Fittingly, it all starts with a cookbook.
Chef Cindy Wolf of Charleston fame has long been working on one. So long, in fact, that it has grown into a series. And now she anticipates the first of her Cooking With Wolf cookbooks will publish in time for the holidays this year.
As followers of Wolf’s Instagram might gather, she’s as serious about photography as she is about recipes, so she wanted to have complete control over the book’s quality and creative process. To achieve that, she created a company, Wolfco, to handle their self-publication and distribution.
But she hasn’t stopped there. Wolfco will be an umbrella company for two more outlets for Wolf’s boundless creative energy: speaking engagements and kitchen design consultations. On the latter, Wolf has much personal experience.
“I’ve done three of my own kitchens in less than nine years,” Wolf explains. Her first Roland Park home was gutted and reimagined in a farmhouse style, with all Lancaster Fieldstone and reclaimed barn timbers. She even installed a wood-burning fireplace. At her next home, a farm in Sparks, the kitchen was modern, in the style of a commercial kitchen. Now that she has moved back to Roland Park, she’s gutting and reimaging yet again.
“As a creative person, Charleston is an incredible outlet for me,” she says. “But I have a lot of energy, and I need to be able to do new things,” she says. Adding with a laugh, “I can’t keep buying new houses, so I have to work on someone else’s.”
Wolf underscores that she’s not an interior designer, but she does have a love of design and an artistic eye. “And because I’m a professional chef, I can give people ideas on how their kitchen could be laid out and help them make good, practical choices,” she says.
Her rules for kitchen design are straightforward: Make it comfortable and organized with a practical layout and good lighting. In her new kitchen, which she describes as small, like an English cottage, she’s installing white cabinetry (but not too much—Wolf is averse to excessive overhead cupboards), a marble island, and stainless steel countertops.
“The stainless steel, that’s a practical idea, a chef’s idea,” she says. “You can put anything on a stainless-steel countertop. You should be able to move a hot pot off your stove and have somewhere to put it.”
The move into speaking engagements won’t come as a surprise to fans of Wolf’s live shows on WYPR with business partner Tony Foreman. Public speaking also taps into a love of theater that Wolf traces back to her youth when she performed on stage, sang in the church choir, played piano and flute, and even studied ballet.
“Theater has always been a love of mine and speech-giving is a performance of a kind,” she says. “I love the feedback and the energy of speaking in public.”
Recently Wolf spoke to a group of doctors in the historic Davidge Hall at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It was such an incredible experience speaking in that historic space and talking to the doctors—we had a blast,” she recalls. She doesn’t write down her remarks beforehand, preferring to have an idea in her head and then talk off the cuff, often eschewing the microphone and podium. Her talks cover her personal story, but also her thoughts on managing and maintaining employees, helping groom others to excel in their own careers, and running a business.
“I get a little nervous when I speak, but I think I feed off it like most actors do,” she says. “I really love people. I love cooking and I love when I get to go out to the front of the restaurant and talk to my guests. The idea of doing speeches gives me another opportunity to interact.”
Speaking of Charleston, Wolf is quick to point out that while Wolfco will be a new addition to her plate, it will in no way interfere with her work at the restaurant, where she has won recognition eight times as a finalist for a James Beard Award, and a semifinalist 12 times. Charleston will always be her baby, but after 20-plus years in the restaurant’s kitchen, she’s excited to have new creative outlets.
“This all ties together—it’s all sharing and interacting with people,” she says. “I feel like this is what we’re here to do—share our gifts with people and make things better for others.”