Meet the Chefs, part one


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An interview with Gemma Velasquez and Murray Cruickshank, two members of the team behind Ski Provisions, our new line of gourmet meals for the winter season. Thanks, guys!

We know the origin story of the Fireside x Cruickshank collaboration had its roots at Burning Man—we’ll get to that later—but tell us briefly how you got into the business of making great food.
Well, we both worked at startups, Murray as a chef and me in Sales. Those stints in the startup world, with both companies we worked for going public, eventually allowed us to create our very-own little startup focusing on what we love to do..

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Describe what you do.
We create events that are filled with fun, witty, personal touches so our clients’ celebrations are not only memorable, but meaningful. We set out to make participatory meals that are truly nourishing, not just for the body but the psyche as well—meals that are warm and welcoming and unforgettable.

Can you give us an example?
One of our favorite wedding menus had a bride who was Chinese-American and who grew up in the deep south, so we chose to do a 5-spice fried chicken with honey walnut cornbread to honor both of her heritages, and served mini grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup shots as appetizers because it was one of their favorite meals.

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Tell us about one of your favorite experiences catering.
We did a wedding out in the Redwoods once. No running water. No electricity. We set up our kitchen a couple hundred feet from the event so as not to disturb the natural beauty and rawness of the venue, and prepared everything there, ferrying food back and forth—all five courses. The food was a ton of fun to make—we started with an elevated hot dog/weenie roast and ended everything with s’mores, naturally..

If logistical challenges were eliminated, where would you stage your dream event?
We would love to cater a beautiful meal with the Aurora Borealis as backdrop. Or make a meal for climbers at the Everest Basecamp. We have that one on our bucket list.

That is an amazing answer. Makes us wonder what kind of food you’d magic up to complement the Northern Lights…
Mmm. Well, the food might be eclipsed by the sky, but we’d just have to do a flambé, like Baked Alaska, but more like Baked Reykjavík, because, you know, Northern Lights. Something would definitely have to be on fire.

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You seem especially skilled at creating meals for the outdoors. What other experiences have you had?
One recurring event we love is Burning Man. Every year, we host a sit-down dinner for forty of our friends during the days prior to Burn Week. It’s our annual Moroccan dinner!

You make it sound like a national holiday!
Well, it kind of is, for us! We use a low-slung table that seats 40. Everyone sits on berber rugs and beautiful cushions. We bring charger plates and china and crystal, you know, stuff you wouldn’t expect in…

In the desert…?
Exactly. It’s something we do because we love entertaining and cooking, and most importantly, we love the people who are coming to dinner. We hold the dinner at sunset with the sky turning crimson and purple, all these beautiful hues. We believe any great meal should be interactive and participatory so we start with warm linen napkins sprinkled in rosewater so the guests can wash their hands, then follow with champagne, and mint tea made with bunches and bunches of fresh mint… It’s really lovely.


Photo credit: Monte Bloomer


That sounds amazing. You guys are like a brochure for Burning Man. All the people who are afraid to go just need to hear you describe that meal and what’s possible in the desert and they’ll be instant converts.
Well it is what you make of it. As with any adventure, right?

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Well, we think we made out like bandits at Burning Man, getting to meet you and Murray. Can you share your side of that story?
Of course! So we came up to Burning Man three weeks early for the Temple Build and didn’t have the necesary credentials to get in. I was waiting for our friend who was heading the kitchen effort to show up, a friend who went by the name Chef, with my credentials. He arrived in an old converted school bus called The Hajj and Kip just hopped down with him. We ended up working with the Fireside team and I have to say that no matter what hour it was or what had been going on that day, everyone just fully committed to being present and getting the work done.

One thing led to another and you ended up leading the menu development for Ski Provisions. Tell us about that process.
We really wanted to make meals that we would enjoy ourselves. Details matter to us and we envisioned food that you could really dig into with friends, by a fire, after a day of adventuring. Comforting, delicious meals, dialed up a few notches.

Of all the meals in Ski Provisions, which one do you feel like is really yours or is just your absolute favorite?
Oh that’s easy: the Roasted Chicken! That just says “home” to us. If you asked us what our last meal would be, honestly that might be it. The house smells wonderful, it feels homey – warm and welcoming, and it just conjures up lots of happy memories of being around a table, with people we love.

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Ok, just for fun, what’s each of your secret superhero powers?
Can we say the ability to eat? Ha! Well, if we’re speaking about our work, then we’d have to say that it’s our dedication to creating experiences that are as perfect as we can possibly make them. We treat our clients’ events as if they are our own events. No detail is too small. Everything matters – it’s all important.

If you’re going out adventuring, what’s your favorite breakfast to kick off the day? Leftovers! 

On the go snack? A perfectly crisp apple

Current spot to ski or play in the snow? Echo Summit

Hungry for more? Meet Alicia Boyes, the other chef who contributed to the creation of Ski Provisions in the second part of our Meet the Chef series.

And because it’s easy to overlook, we’ll add here that Murray Cruickshank studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and went on to work at a multitude of critically-acclaimed Bay Area restaurants, including Aqua, Campton Place, and Moose’s. Today, he and Gemma run their stellar catering company out of Oakland and know just how to make us feel like guests at a sumptuous Moroccan feast in the desert. You can contact them here.

Photo credit: Emily-Jean Rosengarth from Emily-Jean Images