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Fall 2007/Winter 2008

The Queen of Cuisine

Elaine Bell

by Kimberly Olson

Caterer Elaine Bell celebrates 25 years of serving savory, delectable, mouthwatering creations Clues into Elaine Bell's destiny as a culinary superstar came early. As a five-year-old, she was transfixed by Julia Child's cooking show. By age eight, she was experimenting in the kitchen herself. "My mother started giving me $100 a month to make whatever I wanted-one big meal or several dishes throughout the month," Bell remembers. "It was so fun and exciting." Today, Elaine Bell Catering Company and its offshoots host 900 events a year, serving 90,000 guests some of the most savory creations ever to hit their taste buds. This year, she celebrates her 25th year in business-and a career that many say helped revolutionize Wine Country cuisine.

After training at the CIA in New York, Bell worked for renowned chef Philippe Jeanty at Domain Chandon before striking out on her own. "I really didn't know anything about catering," she admits. "But my husband was in the wine business, and his friends and colleagues started calling me to cater events at their wineries." Just 25 years old, Bell would load her trusty Kenmore stove into her VW Vanagon and drive right into the vineyard, becoming the first local caterer to offer on-site cooking. "At that time, the vines were planted 12 feet apart, so we could put a long table in between them," she says. "We added big brocade linens and candelabras and fancy chairs to create these incredible dining rooms." Over the years, clients have marveled at Bell's seemingly limitless range. Trained in numerous cuisines, her talent is matched only by her resourcefulness. (If a client requests duck testicles, she can find them-and has.)

After years of catering for others, Bell's anniversary offered the perfect excuse to throw a no-holds-barred celebration of her own at her new, 25,000-square-foot headquarters in Napa. But as she modestly says, "I'm just thrilled to have been doing this for 25 years with such great support."

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