Local chef and event planner blends passion for family and food
For Paula Gottlieb Herman, food and family have always gone hand in hand. Growing up in Brooklyn, she remembers both her parents cooking authentic meals and going grocery shopping with her dad for the freshest ingredients.
“We’d be able to come home on the train with all kinds of wonderful materials to make good food. My parents cooked together and created the most amazing birthday parties for me,” Gottlieb Herman said. “I want people to have that experience with food and be excited the way I was.”
That was the impetus for the Westbury resident to start LilChefs.com Special Events, a party planning company that specializes in cooking workshops, programs and parties for all ages. The company, which celebrated its 10 year anniversary in March, is more than just a job for Gottlieb Herman, it’s a way to preserve the legacy of her parents.
“I was at my dad’s funeral, and a total stranger gave me advice that completely resonated,” she recalled. “He said the best way you could honor your dad’s memory is to honor traditions that were important to your father.”
One of those traditions was cooking. Her dad was a business owner who took cooking and catering classes on the side, and Gottlieb Herman learned how to read from his subscriptions to Gourmet and Bon Appetit. Her mother was the cook of the family, and Gottlieb Herman said she was in awe of how despite never using recipes, her food always tasted amazing.
“My mother always knew to use a handful of this or a pinch of that. She never had recipes but the food was consistently good,” Gottlieb Herman said. “And my parents’ food was so authentic. That’s how I grew up, family and food for us was synonymous.”
The importance of those connections between family and good food is something Herman is hoping her workshops and birthday parties can teach youngsters.
“I want to bring back families eating dinner together,” Gottlieb Herman said. “As a kid, dinner time with my parents was the best part of my day. Too many families don’t have that opportunity.”
She hosts cooking workshops and parties at different venues across Long Island, in the city, Westchester and New Jersey. These themed events include her children’s and adult cooking parties, where guests can choose themes such as a pizza-making or tea party, as well as library, senior citizen and after-school programs.
But Gottlieb Herman hasn’t always been in the party-planning business; her background is in television. She formerly worked as a NBC News Production Coordinator, Unit Manager, and Segment Producer for The Sunday Today Show and Weekend Today Show. Her job included producing Al Roker on exotic dishes, keeping viewers up to date on the latest kitchen gadgets and coordinating production elements.
“I loved getting all the kitchen gadgets and new foods that were on the horizon. I loved my job,” she said.
But, a company shift led to her job being eliminated in 1993 and while that would have devastated most people, the timing was perfect. She had been working 80 hours a week, but now, with her new job as a market researcher, was able to spend more time with her father, whose kidneys were beginning to fail.
A few years after her father passed away in 2002, she formed LilChefs.com Special Events and since then, the company has blossomed.What began as a party planning company for kid’s birthday parties has expanded and soon Chef Paula, with her trademark pink chef hat and apron, might have her own TV show. She is currently working on putting together a “sizzle reel” to pass around to TV studios where celebrities and others would teach Herman how to create a recipe handed down by a loved one who has passed away.
“I didn’t know this was all going to be happening,” Gottlieb Herman said on the company’s growth and the new opportunities that have sprung up in the past 10 years. “A lot of it we just learn and grow and develop. I was just doing this to honor my dad and as we got more excited, people started working with us and more opportunities happened.”
Find out more about LilChefs.com Special Events at www.lilchefs.com