King of Caterers
By Rhonda Pressgrove
Article as appeared in BLINK Magazine
First Choice Catering is a familiar name in DeSoto County. Owner John Woods has served fancy fares to everyone from new brides and event attendees, to heads of state and celebrities since 1995. With humble beginnings, a tiny deli grew into a catfish haven, which soon rocketed the mild-mannered chef into new culinary heights. Woods, along with wife Cindy and their two children, have maintained the down-home feel of their enterprise although his trained staff may be preparing delicacies for as many as 10,000 in one sitting.
"We’ve been fortunate enough to do some really large events across the U.S.," Woods said, adding that those types of events are always challenging because of the logistics and planning. "Successfully accomplishing large events with high quality food is the real challenge, but that’s where I thrive. I’ve never said ‘no’ to a big or difficult event…whether it’s cooking Tibetan food or food from Romania, Lithuania, wherever. When the challenge has been given to me, I’ve done the research to figure out how to cook that kind of food."
The diversity of Woods’ business is staggering. He teaches culinary classes for kids and holds social cooking events for adults. Holiday meals are prepared and delivered. Weddings, banquets and intimate breakfasts are among his every day offerings. He’s even working on a catfish cookbook, Fifty Ways To Love A Catfish.
And unknown to many, Woods’ staff is on call anytime there is a natural disaster such as hurricane, tornado, or ice storm. "We go all over the U.S. and feed utility workers," he said. "For the past five years or so, we have worked with a company that tracks storms. When a disaster hits, we are deployed to set up a base camp."
"We drive big refrigerated trucks to the sites and we feed those workers. Typically we’ll feed 2,000 for breakfast and again for dinner for the duration of the storm," he continued, noting that during the last Arkansas ice storm, they not only fed utility workers but also prepared 12,000 box lunches.
With all of the events come numerous awards and accolades. First Choice Catering has been recognized during Taste of DeSoto and chosen Best Caterer nine consecutive years in the Desoto Times annual People’s Choice Awards. But Woods sees his greatest personal reward in the friendships he has made all over the world. Those friendships have also gotten a peek into DeSoto County, as Woods showers diners with a Southern grace and solid work ethic built with encouragement from loyal patrons he has served over the years.
Woods describes his life in a common culinary term. "My life is kind of like a buffet. I have wonderful stuff I can engage in each day, so many selections of things to do and there’s nothing here that’s boring. I love it all." And from his excellent staffing to his unequalled events, this culinary creme de la creme has risen to the top as Desoto County’s first choice in catering.
John Woods may be reached at First Choice Catering, 662-342-2559.