After being warmed by her robust greeting, charmed by her French accent and captivated by the aromas coming from her kitchen, the next thing I notice about Claudette Flatow is her hands. Her fingers are muscled, palms sturdy, and I can imagine the decades of slicing and dicing, of kneading and stirring, that molded these hands into the workhorses of her catering business. These hands, which she gently glides through the air as she speaks, are the God-given tools of a woman who does not shy away from hard work.
In March 2012, that effort culminated in the realization of a lifelong dream: moving from teaching cooking classes out of her home to opening a storefront where she’d sell healthy, superb meals to the time-strapped and grow her catering business. By opening a shop on the main retail strip in Rockaway Beach, N.Y., she was summoning the trait she says is crucial for a small business owner — guts.
She had to believe what her students had told her for years: Rockaway needed a fine culinary experience. She and her husband tapped their retirement account to fund the venture. Tens of thousands of dollars of equipment was purchased — ovens, refrigerators, tables and chairs — and Cuisine by Claudette opened for business.
“I wanted to make food that was fresh, authentic and healthy,” says Flatow. “I was teaching for 15 years, and I learned what the neighborhood wanted. My students were young women with kids, and they wanted me to turn every recipe I had into a healthier choice.”
And she did. Walk into her store and the day’s selections include baked salmon, numerous bean salads and gluten-free turkey burgers. “I can make 20, 30 pounds a day, and they go the same day,” Flatow says. “Trust me, it’s not easy to make a turkey burger gluten-free and juicy, but it is the juiciest burger on earth.”