Annie Wobbeking runs a happy kitchen—she loves to cook. From her commercial kitchen nestled at the intersection of Minnetonka, Plymouth, Golden Valley and St. Louis Park, she cranks out poultry, beef, pork, seafood, pasta, vegetarian dishes, soups, stews, comfort food and just about anything else her clients want. Meet Annie’s Cooking Tonight.
Wobbeking’s passion for the culinary arts grew into a solid catering and personal chef business, one of the first of its kind back in 1998. A news story about a personal chef inspired her father to suggest she explore a career down that path. At the time, there were few personal chefs in the Twin Cities, but Wobbeking’s background in catering made it a natural fit. Wobbeking didn’t go to culinary school, but seven years prior to starting Annie’s Cooking Tonight, she worked for a local catering company, a first step into the industry.
Over the years, Annie’s Cooking Tonight steadily grew from referrals. Now, her business is 25 percent personal chef work and 75 percent catering. “She’s been around food basically all her life on the job, and is a behind-the-scenes person who likes to please people and make them happy,” says Wobbeking’s husband Brian. “It’s her business; it’s her,” he says. Today, Annie’s Cooking Tonight has had a roster of more than 1,000 clients, including some celebs.
Annie’s the owner, and Brian lends a hand working as a cook, helping with events and more. It’s a full-time job for both of them. He tests new recipes, and their standards are high—they start sharing dishes with clients only after they’ve been perfected. Some clients provide their own recipes for the duo to try their hand at.
Besides their toques, the Wobbekings wear a lot of other hats to keep their business humming. Few couples could “spend all of your time together working, relaxing and traveling together and still be happily married after 26 years,” Brian says with a smile. They work well together and have a positive attitude about their business and their relationship.
And of course, catering isn’t a nine-to-five job. Schedules for catered events wind around the clock and fill the calendar. The holidays are prime catering season, with Christmas parties, corporate celebrations and other festivities. Peak times and large orders require more hands, so Wobbeking contracts with a pool of experienced culinary workers when she needs more cooks in the kitchen. The flexibility of working with contractors helps keep costs in check and quality high, Brian explains. “We’re a small business trying to do a good job and our best,” he says. “We strive for that with every single client. I know it sounds hokey, but it’s the honest-to-goodness truth.”
Annie’s Cooking Tonight caters to every whim, from big events upwards of 350 people to small, indulgent bites. Picture sushi, masterfully prepared and delivered for a busy rock star’s short dinner break. How about special vintage whiskey, appropriately crunchy-smooth peanut butter or name-brand spring water? Touring musicians have all kinds of interesting requests, and Annie’s Cooking Tonight helps make them happen. She calls that arm of her business “rock star catering,” and she’s worked with everyone from Diana Ross to Paul Simon to Prince.
And it’s not just rock stars. Political dignitaries including governors, senators and speakers of the house have dined on Wobbeking’s food. But she’s just as dedicated to her less glitzy clients, helping local families fit nourishing, comforting food into busy schedules. She offers made-to-order meals, packaged for easy serving, which are popular with everyone from parents to businesspeople zooming from one meeting to the next.
Wobbeking’s clientele is all over the map, literally. One longtime client had food preserved on dry ice for air shipment. Deephaven resident Judy Corson has used Annie’s Cooking Tonight for 15 years—she’s even had meals packaged and flown to Hawaii for a family vacation .The consistency and convenience of premade food makes for a better time away from home for Corson’s family. “We have had executive chefs before, but no one can match the service and quality Annie provides. She prepares all of our dinners on a regular basis,” Corson says. “Annie knows our likes and dislikes so we don’t have to tell her what to prepare. It is also fun to send her recipes and then have her make them for us. But most importantly, Annie and Brian are just really kind people who know what they are doing.”
Dietary needs and preferences are a consideration for every client, and Wobbeking can accommodate kosher, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free and other requests. Every client gets the kind of personal attention that brings good food to the table. “We don’t cut corners, and I want to prepare what I want to eat for the client,” Wobbeking says. Top-quality dishes and service sets them apart, she explains. It’s no surprise she’s collected thousands of recipes, including popular comfort foods like shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, taco bake and chicken a la king.
Wobbeking says that, for her, preparing food is a joy—even in her downtime. “I love to cook on our days off,” she says. Personal favorites? Indian, Thai and Mexican dishes that go heavy on spices.
Honey Pecan Crusted Salmon
Wobbeking shares her recipe for a light yet flavorful baked fish. With the right ingredients on hand, the salmon comes together in just a few minutes.
4 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 ½ Tbsp. honey
¼ cup panko or breadcrumbs
¼ cup pecans, finely chopped
2 tsp. parsley, chopped
4 salmon fillets, 6 to 7 oz. each
salt and pepper
Mix mustard and honey together in a small bowl. Pour half into separate bowl and set both aside. Mix together panko or breadcrumbs, pecans and parsley. Set aside. Season each side of salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet or pan. Brush each fillet with mustard and honey mixture. Pat the top of each fillet with breadcrumb mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until salmon is flaky. Drizzle with remaining mustard and honey mixture then serve.
Hosting at Home
Wobbeking’s tips for serving up the perfect dinner party.
Know what you like. Prepare a large quantity at one time and freeze some for later use.
Select items easily done ahead of time. For example, chicken skewers reheat well.
Plan your appetizer counts according to these guidelines for light apps:
– Typically, plan for three pieces per guest per hour.
– Increase the number of pieces if you’re serving alcohol.
Have more food on standby. Mixed nuts, trail mix snacks and popcorn make good fillers in a pinch.
Trim costs by ordering things that can make good leftovers—for example, a roasted vegetable platter with zucchini, asparagus and a basil aioli. Cooked veggies retain their freshness, and leftovers can be easily be chopped up and put into a pasta.
Avoid dishes that wilt fast. Sorry, caprese salad—your fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella fade quickly after sitting out for a while.
Save time by using premade piecrusts for quiche and frozen bread dough for cinnamon rolls.