Gourmet-Knowledge.com brings Chef Leibowitz into your home for personalized cooking classes.

Virtual Salad Dressings

“Craze or bust,” says Larry Leibowitz (’99), “it doesn’t matter.”

He has reason to feel secure in the roller coaster dot-com world. Much of it is because Leibowitz, an executive chef with a Fortune 500 company in Boston, and his business partner Dean Dzurilla (a marketing analyst), have a different philosophy about the value of the Internet.

“It’s a vehicle to promote our business and generate buzz about our products and classes,” says Leibowitz.

The “product” is the another difference with this company. LarrysBest.com promotes and sells not software development, Internet provider services, marketing tools nor database kits — but salad dressings.

A second part of the company, Gourmet-Knowledge.com, brings Chef Leibowitz into your home for personalized cooking classes.

Plus, these are side gigs. “I haven’t given up the world,” Leibowitz emphasizes.

Leibowitz creates his salad dressings during off hours from his corporate catering job. And through his Gourmet Knowledge cooking series, Leibowitz teaches basic and intermediate cooking techniques and recipes to individuals and groups. His classes focus on creating simple desserts, the Best of Asia, the Best of Italy and seasonal recipes highlighting specific ingredients and holidays.

As for his full-time work, at 26, Leibowitz is young in culinary years, and spends much of his day designing menus, controlling food and labor costs, purchasing supplies and managing people twice his age.

“It’s not as much cooking as it is number crunching and menu planning,” he explains, “but I consider myself to be very hands-on. The only way to gain respect is to roll up your sleeves and show them you’re one of them.”

Leibowitz came to JMU after finishing a 21-month associate’s degree at the rigorous Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. There, he learned the food end of things; at JMU, he learned the business end. Now he’s combined them both in both his full- and part-time work.

“Food is definitely my passion. I wanted to be a chef for as long as I can remember,” says Leibowitz, who haunts Boston’s downtown farmer’s market for Asian pears, mangos and tangerines. A self-described fusion chef, he focuses on fresh ingredients as the most important part of what he does. And that translates from recipes for apple- and walnut-stuffed pork loin to recipes for balsamic vinaigrette and the other dressings he creates for corporate accounts in the Boston area.

Leibowitz has four core dressings: Balsamic Vinaigrette, Classic Caesar, Honey Sherry Dijon and Wild Berry. He also creates seasonal dressings like Thai Curry and creamy Roquefort Pear (his favorite). “If I’m going to make a real mango tangerine vinaigrette, I’m going to use real mangos and tangerine juice.”

The Gourmet Knowledge classes and LarrysBest.com came about as an unlikely partnership between Leibowitz, who knows nothing about computers, and Dzurilla, who knows nothing about cooking. Leibo-witz’s early plans — to sell the dressings retail online as well as in farmer’s markets, vegetable stands and gourmet groceries — were modified, mostly because of the nature of the dressings: With no preservatives, they have a shelf life of 21 days. Now the Web site functions as a marketing tool for landing and maintaining Leibowitz’s corporate accounts.

The other unexpected plus of internet-based sales and promotion is communication with his customers. LarrysBest.com features a free subscription newsletter and recipes supplied by Leibowitz and his customers.

“We’ve found that if you give people quality and timely information, they are more than happy to tell you a little bit about themselves,” says Leibowitz. People send enthusiastic e-mail feedback on the dressings and on his recipes, and send him their own recipes as well. “As we get closer to updating the site, one of the features we are playing with is creating a community of salad lovers so they can exchange recipes and ideas.”

As for financial success, while Leibowitz won’t quote numbers, he does say, “People are willing to pay a premium price, and unit sales have far exceeded our expectations.”

Maybe it’s the combination of internet and interpersonal, hightech and high cuisine, buzz and spice, that seems to be the secret to success. Or as Leibowitz says, “It might be just that they taste so damn good.”

Leibowitz also teaches classes in cooking at the Boston Center of Adult Education, and he has willing students at home — his two roommates. Leibowitz cooks at home maybe two or three times a week (“I work a good amount of hours.”) and has passed along his techniques to them. “This apartment is probably the best cookin’ apartment on the block.”

The apple- and walnut-stuffed pork loin was this week’s dish. “Something that you can eat all week,” Leibowitz explains matter-of-factly. “You just cook it once and reheat the leftovers.”

That’s some leftovers. Let your mouth water at larrysbest.com.


Story by Cara Ellen Modisett (’96)


Publisher: Montpelier Magazine For Information Contact: montpelier@jmu.edu