Patrick Robinson
On Safari Foods owner Teresa Carew and head chef Maria Lofgren sample a mushroom sauce on the cook line at their new headquarters in SODO. Carew started the company in 1992 and it now serves between 500 to 1000 meals daily for clients like Google, and caters for clients like Boeing and Starbucks.

On Safari Foods serves a mouthwatering moveable feast

On Safari Foods, in West Seattle on 35th Ave. S.W. since 2002 has moved. Why?
it's for the best of reasons. It's so successful they simply needed more room.

Begun by owner Teresa Carew in 1992 out of her home the company is a highly successful catering business providing between 500 and 1000 meals daily, primarily to their largest client, Google. They run two cafes for them opening a new one last January. 350 people a day are served in the two on-site cafes.

Their former location at 9005 35th Avenue s.w. was 2200 square feet and they had been there since 2002. The new location is in the SODO neighborhood at 3317 3rd Ave. So. in a facility once occupied by Organic to go and another firm called Creative Kitchens. The 5000 square foot facility boasts six walk in refrigerators, lots of floor space and a "cooking line" where large quantities of food can be prepared.

This is no ordinary lunch fare.

Led by head Chef Maria Lofgren, the company prepares a sensational array of foods every day for the internet search giant's offices in Fremont while also providing food for large law firms, software companies, weddings, and many other events. Some of the clients include Attachmate, law firms Gordon Derr and Miller-Nash, and other companies like Dendreon, Isilon, Microsoft, and Boeing.

Now that the company has some breathing room, some more expansion dreams are possible. In the works are a gluten-free bakery line in the next 60 days. "We're finalizing our recipes and trying to get our bread recipe down," said Carew, " but we've got the most fabulous baked goods. Someday soon, you'll be able to walk into a coffee shop and have one of our incredible gluten free brownies."

A specialty all natural sausage line already offered by On Safari in their catered meals will likely see some greater emphasis too. They are called Boerewors and come in grass fed beef and pork, with flavorings like coriander and nutmeg plus a "bunch of other spices." They also make a beef sausage in sheep casing for Jewish customers, a lamb sausage with fresh rosemary, garlic and cumin and a creole pork sausage. "We've never, ever brought it to the market but this is the year we will," Carew said.

Carew's favorite part of the new kitchen is the coffee area. "This is my baby," she said, " This is what enables me to get up at 4:30 in the morning to work on a large breakfast meeting." They use whatever the customer requests but their proximity to Starbucks enables them to cater corporate meetings for them and of course use Starbucks coffee for those events.

On Safari is capable of a huge variety of cuisines and both Carew and Lofgren do hours of research on recipes, recognizing through experience and expertise which ingredients and in which proportions will yield great tasting food. They use these recipes as the basis for what they prepare, scaling up, changing or adding to them as their client's requests and their own tastes dictate.

Cooking for Google has expanded their own cooking repertoire because the menu is different every day. "We're able to innovate all the time," Carew said. Carew and Lofgren create the menus together including some custom menus for particular dining requests. "We're about the only virtually all custom caterer in Seattle," Carew explained.

Their flexibility has brought them many unexpected clients . "We did an Iranian wedding and out of that came a wealth of new cuisine. Just fabulous recipes."
They do far more than just corporate cooking. "We specialize in kosher catering, bar and bat mitzvah, weddings and private events," Carew explained.

Carew, who is from South Africa, didn't study to be a chef. She actually is a highly skilled linguist speaking several languages, who started out as, " a wannabe caterer, I catered out of my home kitchen." Then she progressed to renting spaces and as business became more successful she found she needed a physical location. She's a West Seattle resident so when the space opened up on 35th she took it.

For a time a few years ago that location featured a retail/deli style outlet for the foods she was preparing but it took up too much room in the limited space. Now, in the new building that outlet will come back giving the people of SODO a much healthier alternative to the fast food places that dot the landscape in that neighborhood.

Her staff is now at 25 people (though not all of them work on the Google account) and recently her daughter Rebecca joined the company. "She's just great," said Carew, "and has already made a difference for us (...) All of our chefs have degrees and they are all huge thinkers, they all excel and they are perfectionists and they are professional. They've been with me for a very, very long time."

That staff by the way is rather notably slender. You might think that a catering company, around food all day, and with so much variety and so many tempting choices from appetizers to desserts would have people who consume calories by the thousands. Carew explained it as, "You don't get fat when you eat good food." Her theory is that the food they prepare is so satisfying that it's not necessary to eat a lot since great flavor alone is "so satisfying." Not surprisingly there is published research that indicates she's right about this. The smell of food, which accounts for up to 90% of the taste can be used to trigger a sense of fullness.

Carew is very focused on the details of the food that is prepared and said, "There's no reason to send food out that hasn't been perfected."
That attention to quality shows in the response she gets. The company has gotten many kudos from their customers both in the form of emails and public accolades you can read on Yelp.com.

An aspect of the foods they prepare that they take extra pride in is their seasonal cooking. Foods made from scratch depend on seasonally available ingredients but On Safari takes the next step and for occasions like Christmas will completely research the seasonal specialties from such as Mexico or Italy. For example on St. Patrick's Day they will prepare authentic Irish Corned Beef.

They try to source most of their food locally, using Charlie's Produce (and are part of their organic program), and many of the spices used actually come directly from Carew's own West Seattle herb garden.

One indication of how successful On Safari has become is a conversation Carew had with Charlie's. She had been getting deliveries twice a week but then she got a call. "Would you mind letting us deliver to you every day? Your order is larger than the West Seattle Thriftway." That was two years ago and they have doubled the order since then.

With a South African owner and a name like On Safari you might wonder if they serve any African foods. Absolutely. "Our biggest seller is our chicken sosaties, marinated in a fat free apricot curry and skewered with apricots," Carew said. While she takes the work very seriously the world of food choices is really something more like a playground for Carew and her staff. They take great delight in finding, customizing and preparing food for their growing list of happy clients.

You can reach On Safari foods via email at inquiries@Onsafarifoods.com by phone at 206-932-9497 and on the web at www.onsafarifoods.com.

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