NORTHFIELD - As a student at the Culinary Institute of America in 1997, Beata Scott was moved by an Academy Award-winning foreign film that was shown in class one day.
The 1987 movie "Babette's Feast" depicts a cook named Babette who spends her entire lottery winnings of 10,000 francs to prepare a lavish meal for two sisters and their small church congregation.
The tale of self-sacrifice and culinary delights so inspired Scott that she borrowed from the film title to name her own business, Babette's Catering.
"They never tasted such good food. She used all of the finest foods and ingredients," Scott said of the movie character. "I think I based my business on that idea."
The public seems to like the idea. Scott said she has been extremely busy since she opened her gourmet catering business May 1. So far, she has been putting in seven-day workweeks.
On weekdays, Babette's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a cozy dining room at the Terra Mar Plaza on Tilton Road. On weekends, the shop closes to walk-in customers so Scott and her staff can concentrate on their catering service for private parties, weddings, barbecues and other affairs.
"Since opening, we have been operating seven days a week. But that's a good sign," Scott said. "We want people to know that we're open. The hours are long, but you get that adrenaline rush. It's exciting, so it makes it all worth it."
Despite a still-fragile economy, there are anecdotal signs that the catering business is slowly picking up nationwide and that smaller, more flexible catering companies may be better positioned to take advantage of the recovery, an industry group says.
"I think now is a good time for smaller caterers because customers are more mom-and-pop oriented. It is kind of like a comfort feel, because they don't like big-box caterers," said Stacy Zeigler, first vice president of the National Association of Catering Executives.
A look in the phone book reveals listings for many other caterers in the Atlantic City area. Scott and her brother, Mark Gorny, said what distinguishes their business from other catering companies is its emphasis on "gourmet food and gourmet service" brought directly to people's homes.
"We think this area was in dire need of a place like this one. There was a real void," said Gorny, who oversees the business operations at Babette's while his sister commands the kitchen. "Some of our customers have been saying that they are very happy to see us because this type of business was missed."
Scott has also been getting a hand from her father, Edmund Gorny, an international award-winning executive chef who has more than 40 years of experience in the culinary business, including the high-volume banquets at the Atlantic City casino hotels.
An award-winning chef in her own right, Scott also spent time working at the casinos, as well as major hotels across the country. She formerly was a chef at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Harrah's Resort and Caesars Atlantic City - an experience she described as a valuable dress rehearsal leading up to her ownership of a catering business.
"The casinos are a great place to learn," she said. "To do high-volume business under the right chef is priceless. I also believe that any student coming out of culinary school should work at a casino. The bigger the hotel and the higher volume of business, the more they are going to learn."
Scott acknowledged she has been learning a thing or two as the owner of a new business in the weak economy. For one, she noted the importance of having a location that will attract tourists heading to the nearby seashore resorts.
"Obviously, it's financially challenging for any business right now," she said. "It's difficult to survive. I have to prioritize and watch my budget. But we're in a busy location, being on Tilton Road. We call this the golden gateway to the beach."
Scott, 42, also lives in Northfield. Perhaps thinking of the inspirational title character in "Babette's Feast," she hopes to contribute to her community through her business.
"This has been a dream of mine, to be a small-business owner and to give something to the community to make it better," she said. "You have to give back to the community."