The Rapidian

New Grand Rapidian Molly Clauhs rises as notable culinary asset

From food trucks to cooking classes to podcasts, Molly Clauhs discusses a few of her endeavors since moving to Grand Rapids just one year ago- and reveals some future foodie delights.
Molly Clauhs and Chris McKellar

Molly Clauhs and Chris McKellar /Jonathan Timothy Stoner

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Where to visit The Silver Spork

The Silver Spork will be at Fulton Street Farmer's Market every Friday and Saturday this summer. 

“People are always asking what precisely the food truck serves, and I have tried really hard to come up with a concise answer, but it all depends on what is locally and seasonally available.”

For Molly Clauhs the role of food is not just one of sustenance or creativity; it is also a way to connect with her community. When Clauhs and her partner, apple farmer Joel Crist, made the decision to move to Grand Rapids in March 2011 for work-related reasons, she was relieved to find a city that was in the middle of a culinary evolution. Clauhs has since become an integral part of that innovation. “I love this city. Food has been our language and allowed us to immediately communicate with people. Grand Rapids is a progressive place and I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Clauhs is not a Michigan native. She grew up in Pennsylvania, where her mother and grandmother run a small Bucks County cookery school quaintly entitled The Cooking Cottage. Despite this early immersion in a small local-centric culinary establishment, it looked like Clauhs’ career might take a different turn. Clauhs studied hotel administration at Cornell University; subsequently spending a year as the manager of an inn located in the Hudson River Valley in New York state. "It helped me realize I don't like a predictable day to day routine and 24/7 gig. I still like hotel administration, but not so much hotel operations."

After leaving the inn, Clauhs decided to revisit her cooking roots. It was not long after her relocation to Grand Rapids that she launched her food truck The Silver Spork, following the encouragement of her Rockford-based uncle Jack McClennon.

Clauhs found a suitable truck on eBay and made the pilgrimage to Mississippi to collect her new mobile restaurant. In June 2011 the truck made its maiden voyage and continued to sail through the summer at various local farmers markets. The Silver Spork has “been on the back burner” this winter but will be at Fulton Street Farmer's Market every Friday and Saturday this summer. Clauhs is looking forward to getting back out there with her varying menu. “People are always asking what precisely the food truck serves, and I have tried really hard to come up with a concise answer, but it all depends on what is locally and seasonally available.”

Clauhs is pensive when asked about the recent food truck legislation that will be inviting public input on June 12th. “I think this legislation is largely misunderstood,” she explains. “Ultimately I think what it comes down to is- who is doing a better job? Who is serving the best pizza?”
Clauhs would like to see food trucks come to be viewed as bona fide eateries and not as inferior culinary choices when compared to their brick and mortar counterparts. Clauhs emphasizes that “Having a food truck is not easy. I pay taxes and licensing fees. It is all above board.” Ultimately she would like to see a situation where trucks “could park outside Devos Place after a show and feed some of the crowds.”

The Silver Spork is just one of a plethora of projects Clauhs is involved with. It seems that her drive and abilities have made for a winning combination, literally. Clauhs was awarded a $2,500 portion of the November 2011 5x5 night winnings for her West Michigan Artisan & Culinary Skill Series proposal. This idea has since morphed into the Uptown Kitchen-based “Grand Rapids Cooking School” that Clauhs runs with Chris McKellar. She and McKellar met at 5x5 and discovered they shared a food affinity. “We had some similar ideas and Uptown Kitchen seemed like a great place to start off.” Their aim is to teach people to cook in a way that makes it fun for everyone involved.

Clauhs says that so far things have been “going great: we are gaining momentum and clientele.”

Uptown Kitchen is an establishment described as “a licensed commercial kitchen and event space that exists to foster the food culture in Grand Rapids and support the growth of small businesses.” Uptown Kitchen, run by Kelly LeCoy, is the first 5x5 recipient to become a brick and mortar establishment.

Now, this 5x5 success story is providing the space for Clauhs' winning 5x5 idea. Clauhs loves the idea of everyone sharing resources and knowledge and partnering with Uptown Kitchen is a prime example of this communal attitude.

For now there are no plans to branch out to an independent location with the school. “I want to just do it for a while, and not worry about switching it up.”

The act of sharing is a reoccurring theme in Clauhs’ vision. “I would love to diverge from just cooking classes and add in some craft and practical skills based teaching, basically making self-sufficiency more of a reality.” As well as the cooking school and the food truck, Clauhs has recently helped to record a local podcast entitled “All On The Table” with fellow local food advocates Lisa Rose Starner and Tory O’Hare. They hope the podcast will become a regular fixture and will cover culinary happenings all over the city. Clauhs predicts it will be available to listen to by the end of May. There is a facebook page for “All On The Table” but Clauhs stresses stresses that it is “still in its infancy!”

At only 23, Clauhs’ prolific output is partnered by a humble nature. “I don’t necessarily always know what I’m doing!” She explains that a monetary award she received upon graduating Cornell University has been a “luxury,” allowing her to test out her ideas. “I have romanticized a lot of things. The more I do the more I realize that you have to do it to understand it’s not necessarily what you want.”

Clauhs had a recent epiphany while guiding a food tour in New Orleans. “Interpreting a place through food, finding out about a city by sampling local cuisine and creating new food memories: that’s what I would like to do.” This enjoyment has prompted Clauhs to consider the possibility of ultimately running a business “that would provide a service as opposed to a product.”

Things are certainly moving quickly for Clauhs. She plans to continue to experiment and discover exactly how to articulate her love of food and community. This coming summer promises to be a productive one, after a winter focused on planning and discussion.

“I’m really at a point where I’d rather be doing it than talking about it.”

 

 

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