The family that cooks and plans businesses together survives being stuck inside during quarantine together. Or at the very least, Betsy and Jensen Cummings sure eat well — and make certain that those around them do, too, at the same time serving up plenty of food for thought.
The two are both heavily involved in the restaurant and hospitality industry, so talking about the importance of food and community is a big part of their lives. Betsy is the founder of Fortune Cookie Concepts, an event production company that puts on big bashes such as the annual Invest in Kids dinner, and Jensen is a chef with years of experience in Denver kitchens and a restaurant consultant who offers his services through his own company, Best Served Creative.
Keeping the kitchen well stocked is one of Jensen's chef habits, and it recently inspired Betsy to ask if there was a way to help other people do the same thing. "What started as a question to Jensen about the stash in our freezer turned into a way for us to feed our friends and neighbors with delicious, nourishing, chef-made soups, sauces and bone broth," she recalls.
Last month, she started a Facebook group to reach out to friends and family interested in food, and to make sure that no one was in need. "We exchange suggested donations for the food, and hope that our friends are able to stock their freezer with meals that feed their families and souls during this time," she explains.
The group now has more than 100 members, many of whom tune in to watch Jensen's live streams of what he and the Cummings family, including sons ages three and six, are preparing each night. The idea, Betsy explains, is to inspire home cooks and also send people fast, healthy staples such as Thai curry, pho-style bone broth and San Marzano tomato sauce to stock their refrigerators and freezers.
"Nothing is more heartwarming during this time than a well-made, health-giving meal," she notes. "It's our version of a hug right now."
Even though the couple remains upbeat and energetic, they've experienced their own difficulties because of the pandemic crisis and resulting economic shifts. Jensen lost four months of scheduled work over a three-day period, and Betsy's company has had to move its focus away from big gatherings.
"It's taking everything you have ever known, learned, done and completely wiped the slate clean," says Betsy. "You have to start over, reinvent yourself, but also stay tied to who you really are. I think we are both finding when our security blanket is gone what our true passion and purpose is."
For Jensen, that passion and purpose is focused on his daily Best Served podcast, during which he interviews chefs, restaurant owners, beverage professionals and other hospitality folks from all over the country. He launched the show in November 2018 as a bi-weekly podcast, but since the stay-at-home order was issued in March, he's been producing Best Served live on Facebook at 10 a.m. every day.
"I feel called to service and to bring information and ideas to people and communicate with people...it's what I can do," says Jensen. "We are stripped down to the pure granular things that make us tick, and for me, that's communicating with people and sharing stories and being accountable for others and myself."
Topics have covered feeding unemployed restaurant workers, how to apply for unemployment benefits, and the future of the food industry. Guests have included Katie Lazor, executive director of EatDenver; Debbie Gold, a James Beard Award-winning chef from Chicago; and Julia Joun, founder of Boulder's Flatirons Food Film Festival, among others.
Along with her family cooking videos, Betsy's current project is The Hearty Mama, a mother-focused digital community that spans several social-media platforms, including a Facebook page and mama-to-mama video chats on Betsy's YouTube Channel. Her guests have included mothers from all over, such as an American living in Italy who gives tips for surviving quarantine and a modern spiritualist who talks about mom-shaming and how to process feelings of being judged. "I want to bring the healthy conversations that women are looking for during this time," Betsy explains. "Also, I am sharing my journey to find my true purpose, how to live more peacefully and take care of that mom bod."
The couple thinks that their kids have benefited from all the projects and from refocusing life in a positive light. Watching their dad chef it up nightly has been inspiring, says Betsy, and it helps them feel included. And, she adds, sometimes they even lend a hand in the kitchen.
"We have been entrepreneurs for the better half of the last decade and felt super-motivated, excited and inspired by both of our industries being able to pivot and still provide services," says Betsy. "Although Jensen and I are very different, we have a main goal of making things better and helping, so it was easy for us to put on our creative hats and dig down to what people really need right now."
And for many of us, what we need is comforting, healthy food — especially with a side of inspiring conversation.
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