susan DeLoach
Is there any special occasion in our life that doesn’t include food? Beaufort loves a party and they do love good food. What Southerner doesn’t? In fact, who doesn’t love a party with delectable hors d’oeuvres, delicious tapas and scrumptious goodies?
Award winning Chef Debbi Covington’s sophisticated upscale catering company has been a Beaufort presence for twenty years, creating food that is gorgeous and delectable. Most likely you have enjoyed her culinary arts at a cocktail party, luncheon, anniversary party, wedding or special event such as the Beaufort International Film Festival. One bite and you too will be hooked on Catering by Debbi Covington!
Debbi is originally from Wilson, NC. She met future husband Vince Covington while they were attending Atlantic Christian College. She says,”After graduation, Vince was here in Beaufort and I was in Raleigh. We got married and I moved to Beaufort. It was 1991 and I thought I had gone back in time. Sams Point Road was a two lane road, and part of it was dirt!” She continues, “I had no job prospects. I had a BS in Business Administration and had been working in personnel management in Raleigh. When I moved to Beaufort, I typed up my resume and took it to Budget Print just to make copies and David Woods hired me on the spot. I spent four months making copies and meeting everyone in town. Then, I took a position at First Presbyterian Church where I worked for fourteen years as the Pastor’s secretary. I loved my job and I did a little bit of everything, from designing the bulletin to counting the Sunday offering.”
In 1997, after five years of working at the church, Debbi started catering in her free time. She says, “The plan was that I was only going to cater part time, but people started hiring me, and here I am. We built our house to include a professional kitchen that conforms to DHEC standards. Vince’s Dad owned Broad River Seafood back then and he helped us work to meet all of the legal requirements and regulations. We would have built a much bigger kitchen if I had known how busy I would end up being!”
Debbi’s affinity for cooking goes way back. When asked who her mentor was she answers quickly “My Mama. I am doing what my Mama wanted to do. She was a home economics teacher who loved to cook. After I was born, she became a stay at home mom so I was raised in the kitchen. I was always in the kitchen stirring a bowl and helping. As I got a little older, I would bake a cake for my Daddy every Saturday. My business enables me to do what I love.”
What does a professional chef and caterer bring to their clients? Debbi says, “I can explain what foods are best served at certain venues, I can give people options they may not know exist. I can tell them about new flavors and new food trends. So many amazing foods are available to us these days. Remember we eat with our eyes first! Catered food always needs to taste as good as it looks.”
Catering by Debbi Covington caters many weddings every year, events that can be as challenging as they are rewarding. She says, “The most challenging issue is to keep food safe, to keep it hot, fresh, and/or cold all at the same time. My number one priority is serving delicious, healthy and beautiful food. But this is not the Food Network- notice I wear no jewelry or nail polish!” She continues,” But it is all worthwhile when an event goes really well. When people come up to you and tell you it’s the best food they ever had at a wedding, well that’s a good day at work.”
Not only a chef and caterer, Debbi is a well known and prolific food writer. She has been writing a bi-monthly column for Lowcountry Weekly for many years and says “It is one the best things I have ever done. The column started out as half a page and no pictures, and is now a full page with color photos. The original title was ‘Easy Cooking with Debbi,’ and now it is ‘Everyday Celebrations.’ Having the column pushes me to create all the time, which is a good thing. Often our weekday dinner ends up in the columns! I celebrated my 250th column a few years ago, and will be coming up on column 300 soon.”
She has published two cookbooks, “Dining Under the Carolina Moon” in 2005 and “Celebrate Everything!” which came out in 2012. She is currently working on a brand new one, which will be out in March 2018.
Debbi’s advice for anyone interested in starting a catering business, “You need to really love food. It helps to also have a knack for creativity. The ability to adapt to all kinds of potential emergencies, like rain and power outages is a must. There’s so much more to it than most people think and the food world is always changing. Presentation styles change and no client wants their event to be ‘dated.’
She says keeping up with personal connections made has been very rewarding, “Staying in touch with ‘my brides’ after the wedding is so much easier with Facebook and I am delighted to follow their lives, their accomplishments and when they have babies. A wedding is such a huge event and you work so closely together, that you have a bond for life. Occasionally I even get to cater the baby shower! We connect and I have made lifelong friends through my business.”
In addition to her busy catering and publishing schedules, Debbi finds time to give back to the Beaufort community. She says, “I work with lots of non-profits including the Santa Elena Foundation, Historic Beaufort Foundation, Beaufort International Film Festival, Open Land Trust, Boys and Girls Club — too many to name them all. My special love is the Tabby House.”