If you need someone to cater to your every whim, Julie Ellis is too busy directing the daily operations of Seasons Café. But, with an arsenal of scrumptious goodness, she can cater the mess out of your Christmas party. The native Minnesotan may have attended college to study physical therapy, but a passion for cooking was always simmering on the back burner.
Ellis and her husband, an engineer for Bosch, moved to Greenville three years ago from Chicago, but prior to that, they traveled the world for his job. The couple and their two children spent three years in Shanghai and six in Hong Kong, affording the nascent chef an opportunity to explore the far realms of Southeast Asia. “In Hong Kong, we had kitchen helpers from Sri Lanka, Thailand, and China who taught me how to cook their native dishes,” recalls Ellis. “I took cooking classes in India and stocked up on exotic spices from Asian markets.”
Shanghai opened her eyes to a new culinary experience, one where women butchered chickens in their backyards and men shed turtles from nearby ponds for dinner. Ellis quickly adopted the local practice of shopping daily at neighborhood markets and creating meals based on the products available. And after dining at regional restaurants, she would challenge herself to re-create dishes she sampled.
When she arrived in Greenville after her global adventures, Ellis decided to pursue her love for cooking professionally, and enrolled in the Culinard Program at Virginia College. It was there she met Mark Bergstrom, an accomplished chef who heads the program. She cooked in the kitchens of American Grocery and Roost after completing her culinary studies, but soon discovered she preferred working for herself. Ellis reached out to Bergstrom for advice, and he suggested the ultimate dream—opening a catering business together. Seasons Café and Catering launched a year and a half ago.
“My cooking style is very classic,” says Ellis, who makes all of her food from scratch and can cater anything (think holiday parties) from a lunch for 20 people to a corporate event for 500. “I like to use the freshest local ingredients and make ordinary food extraordinary by having fun with different flavor profiles and spices.”
In addition to a full schedule of catering events and serving lunch at Seasons Café, Ellis and Bergstrom host buffet dinners (reservations required) on Friday nights. What started as an idea for a Lenten Friday-night fish fry garnered such a following that the pair decided to continue the weekly dinners, with themes ranging from Italian to barbecue.
As a growing catering service, Seasons Café is continually looking for opportunities to expand their brand and explore new foods, and Ellis is itching to branch out and do five-course wine dinners in the café. But for the moment, she admits, she’s got more than enough on her plate.
Granny Smith Caramel-Apple Cheesecake
¾ cup graham cracker crumbs
½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup flour
½ cup cold butter, cubed
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
¼ cup butter
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves
Cream Cheese filling:
2 ½ pounds cream cheese
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup sour cream
1 tsp. applejack liquor
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
½ cup oatmeal
6 Tbs. butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup half-and-half
4 tablespoons butter
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For the crust:
Pulse flour, graham cracker, and brown sugar in food processor. Add cubed, cold butter and pulse until crumbly. Press in bottom of a 9-inch spring-form pan. Bake 8 minutes; then cool.
For the apple filling:
Cook apples in pan with the butter until softened. Add sugar and spices and cook until caramelized. Stir in heavy cream. Layer apples on top of baked crust.
For the cream cheese filling:
In a mixer, cream together cream cheese and brown sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, combining after each addition. Mix in sour cream and vanilla. Pour mixture over the apples in the pre-baked crust. Bake for 40 minutes.
For the streusel:
Pulse brown sugar, flour, and nuts in the food
processor. Add cubes of cold butter and pulse until crumbly. Spread on sheet tray and bake until brown. Cool and crumble with your hands.
For caramel sauce:
Mix brown sugar, half-and-half, butter, and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, whisking gently, for 5 to 7 minutes, until mixture thickens. Add the vanilla and cook another minute to thicken further. Turn off the heat, cool slightly, and pour the sauce into a jar. Refrigerate until cold.
Finish cheesecake by sprinkling streusel on top. Cut cheesecake into slices. Drizzle on caramel sauce just before serving.