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Plum City couple intend to cater to many tastes

PLUM CITY --- An early 1990s graduate of culinary school who took a break from related jobs in recent years is now back in the kitchen.

Kris Almsted has not only taken a head chef's position at a senior living facility in Red Wing, but started a catering business, joined by his wife, Sheri. The couple is licensed to operate Annabell's Catering from Molly's On Main in Plum City.

"I've been cooking since I was 10-years-old," Almsted said Wednesday about how he chose the career he's resumed following employment at Red Wing Shoe Company and Smead Manufacturing.

The son of Lloyd and Darlene Almsted, who has a brother Kevin (one of the catering service's occasional staffers) and a sister Peggy (of Cannon Falls, Minn.), said he developed a love for preparing food while still at home. The local native met his spouse in 1992, when they were students at Plum City High School. After graduating from there in '93, he married her in '94 and both furthered their educations in Eau Claire: he in a two-year culinary program at Chippewa Valley Technical College and she in a two-year cosmetology program at the former ProAct.

His first year in college was spent in food science classes, restaurant management, meat cutting and the like, he said. His second year was more hands-on, ordering food and working in a restaurant on campus.

"People from the college came in when they took their breaks," he said.

The culmination of the program was a grand cuisine event at Fanny Hill Dinner Theatre in Eau Claire, when the prospective graduates served a 13-course meal to approximately 150 people. He remembers being somewhat nervous at the time, though a repeat would come more easily for him today.

"It's more like fun to me...I have a passion for it," he said of cooking.

Almsted said his first job was at The Pickle Factory in Pepin, then operated by original owners Wayne and Carol Nelson. He next cooked at the former Holiday Inn Convention Center in downtown Eau Claire before going to the shoe and manufacturing companies.

Meantime, his mate said she was a beautician for five years, in Eau Claire and Durand, then worked at Unipatch, a medical supply house in Wabasha, Minn. But she eventually wanted to focus on time at home, caring for the couple's two daughters, Adrianna, age 8, and Kampbell, 2.

Last May, Almsted was hired for head chef's duty by Ebenezer at Fairview Red Wing, a senior living community housing 68 residents, he said. The residents get a continental breakfast, lunch and supper; he estimated he and the staff make around 60 meals a day.

"We talked about it for quite awhile," he said of the catering venture, explaining "the more we looked into it, the more we saw a need for it."

They finally put their idea into a business format and officially created Annabell's Catering last fall, he said (the service's name is a combination of parts of the first names of their daughters). She said it's ideally suited to them because he has a head for the business numbers while she likes the organizing and decorating. Both enjoy cooking.

In December, they catered a couple of holiday parties, he said, taking on events in Eau Claire and Red Wing, each attended by perhaps 50 people. One of their enterprise's early efforts was at the Chippewa Valley Museum for a group of harpists. They generally come up with the menu, which he said they try to keep "simple but elegant."

"We eat with our eyes first," he said to emphasize the importance of food presentation.

The harpists dined on vegetarian fare such as salads (a feta cheese-pear dish came to mind), plus pineapple salsa and fresh breads, Mrs. Almsted said. For a "Spring Visions" gathering at the Durand Rod and Gun Club, 125 ladies were served plated dinners highlighted by creamy garlic chicken breast and chocolate cream puff with raspberries. That meant assembling their team of regular helpers, including besides his brother: Pixie Watkins, Michael and Lauren Morris, Troy Ingli, Michelle Fetzer and Arika Ritchie.

"Eighty percent of our events are done buffet style," her husband said.

The service provides an experience as nice as their clients want, he said. They set dishware, nice napkins and linens as well as fresh flowers. At the Plum City FFA banquet this month, they plan to have an ice sculpture; at Durand High School's post-prom party, there will be a chocolate fountain.

"It's more than ordering food," he said, mentioning he uses dessert sauces to make designs, for example.

Weddings, anniversaries and graduations are all eligible for their catering treatment, he said. They'll cater a Red Wing Shoe picnic for 900 people this summer and a wedding in Ladysmith this September where Twin Cities cook Sue Erickson of Lund's/Byerly's and KARE-TV channel 11 fame is expected to attend.

This month, they'll tape two cooking segments for "Wisconsin Journal" with Sarah Stokes on WEAU-TV channel 13 in Eau Claire, he said. In July, they're to have a catering kitchen in a new 24-room assisted living center in Elmwood.

The Almsteds, who are living at the home of her parents William and Marlene Baker, said they're willing to travel into the Cities and throughout Western Wisconsin for their operation. They have special containers and use a trailer to transport the food, which is usually prepared either the day before or the day of an event to assure freshness. Although most of their food comes from U.S. Food Service, they patronize local suppliers when possible, including Bittersweet Bakery of Plum City.

Despite having predicted much of their work would be done on weekends, they've found many events they cater are on weekday evenings instead, they said. For more information about Annabell's Catering, phone 715-647-4490 or visit