Two sisters have recipe for success

  • By Christina Harper / Herald Writer
  • Monday, November 22, 2004 9:00pm
  • Life

he tantalizing aroma wafting through the Everett hallway leads to a small commercial kitchen where countertops are strewn with colorful foods: plump red Roma tomatoes, deep green chopped spinach, bags of pink potatoes.

Standing at a table is Sandy O’Brien, expertly chop-chop-chopping cabbage. O’Brien and her staff are preparing an Oktoberfest meal of bratwurst, sauerkraut and German potato salad for 56 people.

This is a busy time for O’Brien, 50, and her sister, Linda Geiger, 48, who provide food for all types of events, large and small, such as weddings, corporate meetings and private parties, through Celebrate Catering, their family-owned company.

“That’s kind of what this whole thing is about,” Geiger said. “Being sisters.”

O’Brien moved to Seattle from California in the early 1990s. She bought the catering company four years ago.

Geiger moved to Idaho in 1993, then to Snohomish County in 2002. The sisters learned about cooking from their mother, Ilonka deCenek.

“My mom used to call me into the kitchen all the time.” O’Brien said. “She’d tell me, ‘Bring me your hand.’ “

DeCenek would have O’Brien cup her hand and she’d place some salt or other ingredient in her cupped palm.

“No measuring cups,” O’Brien said.

Later, when she was a young woman and living on her own, O’Brien would cook for friends and family. Guests would be delighted by her fare.

“It’s what I do,” O’Brien said.

Snohomish Country residents and TV viewers around the country can also see what the sisters cook up in the kitchen when Celebrate Catering is featured on an episode of “Recipe for Success” on the Food Network on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 and 4.

“Linda got the phone call and she was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe it,’” O’Brien said.

Al Roker’s production company came to Everett from New York in September to film the sisters at work. Roker hosts his own show, “Roker on the Road,” on the Food Network. And he produces “Recipe for Success,” the show the sisters will appear on.

“They met Sandy for the first time at QFC,” Geiger said.

The film crew followed O’Brien through the grocery store as she shopped for a pretend holiday party to be held the next day. They later filmed O’Brien in the kitchen as she made Celebrate Catering’s signature Italian stuffed bread braids.

“Although we don’t give the recipe out to anybody, we sell them for $12,” O’Brien said.

The second day of filming was taken up with the preparation for the made-for-TV holiday party. O’Brien’s daughter, Ashley Gaffney, did the table decorations. The menu consisted of salmon, coconut shrimp, the bread braids and cheese tortellini with pine nuts in a pesto sauce.

The sisters are going to have a real party and invite friends to gather round the television to watch “Recipe for Success.” But they have a few mixed feelings.

“I’m nervous to see what I look and sound like,” Geiger said.

The people who work with the sisters, 28 on-call staff members, are part of the family.

“Our success is about the people who work with us,” Geiger said. “It really is a dedication to them.”

It is also a dedication to their mother, who died a year ago, and who had wished for her daughters to be together.

“She’d say, ‘I’m so happy you girls are together,’” Geiger said.

From the cupped hand waiting for salt in the family kitchen to preparing a recipe for a nationwide television show, O’Brien still thinks about her mother’s strength and determination.

“Sandy cooks from her heart,” Geiger said. “Love is put into it.”

Reporter Christina Harper: 425-339-3491 or

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