If you've ever been down to the train station or attended any one of a thousand catered events in greater Shepherdstown over the past twenty years, you've met Chris Kaye. Chris is the chef at Women with Knives - the official name is Ellsworth Catering of Shepherdstown, Inc. History here - Women with Knives was a committee creation long ago when Hali Taylor began taking an annual photo of the Ellsworth caterers in costume. Of all the titles - Women Pumping Iron, Women with Muscles, Flour Children and Tarts - it was Women with Knives that stuck. It does have a certain joie de vive.
Sometimes the best things happen when you least expect them. Those red letter days are few but memorable and that moment in time lasts forever.
You debate with yourself about going to a thing; you're expecting nothing special and then boom! Just like that your life changes for the better. So it was for Chris Kaye.
Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle
"I met Sylvia Ellsworth at one of her events and I told her that if she ever needed any extra catering help to give me a call. A week later she did." And the rest, as they say, is history. Chris and Sylvia have been creating the perfect menu for events throughout Jefferson County and farther ever since. Theirs was a working relationship that blossomed into a friendship from the get-go. Sylvia was expecting a baby when they met. Soon after she had a little boy named Mason. Chris Kaye is Mason Ellsworth's Godmother.
Christine Rose Kaye grew up in California in the '50s. Dr. Edward and Evelyn Heath Kaye had three children: Susan, Andrew, and the baby, Chris. The family moved from Gustine to Freemont and then back to Gustine when Chris was in her teens. That put her in three high schools before she graduated with honors from Belmont with a passion for art and poetry. Ohlone Jr. College was a small college that offered individual professorial attention. The art department was "small and tight" and nurtured budding artists. This was the environment Chris was seeking and so a degree in Art from Ohlone was her next step. "But my father wanted me to "stop fooling around" and get a real major." so Chris graduated with honors and went to Cal State for her BS in speech pathology and audiology. There she "gave up" her sketching but kept up her poetry and prose. Those were the hippie days and in California the coffee houses (way before Starbucks) were chock full of exotic beans, jazz and fledgling poets. It was a good time to be a poet.
Chris specialized in home healthcare and was working with Helen and Earle Crellen when one of those "right place at the right time" things happened.
Helen and Earle were well into their eighties and their son, Tom, decided it was time for Mom and Dad to come live with him. They agreed and asked their twenty four year old healthcare provider to go with them and she agreed. Tom Crellen owned a big old farm house in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The house was huge and home to seven and as Chris recalls. "Tom loved to cook. He taught me how to cook. He was the one who first got me thinking about going into the catering business. "
Chris' interests in Shepherdstown were varied and continually evolving. She was a nurse, became an expert cook, learned how to restore antique oriental carpets, and went into the catering business. Despite all of this her passion remained for the written word.
She helped found ArtBerkeley, designed its logo and still sits on the Board.
This 501c3 promotes the Arts Community of Berkeley County and the surrounding region by developing resources, facilitating exhibitions, encouraging Arts education, and fosters cooperation among all arts organizations in the region.
She's an avid member of the Martinsburg Writers Group and has been since the '90s. This gathering of talented authors meets at the Martinsburg Library to share work and talk writing. For the past three years Chris has been the group's moderator. It's a skilled moderator who can keep conversations moving on track and lively. When Chris joined the group Honor Dorsey was the moderator. Nuff said?
Over the years, Chris has written dozens of articles and short stories. Her novel, Chadua, is about a futuristic society and she's working on another the working title of which is Issac. Isaac is a family man who sees calamity looming. It's all about relationships. "Inspiration hits in the middle of the night and I write in the early morning. I've had Isaac in my head from start to finish from the beginning."
The town anthology contains a reprint of an article Chris wrote years ago for The Good Newspaper about The Little House- the Shepherdstown "must visit" landmark history beautifully told.
Her next book will most probably be a memoir. She has a good story to tell.
All of her life Chris Kaye struggled with her weight.
She became a chubby child thanks to soda and candy and just grew from there. When she got into the food business the struggle got worse. Of course she tried miracle diets. They don't work. At the beginning of this century, Chris weighed more than three hundred pounds and it was taking a threatening toll on her health.
She knew she had to do something. Today, one hundred and seventy five pounds lighter, Chris knows she has a story that will help others. "I'm glad there's such a focus on childhood obesity today. It's such a serious health issue.
You can be in trouble before you're old enough to realize it."
This book just might be a best seller.
Chris loves her Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church where she's a deacon, an usher, and a Shepherd. She and Jane Denchy, Maureen Herrigan, Diane Batt and of course Sylvia hang out whenever anyone has time. Chris' home is full of photos of family, friends and fun times. Speaking of photos takes us back to Women with Knives. Chris has all of Hali's photos of the costumed caterers.
At the beginning of 2000, President Clinton came to town to begin the Peace Talks. He brought Syria, Israel, and a security force of hundreds with him. Everyone stayed for a week. The Clarion was the meeting place where commemorative photos still hang. Despite your politics, it was a huge deal. Right in the middle of it and probably responsible for the even tempers of the entire security force was Ellsworth Catering. Couldn't very well tell the White House they'd hired Women with Knives, now could they? "We fed all the security guards two meals a day for five days." Chris laughed. "It was great. You should have seen them. I think they were all picked for their good looks." Security tip: guard dogs go crazy for warm chocolate chip cookies.
So what is the specialty of this professional chef? "Mine? Soup, I love to make soup." "You can have a lot of fun with soup." Among the favorites is her Indian coconut lime soup which does sound like fun. It also sounds like drink in a bowl with a flower floating in itwhich is also fun.
Chris can be found at the Train Station five days a week turning out delicious foods and creative menus. When it came to the Friday night dinners for Mason she ran the table with Pacific Rim, Indian, Louisiana, Moroccan, French dinners and a liberal dose of comfort foods. By the way, those dinners are coming back so if you missed out the first time, don't miss out now. Chris Kaye is a caring and accomplished woman with whom spending time is a treat. If she were a food she's be a Vidalia onionso many layers quietly adding so much richness to everything around her.