Over the years, Chef Tony has positioned First Fruits Catering as East Tennessee’s premier catering company and wedding specialist. First Fruits Catering proudly offers a mouth-watering array of gourmet Southern comfort foods and trendy buffets to leave a lasting impression on clients. The company is a full-service wedding caterer with the capability to customize every detail for each unique event, offering plated meals, buffet stations, hors d’oeuvre receptions, custom lunches, gourmet brunch events, and charity fundraising galas.
First Fruits Catering is more than just a catering company, though. The company owns a retail bakery and wedding cake kitchen as well.
Chef Tony personally prepares each wedding cake, and he states that the secret to creating the perfect wedding cake is all about personal attentiveness, fresh ingredients, and professional preparation. He explains that his cakes are alwaysfreshly baked cakes that are never frozen, and he uses the freshest ingredients and a special recipe for his buttercream frosting to finish each to perfection.
Chef Tony has a strong background in the food industry and culinary arts, which is what led him to create one of the area’s most impressive wedding catering companies.
He began working in the food service industry in his teens, where he first fell in love with fresh foods and amazing recipes. As a matter of fact, his first job was at the age of 15 as a server in a fine dining restaurant.
“I learned at an early age a great appreciation for quality, homemade recipe goodness,” Chef Tony says. “This started my 30-year path that has led me to be the number one wedding caterer in the East Tennessee area.”
After completing a well-rounded training in ‘front of the house’ restaurant work, Chef Tony joined the military as a cook and secured a spot on the U.S. Army Culinary Arts team in 1986. “The military really knows how to throw a party!” Chef Tony exclaims.
This experience was an important stepping stone in his journey. “Cooking for high-ranking officials, cooking for military Grand Balls, and participating in culinary competitions [among other events] was a great way to start my culinary career,” he adds.
Chef Tony learned from some of the highest-awarded chefs (30-year veterans) in the industry at the time while competing in international culinary competitions. He served on the West Coast at Ft. Ord, California. His team hosted many upscale social affairs in the Carmel, California, area, and he remembers that actor Clint Eastwood was the “mayor” of the Hollywood socialite scene at the time!
After the military, Chef Tony embarked on restaurant management, eventually opening First Fruits Bakery and Catering.
While dabbling in restaurant management, Chef Tony focused on developing a variety of irresistible bakery and coffeehouse recipes. Then, in 1996, he married Michelle, the love of his life, and they opened First Fruits Bakery and Catering. It was a successful coffeehouse, restaurant, and wholesale bakery at the time, supplying over a dozen businesses with freshly baked desserts and pastries weekly, all while also catering local events and weddings. The obvious next step for Michelle and Chef Tony was to open their own restaurant and coffeehouse, which they operated in the downtown Maryville area for several years. The restaurant was only a platform for their successful catering business, which exploded in the late 90’s when they started catering over 75 special events each year. That number has grown ever since then.
First Fruits Catering remains in the same catering kitchen location in Maryville 18 years later, now with a remodeled, modern facility boasting commercial cooking equipment.
They are still a family-owned business, with Michelle and Chef Tony overseeing all daily operations. Their two daughters Whitney and Lauren are also very active in the business.
The focus of First Fruits Catering rests not only in how the food is presented – but very much in how it is prepared.
Throughout his long journey honing his culinary arts skills, Chef Tony learned that preparing fresh food items from raw ingredients makes all the difference in the product’s taste. While on the U.S. Army Culinary Arts team, culinary shows were not only a way for his team to ‘show off;’ they were also a lesson in discipline and endurance. He remembers events and culinary shows where the entire team would go without sleep for entire 24-hour periods, working on masterpieces so that the end result would meet “Gold Medal” standards.
First Fruits Catering prides itself on providing entirely fresh, never pre-packaged foods prepared within a rigorously maintained, professional atmosphere.
As Chef Tony details, First Fruits Catering purchases its groceries from multiple sources to offer clients the very best available in terms of freshness and quality. To illustrate how this sets the company apart as a local wedding caterer, Chef Tony details a recent experience he had with the food delivery industry, via an unnamed delivery driver.
“[The driver] delivered the order of parmesan cheese, fresh cream, cooking spray, cake boxes, and other items,” Chef Tony details. “The driver saw us working with raw ingredients, cutting meat portions, and tossing up stuffing for our chicken stuffed gallentine dish, and he said, ‘You know, nobody cooks anymore – they just buy the food already made from us and heat it up. It is great to see ya’ll actually cooking food.’ At First Fruits Catering, we strive to give our clients the very best, which means freshly prepared, homemade recipe goodness and attention to detail in the kitchen.”
That attention to detail and giving clients the very best translates to how the business itself is run, as First Fruits Catering frequently receives a Health Department inspection scores of 100.
“This gives us bragging rights to claim one of the cleanest kitchens in the area also,” Chef Tony proudly states.
Chef Tony loves his work as a wedding caterer and looks forward to making clients’ weddings fabulous via First Fruits Catering.
When asked what exactly he loves about weddings, Chef Tony says he loves everything about them. He specifically lists loving the first time he meets the couple, plans special details with them, prepares their food and wedding cake, and many times goes on site with staff to see everything come together.
“I know everyone works for money,” he explains, “but one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is to see satisfied clients – and to know that my family and I were a part of one of the most special events of their lives. Client satisfaction is our #1 goal.”
The future is indeed bright for First Fruits Catering as Chef Tony expands his management team with plans for even more growth in the future.
“For the past year, I’ve been training and increasing our management staff to build us up to a management team of five,” Chef Tony states. “I think the first key to growth is a fine-tuned staff who works well together. So, I see our business continuing to grow with an emphasis on more family participation and a focus on maintaining the best quality wedding couples can find. Our site managers have an impeccable attention to detail while guiding our employees.”
To add to the excitement of expansion, Chef Tony and his team of wedding catering experts will continue to invest in trendy wedding theme displays to stay cutting edge and on-trend.
“We currently offer traditional polished silver presentation, modern acrylic displays, and vintage rustic displays (the 2014 rage),” he adds. “We will always continue to also strive to remain the best choice for wedding catering in East Tennessee.”
We asked Chef Tony to give us a few additional fun facts about himself. Learn more below!
- I live in a home completely outnumbered by females – wife Michelle, daughters Whitney and Lauren, a female shorkie named Lily, and two male cats named Big Boy and Andre.
- After #1, it was only a matter of time before (secret revealed), I enjoyed shopping. From having to endure malls and shopping outlets in Atlanta, GA/Tampa, FL/Fort Meyers, FL/Myrtle Beach, SC and the entire East Coast, I have developed a joy in finding that next unique clothing item, to the embarrassment of admitting that I own close to 50 pairs of shoes. Haha!
- After 18 years of a great marriage and 16 years of children, I really enjoy a long family game night – Monopoly, Sorry, Life, and the newest Monopoly Empire are among our favorites!
- Decorating for Christmas in early November is a blast for my family. This has to be our all-time favorite season of the year.
- And lastly, it doesn’t get much better than Family Movie Theater nights with buckets of heavily buttered popcorn and smuggled-in chocolate candy bars.
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