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Right Attitude

attitude on food • nathan newhouse

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Our parents often determine the path our lives take. Maybe it was the model airplane kits your mom bought you during the long winter months that sparked your interest in engineering. Or perhaps the hours you spent puttering about the garden in the spring with your dad lead to your horticulturist career.
 

For Nathan Newhouse, owner of Omaha catering company Attitude On Food, interest in food began at home. He was unlike the proverbial picky toddler who turns up his nose at anything green or suspiciously spiced. Newhouse’s parents challenged his young palate: “My parents were adventurous cooks at home and owned a couple of restaurants before I was born. The exposure to ethnic and interesting foods really piqued my curiosity, and I began to enjoy cooking for friends and family and making them happy with my creations.” So it was pâté rather than peanut butter; chicken curry instead of chicken fingers.
 

He was a line cook in a gourmet burger joint during high school, and after graduating he enrolled in a four year apprenticeship program in cooking in Perth, Western Australia. From there, he made his way to the gold mines, not digging up nuggets but cooking them up, progressing from prep cook to head chef and eventually to camp manager in just three years. Newhouse left the mines at 22 and embarked on a ten month world tour, traveling- and, of course, eating- across international time zones. Following his stint as a carefree globetrotter, he returned to the rigors of the kitchen. This time it was his kitchen; Newhouse followed in his parents’ culinary footprints and opened his first restaurant, Tasty Meals of Malaga, a popular café that still whips up delicious treats for Down Under citizens.
 

Newhouse emigrated to the United States and eventually to its center when he moved to Omaha. After time as a sous cheF at the Flat Iron Café and executive cheF at the Sheraton hotel, Newhouse returned to restaurant ownership when he purchased the Firehouse Grille in Murray, NE.
 

Because owning your own restaurant while serving as its head chef is not diverting enough, Newhouse opened his catering business, Attitude on Food, on the side. But his “side” business steadily grew to the point where he had to decide: run a restaurant or a catering business. Catering won, and Newhouse sold the Firehouse in March 2011.
 

“I like the fact that everything is planned in advance, you know how much food to order, what staff to schedule and what income is coming in,” Newhouse says of the catering business versus the restaurant business.
 

But that doesn’t mean catering is without challenges. He has catered a dinner for 250 people in the middle of a corn field and has driven as far away as North Platte for an event.
 

And then there was the weekend of June 28, 2008 when a fierce storm blew into the city and left many, including Attitude on Food, without power. At least when our power goes out, it is just one fridge and freezer of food at risk. On this particular night, Newhouse had enough food for two corporate events and two weddings. He and his staff spent a frenzied night loading all the food into coolers of ice and carting it to his Firehouse Grille in Murray (which still had power) for safekeeping. He was awakened early the next morning with a panicked phone call from one of the grooms. His reception venue was without power. He and his bride had no place to celebrate their nuptials. Newhouse went into wedding planner mode and found another available venue. Wedding one: saved. Wedding two’s reception venue was a disaster: grounds decimated, roof leaking, and power nonexistent. Newhouse offered his own generator since his power had returned, and the event went forward as planned. Have generator, will travel. Wedding two: saved.
 

So much for leaving the pressure cooker atmosphere of running a restaurant kitchen for the more controlled environment of a catering business.
 

Newhouse offers menu suggestions ranging from breakfasts to boxed lunches, golf meals to wedding feasts, and international themed dinners to seasonally inspired ones. He will also custom create dishes requested by the client. Newhouse says that “small plates and kicked up comfort foods” remain popular. Mac and cheese, a childhood staple, garners its own station, albeit a gourmet version. And S’mores are no longer relegated to the campfire, but are brought indoors to corporate gatherings.
 

“We definitely want to be on top of what’s trending,” asserts Newhouse, “but we also want to be known as trendsetters.” catersource MaGaziNe, the international culinary magazine, recently featured AOF’s shot-colate BrowNies, decadent made-from-scratch brownie bites skewered with assorted liqueurs, in its issue highlighting trends. Since the magazine’s release, several other caterers around the country have copied the idea. “It’s flattering to say the least,” admits Newhouse.
 

Keeping current on the latest developments in the catering business is important to Newhouse. He recently attended the annual Catersource conference, which draws thousands of caterers nationwide, at caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. He met aNdrew ziMMerNfrom “Bizarre Foods” and had a one-onone consultation with Michael roMaN, founder of Catersource.
 

But the highlight of the convention was being selected as a finalist for the ace, Achievement in Catering Excellence, award. The award “recognizes companies that have shown noteworthy achievement in the catering industry through culinary, business, community, and professional development,” and Attitude on Food was one of five finalists selected to represent the twelve states in the Midwest region and one of 25 finalists in the world.
 

“Even though we didn’t come home with the win, as cliché as it sounds, we are just so happy to have been a part of such an elite group of professionals,” he maintains.
 

Despite the recent tenuous economic climate, Newhouse continues to cook up classics and new creations alike. “My mom always said, ‘Everyone has to eat.’ So there was a sense of job security that the food industry could offer.”
 

Yet another instance of “Mom is always right.”

 

For more information, visit www.attitudeonfood.com.

 

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