When Women Inspire: An Interview with Pauline Parry

My Culinary Love Story
By Christine Birmingham-Reyes

Meet Pauline Parry, the Founder and President of Good Gracious! Events, an award-winning food and beverage company. She is also the author of My Culinary Love Story, a memoir and collection of recipes from her journey.

The book is a testament to how food, fun, and love enhance life. Pauline explains more as we kick off the conversation by discussing the inspiration behind the book.

Congratulations on your latest book, My Culinary Love Story! What inspired you to write it?

My inspirations were my grandchildren, George and Miles. My father was Polish, and my mother was English. At a recent family gathering with my nephews and nieces, they were asking questions like why my dad left Poland and how he met my mother. It was as if they never knew or were at an age where they were starting to pay attention to the historical background of the family history and now wanted to know the details.

On our flight back to America, I said to my husband I think I will write the story of how we came to America. We can put it with our important documents, and if George and Miles or anyone else for that matter is interested, they can read it.  I began writing the story on my phone on that flight home and finished it immediately upon our return, well within a week. It was eighteen pages.

Dennis reviewed it and looked at me, and said, “Why don’t you write the whole story? There was so much more about this story!”

After only a moment of hesitation, I said: “Okay, I shall!” Since it was the time of the pandemic, I started the journey and hired an editor.

Ah, so it began as a memoir. How did you come to add the recipes?

It was, first and foremost, going to be a memoir. But after writing the first two chapters, I realized the story was so full of food stories.

Because of that, my inner self said out loud, “We need recipes to go with the story; it just flows to wanting to cook the food.” It was my hope that the deliciousness of the food might inspire the reader to try the recipes and share them with a loved one.

A love story and so much more

What else can we expect from the read?

In many ways, this story is about opportunity when you least expect it. It is about how life has its turns, how you approach the challenges you face, and how you overcome the obstacles. It is about how you move forward. Do you look at a half-empty glass attitude rather than a glass half full?

In this case, it is about a woman who found a passion, a career, and love when she least expected it.  It gives you hope that you can achieve anything given the right mindset for opportunities and believing the outcome with the choices made will be perfectly fabulous!

Mindset is so powerful! I love how you’re infusing hope in the book. Along with tasty recipes! How would you describe your cooking style in My Culinary Love Story?

These recipes were influenced by the food that was being served at the different places we dined during our courtship. In England, food was very much influenced by the French. It was the beginning of the gastropub era when chefs were beginning to bring the food heritage of England to new levels of taste and presentation.

Of all the recipes you share in the book, do you have a favorite one?

It is hard to say what would be my favorite recipe, but to this day, I smile at the thought of making and sharing the garlic bread and steak Au Poivre… I describe the garlic bread in the book, and I still feel it is the BEST garlic bread ever!

The first meal I cooked for Dennis, now my husband, was a steak au poivre, which he still often says, “Can you cook us steak au poivre for dinner?” It brings back wonderful memories.

We still LOVE this meal and feel it is quite special to us. Both recipes are simple to make and very approachable.

Wonderful! Now that we know more about the recipes, I’m curious how the illustrations become part of the book.

When I read a cookbook, I absolutely LOVE to see a photo of the food and, therefore, I could not possibly do this book without a photo of the food product. Joanne, our daughter, [who] is a trained chef and works with me and the team at Good Gracious! Events was responsible for testing all the recipes.

Once she prepared the dish, we got a photographer to take photos of each recipe. The photos although quite lovely, we felt the photos were very harsh up against the backdrop of the romantic story!

My friend Janette Carpenter loves to paint watercolors as a hobby. I approached her to ask if she would mind making a painting of each photo.

Without missing a beat, she said yes! We would send her a few photos each week with a food care package (she LOVED working for food), and the results are what you see in the book—Sixty-four recipes together with the paintings of Blostin’s and Thornbury Castle.

Pauline Perry on her food career

Was the writing process for My Culinary Love Story an emotional one?

I did feel a lot of emotion while writing the book and found myself at times with tears falling down my face. These tears were not necessarily about sadness but also about joy.

I was stirred by the memories, and it gave me a moment to reflect on how precious life is and all the people that come in and out of my life and what they meant to me. We are all so busy getting on with life that we forget to appreciate all that we fill our lives with!

Well said! Can you please share with us how you came to enter the culinary world?

I am completely self-taught as you know from the book. I was given the opportunity to work in a bistro restaurant and when asked, I said “What would I do?”  Who knew my answering these four little words was going to be the beginning of a fruitful career? A completely unknown world to me. Working on the job was my apprenticeship for my career.

I always say what we do is not rocket science, but you have to have a practical application to working in this industry, a passion for food and hospitality, a creative mind, and the desire to make a success of creating an environment that people will remember always. In addition to working in the industry, I improved my skills by attending conferences, reading lifestyle and industry magazines, following the trends, and eating at various restaurants.

I immersed myself in all things food, wine, and hospitality and found myself soaking up every detail like a sponge. I found that the experiences made me more expert in all that I did.

What were the first steps you made as a caterer?

I started my food and hospitality career by mistake in England and immediately realized I LOVED every aspect of this job. These two first opportunities working in a quaint bistro in a small village and in a Michelin star Castle restaurant were diverse, to say the least, but they proved to be my training ground as to how my career would turn out once I went to live in America.

My experience was in the restaurant, so upon arriving in America, I thought I would go and work in a restaurant, hotel, or country club. Although I did have a brief stint working as a waitress and as a cook for a couple of catering companies, I never even thought of doing catering.

