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Soul Food: Finding Joy in the Kitchen

To hear Marylyn Schwartz tell it, food saved her soul.

“I don’t fear things as I used to,” she says.

As a celebrated avocational chef of Italian heritage, food always played a large part in her life and family.

And then, her only son died.

“Clayton was such a joy to cook for,” Marylyn says of her late son. “He was a real steak and potatoes kind of guy. He didn’t eat a bowl of stew, he ate a pot of stew. And he would have been thrilled that I decided to start cooking for a living.”

While the distance between sustaining such a tragic loss and emerging on the other side of it as a culinary entrepreneur might seem an unlikely chasm to bridge, for Marylyn it was the only thing that made sense. “Cooking is a spiritual affirmation. It’s an art form, and people need a creative outlet in times of grief. To take a bunch of raw kale and turn it into something that people come together over and that actually brings them joy, that’s remarkably life affirming.” It’s this irrepressible spirit, this absolute devotion to life, that gave birth to Marylyn’s catering business, Juste Hors D’Oeuvres, LLC .

“People have always told me the dishes I make are delicious, and no one throws a party quite like I do," says Marylyn. "Everyone was always making requests from my kitchen. After Clayton died, after I was finally past the state of complete inertia, I just started to cook. And I cooked and cooked and cooked. It saved me.”

Months later, a dear friend asked Marylyn what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. “I told her, ‘If I could, I’d just cook.’ After that conversation and much soul searching, I started Juste Hors D’oeuvrs, kind of on a wing and a prayer. The economy was in the toilet. It was a crazy time to start a business. But, in my heart, I felt like it was the right thing to do. Clayton’s hand was guiding me, and nothing was going to stop me from going forward.”

And thank goodness for the rest of us, because Marylyn’s clients can’t stop raving about her work. They use words like “scrumptious,” “delicious,” “mouth-watering,” “fabulous,” and “beautiful.”

“Delight is the most important thing to me,” says Marylyn. “I want people to feel the same joy in eating the food as I do in preparing it.”

For Marylyn, joy is the basic ingredient to just about everything. “For so long, I would wake up in the morning and say to myself, ‘I have a choice today; I can choose joy, or I can choose despair.’ But despite everything, I have found something that brings joy, to me, and to the people I serve. That’s a gift.”

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