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The caterers are kids

Alex Simon and Will Levitt began their business when they were 13

BELMONT -- For Will Levitt and Alex Simon, co-executive chefs of W&A Caterers, the road from experimental home cooks to budding professionals was not all that long. The two started cooking together about five summers ago, when their families rented a house in France. They were both 9 years old.

The following year, when they were in fifth grade, "we got serious," says Levitt. "I got really into crepes." His business partner started making his own pasta. When the two got together, mostly on the weekends, they'd create new dishes. "We like cooking rather than baking because you can experiment more. You don't have to be as focused on the precise measurements," says Simon.

Levitt's and Simon's parents have been friends for years. The boys say none of the parents is particularly interested in cooking. The two take their inspiration from cooking shows on the Food Network (they watch TV at Simon's house, because Levitt's family does not have cable) and from the myriad cookbooks they collect.

When Levitt, of Belmont, and Simon, of Newton, were in the sixth grade, they took some cooking classes at the Bread & Circus store (now a Whole Foods Market) in Newtonville, classes geared to kids in sixth through ninth grades. That led to a series of multicourse meals the boys prepared first for their parents and eventually for their parents' dinner parties. And so W&A Caterers blossomed, beginning with friends of their parents as clients. "We had done a dinner party for the Levitts," says Simon, "and one of the guests hired us."

"My husband and I had planned an engagement party, with another couple, for two young friends," says Annie Childs, of Watertown. "I had been at a dinner at the Levitts' house that Willie and Alex catered, and it was unbelievable. I didn't want to make my engagement party too fancy, but I wanted it to be elegant. When I was planning the party, I thought of Willie and Alex."

Childs worked with Levitt to come up with a menu of "heavy hors d'oeuvres" for her 80 guests. "[He] was unbelievably professional," she recalls. Two weeks before the party, Childs had what she terms a panic attack, wondering what she had been thinking when she hired two 13-year-old boys. "I called Willie, and he talked me right down," she says. "He said, `Leave it to us, don't worry.' It was like he had been in business for 50 years."

Their first professional gig presented challenges for Levitt and Simon. "We had to figure out how much of everything we were going to make and shop accordingly," says Levitt, who will attend Belmont High School in the fall. They also tried to set up a schedule, "but it didn't really work."

"We take a full day to prepare for a party, and do as much as we can the day before," adds Simon, who will go to Newton North High School in September, "but [the day of the event] can get pretty exciting."

For Childs's party, she says, the boys arrived "several hours ahead of time and had the kitchen all prepped. They were so cool under fire."

The menu included crab cakes and dips, mini steak sandwiches, chicken skewers with peanut dipping sauce, caponata, and other hors d'oeuvres. "Everything was delicious," according to Childs. "They are so far beyond what I could ever achieve in my lifetime."

Other items in the W&A repertoire range from Vietnamese rolls to sea scallops with lime gremolata and ginger beurre blanc. The two also offer Cornish hens with white grapes, fiddlehead ferns (in season), and truffled mashed potatoes. Bread pudding, crepes, and pear tart with homemade French vanilla ice cream are among the desserts. John Lynch, of Cambridge, who stopped by the Childs's house to pick up his daughter after the engagement party (she was one of the servers), sampled a few hors d'oeuvres that night and was so impressed that he hired Levitt and Simon to cater a surprise birthday party for his wife. "Everyone totally loved these kids. They were fabulous," he says. "They arrived at 3:30, with two girls to serve, and took over the kitchen. Before they left, they did all the cleaning. The kitchen looked just like it had before they arrived." Lynch says he didn't give the menu much thought before the party. He reviewed the selections on the boys' website (www.wacatering.net
firms.com) but trusted Levitt and Simon to make the final decisions. "The guests ate everything," he says. Linda Mason hired Levitt and Simon to cater a small dinner in her Belmont home and also left the planning to the boys. "I figured, whatever they love to cook, we'll love to eat. And we did. It's not just great food for 13 year olds. It's great food."

When they have a job, Levitt and Simon do most of the cooking in the Levitts' kitchen, then assemble the dishes on site. "I would say one of the hardest parts [of catering] is making stuff that will still be good when we serve it," says Simon. "We haven't had any disasters."

As skilled as they are, Levitt and Simon are always thinking about how they can improve. This summer they will take courses at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. They have also had some sessions with a caterer in Kansas City, Mo., where they traveled to visit Levitt's grandparents. At home, they cook all the time.

The boys also grow their own vegetables and herbs. Simon focuses on tomatoes. Levitt has a larger garden, with Boston and romaine lettuces, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, broccoli, leeks, Spanish onions, parsley, fennel, dill, and basil. He grows everything from seed. "We're very into getting the fresh stuff -- not buying [vegetables and herbs]," Simon says.

Though the boys say they don't know if they will make a career in food, Levitt believes, at least, "it will always be a hobby." For now, Simon adds, "the money is good. But we can't live off of it." 

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