Emily Scott-Arbaugh’s love for cooking started young. While spending summers with her grandmother, she learned to appreciate traditional cooking techniques by following her great-grandmother’s recipes.
By the time she was 14, she was already busing tables at the National Hotel in Nevada City.
From there she went on to work at a handful of other Nevada County restaurants, where she learned the importance of consistency when it came to cooking specific dishes and how to blend flavors. After several part-time stints, Scott-Arbaugh landed a full-time job at the Northridge Restaurant, where she officially began her career as a chef. From there she went to work at the Holbrooke Hotel, where she learned to coordinate and prepare for large banquets.
By the time Scott-Arbaugh was 18, she knew what she wanted to do with her life and enrolled in the Culinary Arts Program at American River College. While there she joined a junior competition team, which competed nationally and eventually won a bronze medal.
She was just 21.
“While I was in school, I was also working at Citronee in Nevada City,” she said. “I learned so much from the chef, Robért Perez. He really influenced my cooking style.”
Scott-Arbaugh went on to hone her skills at Restaurant 55 Degrees on Sacramento’s Capitol Mall. Her mentors there, chef Luc Dendievel and chef Christophe Gerard, arranged for her to work at a small specialty chocolate factory in Belgium, which also gave her a chance to enjoy and learn about local European foods.
“But after all those amazing adventures, I knew I wanted to come back to Nevada County,” she said. “I knew I wanted my own business.”
In 2007, Scott-Arbaugh and her husband, John Arbaugh, launched Emily’s Catering & Cakes.
The couple originally met at an Off Broadstreet theater production, where Arbaugh, an actor, was working and Scott-Arbaugh was serving desserts.
After working out of a variety of commercial kitchens, the Arbaughs and their team of 12-plus seasonal staffers eventually set up their headquarters on Commercial Street in Nevada City, where they still are — for now.
With weddings and large corporate or nonprofit events being their “bread and butter,” the Arbaughs say the company has continued to thrive, thanks to their commitment to fresh, local fare made from scratch.
Typically, Emily’s Catering & Cakes averages two weddings every Saturday between May and October, said Scott-Arbaugh, and that doesn’t include rehearsal dinners, brunches and more.
“During those big events, we see the entire day through,” she said. “We’re usually there from 7 a.m. to midnight.”
Because many couples don’t hire coordinators, Emily’s Catering also often serves as a middle man for services such as DJs, photographers, florists, tables, linens, etc.
Fortunately, the couple has extended family in town as they are parents to two children, ages 5 and 15 months.
While the brick walls of the Nevada City historic room and adjacent kitchen and patio at their current location have offered a certain rustic charm, Scott-Arbaugh has been eager to add a retail component to the business — and, as she said,
“You can’t get a plumber to go into these historic brick walls.”
As luck would have it, they say the perfect space recently became available for the growing catering business — the former location of Summer Thyme’s Bakery on Colfax Highway in Grass Valley. They plan to be moved in by the end of this summer.
Scott-Arbaugh said she couldn’t be happier.
“I’m so excited to finally have retail space,” she said. “Now people will be able to drop in and buy items to go. We will have twice the refrigerator and prep space.”
Favorite gourmet foods served at catering events will soon be available for individual sale — for example, Scott-Arbaugh’s much-loved shallot marmalade, carmelized pears, gluten-free teriyaki sauce and their 10 favorite salad dressings. Accessories will include cupcake liners, celebration candles and sprinkles, she added, and an observation window will allow customers to watch what’s going on in the kitchen.
Although there will be an intimate dining area for customers and catering clients, the new space will be geared for orders to go. In addition to a large display case filled with freshly baked cupcakes, pies and larger cakes, there will be fillings, frostings, cookie doughs and s’mores kits for sale for those who want to cook at home, said Scott-Arbaugh. In addition, the new location will allow clients to rent a space for private events, such as rehearsal dinners, brunches, business meetings and more.
The newest feature of Emily’s Catering & Cakes is a seasonal supper club.
“Each season we will feature a coursed meal with interesting flavors,” said Scott-Arbaugh. “We will have a chance to show off what we can do in an intimate setting.”
Until the business moves into its new location in late August, the Nevada City event space will remain open, said Scott-Arbaugh, who is already gearing up for a busy summer, chock full of special events.
“We feel so fortunate to have had the support of the community over the years,” she said.
“This new space will be a great transition and a chance for people to buy foods independently. We’re looking long term. We love what we do.”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.