A happier, more positive person than Ann Marie Gustafson of Front Street, Jamestown, you will not meet. She is blessed and knows it.
''I love to entertain, especially family,'' she said. ''We love to barbecue and have backyard parties.''
Working in all aspects of food is her passion.
Ann Marie Gustafson of Jamestown shows off three of her signature dishes: artichoke dip, baked potato salad and BBQ pulled pork.
Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland
''It's definitely a family thing with my girls and I,'' she said. ''Lilly cooks with me every day. Angela sits on the counter and talks to us while we're cooking and Michael sits at the table doing homework.
''We like to all be in the same area. That's why the computer and Xbox are in this area,'' she said. ''We always talk about our day and always sit down together for our meals.
''Lilly likes to bake,'' she said. ''I hate to because I don't like to measure.
''Since they were little I would let them pull out whatever to create dressings and sauces. Even the neighbor kids would join us,'' she remembers. ''They'd get out the soy sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire, ketchup or anything I had in the refrigerator. We would try to eat it on something.
''I love food design and love to make everything look perfect. When they would come home from school when they were little,'' she said. ''I would have little fancy trays of veggies, fruits or cheese and crackers. There were always sandwiches cut cute.
''My mother always did special things for me. She would let me take all of the cans out of the cupboards and make a store in the living room. I had the best upbringing and the best Great Gram and parents,'' she said. ''Every weekend family came. We always had grandparents there. Both of my parents' parents would come on weekends. Both grandmas would always bring a dish to pass. We would have a huge family dinner every Sunday night. We would sit at the kitchen table and talk for hours. Good food and good fellowship.
''All of our relatives lived close by. We all had gardens. My cousins and I were all one family, but lived in separate houses,'' she said. ''My mom, Barbara Hall, was always in the kitchen. She is the best cook and can make something from nothing. We had eight kids in our family and nothing ever went to waste in our house. We would have the 'end of the week soup' made from the week's leftovers. They were the best soups. I think my mother is the best soup maker.
''I'd have to say I've had a very happy, blessed life,'' she said. ''I still think I had the best childhood and I still have a really good life. I have the best kids.
''My Grandma Mary is now in her 80s. My mother-in-law and I are very close,'' she said. ''She is Swedish and has shown me a different way to cook.
Mrs. Gustafson was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. She applied at Wegmans because with her love of working with food she ''thought it was the best place to work.'' She cooked and designed the chef case, along with others.
''I like making food look beautiful more than cooking it,'' she said. ''I am now the veggie coach.''
She has a station in the store where people can ask questions about vegetables, preparing, cooking, etc. She highlights a different vegetable each week.
''When schools bring classes I teach them how to eat a rainbow and how to strive for five,'' she said. ''I have done a lot of Kids in the Kitchen events, too.''
She is married to Randy Gustafson, who works for Upstate Farms. The Gustafsons have three children and attend Holy Family Catholic church. They have a 13-year-old lab-shepherd mix, named Angel.
She has submitted some of her family's favorite recipes, many of which she ate while growing up in Sinclairville.
''I have turned all of these recipes into gluten-free dishes for my husband, who was diagnosed with celiac disease 4 years ago,'' she said. ''I want my husband to have the same delicious food we have. I'm not claiming to be a dietician or a nutritionist, but this works for my family.
''My mom always made the artichoke dip for special occasions. It was my favorite,'' she said. ''She made the pulled pork a lot because it served a lot of people. She always made her own barbecue sauce. We didn't have a store in the country, so we used what we had.
''I got the inspiration for the baked potato salad from one Wegmans made. I kind of made it my own because I knew my family would love it,'' she said. ''Lilly and I were in the kitchen one night when we needed to create a dish and we came up with Lilly's Greek Pasta Salad. She came up with the dressing for it.
''My great gram, Betty Wixson, used to make the calico beans dish,'' she said.