Elle Jarvis has lived a big life.
She spent a semester leading bike tours in Italy, five summers as a chef in Nantucket, and she’s traveled across the country and the world planning culinary events for major hospitality brands. She does big and dreams bigger, but when coronavirus hit, her world got a lot smaller.
On a recent Thursday, Jarvis was in a little industrial kitchen in Kingston, cooking food to be divided into little portions, put into little boxes and distributed to residents of her little hometown. It’s a far cry from anything she ever imagined, but says the picnic-box business she grew from the seeds of uncertainty has nearly changed her life.
“It’s been grounding for me and it’s been restorative to control things and have my hands on things and know my farmer and know my fish monger,” said Jarvis, a Marshfield native. “The support of my family and their community has been really wonderful.”
Jarvis founded her company — Elle in the Weeds — as a party planning, event hosting and all-around hospitality driven business. She’s organized food festivals for Marriott, put together dinners with celebrated chefs and renowned wineries, and once planned a three-day weekend in Barcelona full of cooking classes and private tastings for guests. It was a life she never could have imagined and she’s the first to admit her career path through the industry has been anything but ordinary.
In keeping with that theme, the business that once had her rubbing elbows with top executives and jetting across Europe now finds her back on the South Shore and doing most of the leg work to put together individual, pre-made picnic boxes full of fresh, homemade food.
“I really tried to dive into getting people restaurant-quality food in their homes,” she said. “I grew up on the South Shore and I love it here, but its not a culinary mecca, so I wanted to provide something different.”
Over the last several months, Elle in the Weeds has been selling ready-to-eat picnic boxes at the Marshfield Farmers Market, Stellwagen Beer Company and the Marshfield Yacht Club. Each box is meant to be served cold and is completely handmade — down to the tarragon ranch — by Jarvis and a team member or two.
“I really dove deep into ‘What do we know is going to happen over the next few months?” Jarvis said. “We know summer is coming, we know people are going to be at the beach, hosting barbecues and eating outside. I thought ‘What do I know how to do?’ Well, I know how to make an awesome picnic.”
The boxes are pre-ordered online and there are several to choose from. The most popular, the cold fried chicken box, comes with double-fried chicken, a market salad, a buttermilk biscuit, tarragon ranch and several sauces. The Veg Box comes with falafel, tzaztiki and na’an; the Matiz España Tinned Fish Trio has mussels, octopus and clams; and the #pivotpicnic box is stuffed with meats, cheeses, crackers, cookies and bread.
“I want people to feel as though it’s a treat even though they’re affordable. There’s a lot of thought that goes into making every box feel like a present when you open it,” Jarvis said. “Everything from the color of the coleslaw to the browning of the biscuit to the double frying of the chicken — it’s all very tactile. I want it to evoke all five senses.”
As she’s made her boxes, gotten to know her vendors and reconnected with the South Shore, something happened to Jarvis that she said she never expected. Instead of an overpowering need to go back to the hustle and bustle of her former life, she said she’s considering relocating to the South Shore and opening a private party venue and retail store full of homegrown, homemade products.
“It’s made me really reevaluate my priorities, what I’m willing to do for money and who I want to work with,” she said. “I never would have said this pre-COVID, but I’m actually considering a store front. I’ve always gone to where my friends are to do events, but maybe I’ll bring them to the South Shore of Massachusetts and let them see how amazing it is.”
Elle in the Weeds’ #pivotpicnic boxes are available for order online and pick up at the Marshfield Farmers Market, Stellwagen Brewery and the Marshfield Yacht Club. Also available are homemade dips, small batch items and ready-to-cook grill boxes.
Jarvis recently took over the kitchen at the Marshfield Yacht Cub, and will be cooking for members through the end of the year.
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.