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Lauren Rose O’Leary: A Journey with Wine, Food and Family

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The value of dinnertime is something that was instilled in Lauren Rose O’Leary and her three sisters from an early age. Her parents, Martin and Lisa O’Leary, are both Stockton natives and raised their girls in a busy Lebanese-Italian food-obsessed household.

“We grew up with a home-cooked meal almost every night with everyone sitting together at a set table. The TV was off,” she smiled. “We talked about our days and what was going on in the world. We were brought up to have respect for food, where it came from and the people who cultivated it and made it. I will forever be grateful to my family for bringing me up this way. All four of us have grown to be entertainers in our own homes. I’m very thankful my parents pushed that on us.” 

Growing Her Skills
Currently she is a full-time private chef at a residence in Sacramento, specializing in seasonal California Mediterranean fare. Recipe development is something that has fallen into her lap in the last two years. In her off hours she loves writing recipes in conjunction with local companies such as Cowboy Charcoal, Western BBQ, Big Red Nuts and Lakewood Meats. 

“After a year of working as a private chef, I enrolled in a culinary course at Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France. It was there I learned the basics of French cuisine and the fundamentals of classic French cooking,” she remarked. “Attending school at Paul Bocuse changed my life and perspective on food.” 

She attended St. Mary’s High School, then studied communication and performing arts and dance at Saint Mary’s College. This performing arts background has helped her in her field more than she imagined, as there is a big performance factor to her day-to-day job.  

“I can assess my audience and interact with my guests both in the kitchen and at the dining room table. After graduation in 2011, I started my wine journey by working at local wine brokerage called Madison Company with Mark Ellis. Shortly after that I headed to Italy for a few months to stay with a family friend to intern at several wineries in the Liguria and Tuscany area,” she explained.

“One of my favorite food memories goes back to a trip to northern Italy when I was 22,” Lauren shares about her time in Europe. “I was with my friend Elena Spadoni; she and her husband took me to this pizza restaurant that was up in the mountains where the water quality was amazing. When you think about the simplicity of Italian cuisine and ingredients, something like water is imperative to a perfect dough. We had an incredible meal and after wandering out of the restaurant we made friends with a man outside. In true Italian fashion, he invited us over to his house down the street for a glass of wine. He was a furniture designer and had an entire floor-to-ceiling room filled with wine bottles and little white tags hanging from the necks with the wines’ varietal and vintage. He let me pick a wine! I went with a local Vermentino and we went into his kitchen. He pulled a big bucket of anchovies in olive oil and salt from under the table and we ate them with old focaccia bread. It was simple, unexpected and so delicious.!” 

New Venture
Lauren began her wine education with wine educator and writer Gianpaolo Giacomelli, and fell in love with Italian wines. Upon her return to the United States, she decided to start a wine import business. With the help of her uncle and aunt, Rima and Anthony Barkett, they opened Nipote, which means niece in Italian. 

She imported Italian wines and sold them throughout California for several years. “I always had a burning love for food and cooking and took catering or dinner party jobs when they would come my way. After a few years of importing and selling wine, I was burned out. I didn’t love sales and found myself wanting something else. I decided to take the leap and become a private chef and offer a food and wine experience in the privacy of people’s homes!” she related.

Lauren offers something different with her wine background and love of storytelling, discussing the origins of the ingredients and indigenous grapes that the wine came from. For the next couple years, said “yes” to every job that came her way, waitressing and working as a cheese monger at a restaurant in Sacramento part time, all the while growing her list of clientele. 

Community and Family
Her one-woman show is keeping her busy, yet she still makes time for nonprofits, a passion she developed as a dance instructor for the Stockton Kids Club years ago, previously the Stockton Boys & Girls Club. In addition to donating cases of wine to local events, she often pours as well, sharing her knowledge and expertise with guests. She also donates certificates for tasting parties as auction items. The unique opportunity allows her to give back to her community while simultaneously bolstering her referral-based business.

“My family has been and will continue to be the most important thing in my life. My sisters are my best friends and at 30 I still talk to both my mom and dad every day. The days I get to start by cooking or baking with my grandma, Marie Barkett, are my favorites,” she continued. “Every work day is different. One day I am preparing a small, intimate wine dinner for ten; another I have a political party for 100-plus guests or a plant-based yoga retreat. My clients are all ages and come from all walks of life. The only thing I know my day will bring is a trip or three to the grocery store.”

Lauren’s husband, Brett Warmerdam, is a Lodi native. The two attended St. Anne’s Elementary and St. Mary’s High School together and reconnected after graduating college and coming back to the area. They married at her grandparents’ house in October 2018. He works in account management for an agricultural company, Irrigation Design and Construction, based throughout California. “He is one of the most selfless and hard-working people I know,” she reflected. “A passion we both share is the love of travel. Getting away from our busy work schedules and indulging in food and culture is something we both look forward to.”

What advice would she give other women wishing to follow their dreams? “Work diligently and be patient with your journey. Have faith in your ability to succeed and you will. Remember to make space for good food in your life and celebrate every meal.” Currently she is working on a light-hearted wine 101 zine featuring art from local artist Natalie Watkins that’s going to print this fall.  

“I find inspiration every day from my Jidu, ‘grandfather’ in Arabic. One of his many famous life-long lessons is ‘Always becoming, never arriving.’ He always taught me to have the courage to not settle for my most recent achievement and to keep my head high.”