I had to go through some legal hoops to get my visa to work, which took time. So with time on my hands, a girl like myself cooked and entertained as my husband and I started our new life in America and got to meet some lovely people through the children and his work colleagues.

Pauline Parry
Pauline Parry smiles in the kitchen. Photo credit: Brooks Todd photography.

How did you come to form Good Gracious! Events?

It was the American entrepreneurial spirit of friends that encouraged me to start my own catering company. They thought I was a terrific cook and should, therefore, cook for a living.

My response was “It might be okay to cook for fun but to cook and ask people to pay me, is another thing.” Needless to say, I was young and frivolous at heart, and maybe I thought I could conquer anything.

So yes, I found myself developing a hand-drawn business card and told people I was a caterer. No business plan, no money, and just like that it all began! Completely illegal from my home kitchen. Again, it was the children that helped me put my name on the map.

I became headroom mother at their school, and when we had PTA meetings, I would ask for volunteers to bring cookies and such like for the meetings. These parents proved to be a little unresponsive so rather than keep asking, I just made all the cookies, brownies, and shortbreads for these meetings myself, and people started to ask where the food came from.

This led me to do the annual tennis tournament fundraiser for 300, which proved to be successful. From there, people started to ask if I could cater an office lunch and small birthday parties.

A year later, I opened my own commercial kitchen, which was 300 square feet. A little story about how the name Good Gracious! Events came about. I had been thinking of that name, but it was not until I called my mother in England saying “Hello Mum” and she responded “Good Gracious! Is that you Pauline?” The name was born, and I added the word Events, just because.

Ok, I love the name story! Given what you’ve learned, what does it take to be a successful caterer today?

Probably not how I began… I would recommend you actually get some practical experience, whether it is being a waitperson, prepping food, or working for a catering company as a server, cook, or bar back.  Take a hospitality course, attend conferences, and do a business and marketing course.

If you are not planning on starting your own company, determine if you want to work front or back of the house. Remember, you work unsociable hours; you work nights weekends, and national holidays, so there must be some passion involved if this is the career direction you want to follow!!!

If you want to start your own catering company, get a business plan, as it is a strong guideline to keep you focused. You will find our industry is very sharing of information, and you should probably get involved with some associations like ICA (International Caterers Association).

These members will help you through difficulties and give you guidance on anything catering. Without the support of associations, I do not think I would have survived.

Today, you are a well-respected consultant in the food and beverage industry. In this line of work, what challenges do you help others overcome?

There are a multitude of questions, but if I think about it, hard business questions are one of the most common. Our industry is very entrepreneurial and driven by the passion of cooking and not so much by the business side of things.

I am asked many questions about how I handle difficult questions from clients like “Why do I need a planner for my wedding when you can do the same thing and will not charge me as you are already there?” I will not do a wedding unless a planner is involved for many reasons.

“When do you know you are ready to hire an assistant?” Most caterers get burnt out as they take on every aspect of the job, do not know how to trust and delegate tasks, and think they cannot afford an assistant. If they had an assistant, they would, of course, have more time to sell and grow their business.

I am asked many creative questions, and feel they are asking me for inspiration on how they can take life and their business to the next level. I like to think I give them these answers with what I have experienced through my career, which will guide them to a successful future.

That’s great how you give back to the industry. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

On a tropical beach with a cocktail texting back to the team “Have we made enough money this week for me to stay another month?” All very silly, but, in all honesty, I am ready to hand over the reins to our daughter, Joanne Purnell.

She does not want to do it alone, so we are building a strong board with ownership so they can carry on the business. I will remain as CEO as I still have some visions of a collection of venues and a Hand Pie online service and to create a flagship store that will be more than pies. These will add to the security of the business if LIVE events are slow. Hopefully, it will go on for another 40-plus years.

There will be a moment when Joanne and her flock will say, with LOVE, “We do not need you anymore.” And when that happens, I hope to walk away with pride, knowing the business is in good hands.

Get your copy of My Culinary Love Story now

My Culinary Love Story
Get My Culinary Love Story by Pauline Parry on Amazon.

In her engaging new memoir, My Culinary Love Story, Parry invites readers inside her formative years in hospitality, the early days of her romance with her future husband and the life experiences that fed her entrepreneurial spirit. Along the way, she introduces readers to the people who nurtured her talents and helped shape the award-winning catering powerhouse she is today.

The book and audible are available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. Get the hardcopy or eBook of My Culinary Love Story today.

Connect with Pauline Parry online

Want to find out more? Reach out to Pauline Parry at her self-titled website. That’s where you will also find both of her books, get copies of the charming watercolors from My Culinary Love Story, and blog posts.

Pauline is also on Instagram! Follow Good Gracious! Events to see what the catering company is up to, and connect with founder Pauline Parry on her personal account too.

A few last words from Pauline Parry

THANK YOU for giving me this opportunity to share…. I do believe we all just carry on with our lives and do not realize or know who is watching or listening and that everyone can be inspired to make a difference in a positive way in someone’s life.

And one other thing, I have a screenplay written for the book and have a producer who has created a pitch deck so who knows we could have a movie in the works soon.  The screenplay just advanced to the quarter-finals of BIG BREAK competition.  LOVE that!

We look forward to what is to come, Pauline! That’s exciting about the screenplay, and I love what you say about positively making a difference in someone else’s life. Cheers to inspiration, your new book, and your amazing career.

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