After more than a dozen years of nurturing ceremonies and celebrations, the owner of Beyond Basil Catering is hanging up her chef’s coat, at least temporarily.
For more than a decade, Marcy Tatarka has been juggling part-time work as a neonatal nurse at St. Vincent Healthcare while feeding the masses.
At the beginning of September, an abnormal mammogram made Tatarka ask herself, “What are my priorities in life?”
“I had to go in for additional views,” she said. “They could not get me in until the end of the week. I had a week to think about my life.” The pause allowed her to question what the future held.
Fortunately, the mammogram was a false alarm, but it did encourage Tatarka to make some decisions about her life. The motivation for action started this summer, when Tatarka’s landlord decided to put the building housing her commercial kitchen up for sale.
“I was fretting over that,” she said. “I tried to find a new property. I had been trying to pay everything off, but a move would involve more loans. Was this the gods speaking to me?”
To find a comparable property—with ample parking, a large kitchen that was up to code, and with reception and office space—would have been cost-prohibitive.
Tatarka got misty-eyed as she recalled her journey as a caterer. Increasing competition brought downward pressure on prices. Tatarka laments that people are more willing to spend money for things like decorations than for food. With two steady employees, Lynn Miller and Sally Cebhuar, and an on-call staff of around 15 people, Tatarka has always made sure her people were paid.
“We nipped and tucked where we could, but there are a lot of hours that go into preparing for an event,” Tatarka said. Many times, the behind-the-scenes efforts are not appreciated or understood by clients. Because she makes things happen seamlessly, what comes to be is taken for granted.
For years, Tatarka has catered to the big-name artists that come to town to perform at the Alberta Bair Theater and MetraPark. The entertainers have specific requests, and many times it is uncertain how many people will eat the selections she prepares. In many of the rider contract she receives, she said, there seems to a test buried inside.
“There is always one item in the rider or one odd thing in the nine-page contract,” she said with a knowing smile. Catching the hidden item tells the client that Tatarka is paying attention to details.
Requests have ranged from meat-based granola bars to special French and English teas, and digestive biscuits. Tatarka recounted one contract for a specific number of colored Gatorade drinks in coolers on stage, and one entertainer refused to drink water that had gone through reverse osmosis.
“Good or bad,” Tatarka said, “there is always a story that comes out of every event.” She enjoyed the opportunity to meet performers like Elton John and Alice Cooper. She will never forget Blake Shelton calling her “cookie,” and who else in Billings can claim to have cooked for Miranda Lambert and the Eagles?
Tatarka can also brag that she worked for Jaime Oliver several times here in the area, and later at his Los Angeles studio. For as long as she has had her business, she has ventured to South Dakota to cater at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. For years she hauled a golf cart on a trailer behind her motorhome down to Wyoming to run a breakfast concession for the city workers.
For over a decade, Tatarka has also been a fixture at the Montana State University Foundation Wine and Food Festival. Her behind-the-scenes help has been invaluable supporting cooking classes taught by Raghavan Iyer, Christy Rost, Lars Kronmark, Lin Lin and CW Lo. With chefs Mike Callahan and Jim Carlson, she led teenagers from the Café Protégé Culinary Arts Program to the National ProStart Invitational cooking contest in San Diego in 2008. That same year, she was recognized by the Chefs and Cooks of Montana as the “Chef of the Year.”
She has helped Chef Megen Jessee teach Culinary Arts Program at Passages, offering food-service training for the Montana Women’s Prison, in which participants receive instruction, in-house food service experience, work release in the community and job-placement assistance.
Tatarka said she is suspending operations so she can restructure and evolve into a new, smaller catering business, and in the meantime to take some much-needed R&R. She will still be available for private catering and cooking classes, and Beyond Basil will fulfill its current contracts, which extend into next spring.
As Tatarka moves beyond Beyond Basil Catering, she will also have time to reconnect with family, especially with her two brothers, and her daughter is getting married next year.
Tatarka’s career began with a wedding—her own. When she was preparing for her wedding to her husband Dan 13 years ago, she impressed a wedding planner with her culinary talents. The planner subsequently hired Tatarka for an event. The rest is history.