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Exploring Life & Business with Tillie Kerna of Chef Tillie Events

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tillie Kerna.

Hi Tillie, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I have a sincere passion and insatiable appetite for bringing people together around the table with plated masterpieces, freshness and sustainability of ingredients with unbridled creativity that excites the senses and leaves a lasting impression on the palate. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest definitely had its perks. I was taught at a very young age to value fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, and to this day, I implement this belief into my business. I grew up gardening and baking with my mother as well as hunting and fishing with my father and brothers. We foraged for mushrooms and picked wild berries while hiking. This instilled the notion of working for your food and appreciating its roots–it became part of my DNA. Now that I have the amazing opportunity to travel for clients all over the United States and abroad, I look for local, fresh ingredients to use for my clients for their dinner parties, meal prep and events. It’s a true adventure and it motivates me to be creative every single day. I experienced the farm to table lifestyle before it was ever a trend–it’s just a part of my genetic makeup!

I was trained in French techniques and fundamentals; today I have implemented the values I grew up with and my classic French training into my personal chef business–always learning, researching, and growing! I believe in truly loving what you do and doing what you love. I have owned a personal chef business for almost 17 years. Specializing in 5-20 course dinner parties, gorgeous boutique events, and cooking classes for all ages; I have had the opportunity to cook for celebrities and travel extensively for my clients. I diligently work at bridging a unique culinary experience while collaborating with local artisans and farms implementing the region’s influence in my menus.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back, would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
At the beginning of my journey as a business owner, I had a very hard time delegating to others and saying no. I quickly learned to never compromise my values. I was burned several times by people who had ulterior motives but also learned from these experiences. I worked through the trust issues because I knew I needed others to succeed. Saying no became easier as I realized my worth and my time was valuable. I found the right people and surrounded myself with them–employees, networking groups, vendors, and others; all carefully curated so we can work together in a way that not only gives back to the community but builds each other up. The vetting process may be tedious, but it is essential and collaboration is vital to growth.

We’ve been impressed with Chef Tillie Events, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I specialize in boutique catering, destination events, vacation chef experience, 5-20 course dinner parties, and cooking classes with attention to detail in the most creative ways. My boutique catering experience is for smaller, intimate groups where I can control the quality of food and service in a very unique and creative way—from brunches to birthdays, I have the honor of creating curated memories for my clients.

I have the rare opportunity to travel all over the United States and abroad to create culinary delights and palate-pleasing bites for clients in a unique dining adventure infusing travel and discovery into regionally inspired cuisine.

With my multi-course dinner parties, my clients become guests in their own homes while hosting an experience that ignites all the senses. I create custom menus that are seasonal, unique, and sometimes cultural, depending on the client’s desires.

My hands-on and virtual cooking classes are useful for both the seasoned cook as well as children just learning basic techniques.

I love being able to give my clients an intimate experience on some of the most memorable days of their lives. My clients trust me to dig deep into their cultural roots to create menus for their dinner parties and events. It’s a never-ending process of learning new cuisines and techniques that excites me and triggers my creative process! Creating menus and testing recipes might be my favorite part of the process as the menus are like an orchestra and the plates are an expression of my art where one ingredient plays off the other to create an experience like no other.

I am in the process of launching a nonprofit that will focus on not just teaching kids how to cook with techniques and skills but different types of cuisines, diving deep into different cultures and the origin of food. It has always been a passion of mine since my own kids were young. I was a Food Revolution Ambassador for Jamie Oliver for the state of SC until the program ended in 2018. I have continued the food fight and am so proud to be creating something that will help children for generations to come!

Is there anyone you’d like to thank or give credit to?
Mentors are priceless and I regard both of mine beyond measure! One is a retired French chef and one is a business owner in the food industry. Every time I have had a question they have been there to guide me through with solid advice. My husband is my rock and the amount of support he generously gives me is absolutely invaluable; plus he gets paid in some pretty incredible meals.
My children, who are now in college, are always there to lend a hand if needed and I appreciate them so very much.

Both of my awesome parents have been some of my biggest cheerleaders with a vast amount of wisdom–my dad’s business sense is extremely appreciated.

My inner circle of friends also deserve a shout-out–always ready to be my testers when I want to experiment in the kitchen but they also have much wisdom since many own other own businesses.
At this point in my journey, I am now mentoring others and passing on the knowledge and experience to help them succeed–that’s definitely a full circle moment!

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Image Credits

Headshot: Smitten & Hooked Photography (Lucy Parker)

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