7 Questions with Leah Stewart

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know.

Last month I was invited to a taping of a series called “Aha Moments” by Mutual of Omaha.  That’s right the Wild Kingdom people.  As those of you who have seen my segment know it went well and I was able to share my story of being a Wannabe TV Chef with the country.  After the clip was posted to “the youtube” I watched a few of the other interviewees.

Leah Stewart owner of the Olive BranchI was struck by one in particular, a restauranteur from Waco, Texas named Leah Stewart.  Stewart (no relation) is the owner of The Olive Branch Bakery & Cafe.  The Olive Branch is a comfortable place for fellowship: a meal with friends or co-workers, a power breakfast meeting, or a dessert-and-coffee date right in downtown Waco.  It has been one of the “it” places in the city since it opened in 2003.

One of the things that struck me about Stewart was her devotion to her family.  Her mother, especially, is very active in her business.  That’s a side of America that we’ve lost over the decades and it is always nice to see someone who bridges the hominess of yesteryear with the modern lifestyle of the 21st Century.

Leah also dabbles in food blogging on her site To Taste which incidentally is also the name of her cookbook.  In a moment you’ll get a chance to view Leah’s Aha Moment but first she answers 7 Questions:

1. How old were you when you first started to cook?

Oh, that’s a good question.  I’d say I was in high school.

2. What is it about the hospitality industry that inspires you?

I love working with people and I love getting to be apart of big events in their lives.  I think that that’s really fun.  I really enjoy being “that place” people want to come for birthdays.  Or being the one that you get your kid’s birthday cake from every year and people bring in pictures of their kids as they grow.  It’s exciting to be apart of the community that way.

3. How did you decide on the name The Olive Branch for your cafe?

I get the name The Olive Branch directly out of the story of Noah.  I’ve always loved that story; it’s probably my favorite Bible story.  The dove returning with the olive branch was the first sign that he wasn’t crazy and they were actually going to get off the boat.

4. How would you describe the cuisine on the menu at The Olive Branch?

We’re an American bakery/cafe.  We bake all of our own breads, all of our own pastas, our pasta sauces.  We make all of our own desserts.  We make our own dressings.  We do soups, salads, quiches.  We’re open breakfast and lunch.  We do as much from scratch as we can.

5. It appears that you take coffee very seriously, why such attention to detail?

I actually got into the food industry as a assistant manager at a coffee house here in Waco.  I was a manager there for six years and all we did was coffee so I had a lot of training as a barista, a lot of interaction with coffee companies.  I’ve been to coffee plantations so I’ve seen to process from start to finish and I find that process fascinating.  I want it to be an experience and I want to enjoy it.  I don’t want to drink a product just to be drinking it I want it to be good.

We’ve got our own espresso bar.  We have four different kinds of drip coffee that we do.  We created our own coffee blend.

6. What part does your family play in the day-to-day operations of the cafe?

My parents and sister are investors and they certainly are always willing to help.  My mother and I always laugh because for the past eight years Mother’s Day has always been her at the restaurant washing dishes with me.  They’re always willing to come up and help on a busy weekend.  Or if I get to take some time off my mom usually comes up and takes my place here at the restaurant.

7. What’s next for Leah Stewart?

That’s a really big question there.  Honestly I think growing this business and doing the best I can with the business I have here. We’re in our third location, we’ve been open for eight years, this location we have  has so many more possibilities than I’ve had before.  I’m really enjoying the possibilities of what I can do here and how far I can go with the Olive Branch just where it is.  I really love writing recipes.  I’ve got a cookbook, too.  I’m trying to stay open and see what the next avenue is.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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