She makes her multicultural dishes based not so much on recipes she's gathered, but rather by observing the cultures in which they're created.
"I get to know the people and the culture. I cook based on why they do things a certain way. Learning that way has really helped me on my cooking journey," she said.
After her return from the Philippines, Bergstedt settled into a busy catering routine that focused on her church and its members. She fed everyone from small groups that performed at Bible Center Church to receptions for 600. The performers often praised her cooking while onstage.
"One group said they were going to make me part of the band and take me with them," she said.
Unruffled and efficient, Bergstedt makes the most of challenging situations such as the time she donated her services for a missionary who told her to expect 150 wedding guests. More than 300 showed up.
"We just stretched it. I set up stations and spread out the food. They had tastes," she said.
When needed, she makes table decorations and bakes wedding cakes. "I just do whatever they need," she said.
She's been baking seasonal favorites such as King Cakes for Mardi Gras and gingerbread houses at Christmas for in-the-know clients, but now she can market them in the bakery case of her new restaurant. Bergstedt had her eye on the location for years, but the landlord resisted placing a restaurant in the retail space that previously contained a variety of businesses including crafts, primitives and bead and jewelry shops.
"Last Thanksgiving, I was visiting my son in Lexington [Ky.] when the landlord called and asked if I was still interested. His wife had told him that she thought it would be a good place for me," she said.
After adding water lines and plumbing, updating the electrical system and building a kitchen, Bergstedt furnished her small dining area with colorful tables she found at ReStore and chairs culled from Second Seating.
Customers shouldn't count on finding a seat during busy lunch and dinner hours, Bergstedt warns, but she happily packages orders to go.
Connie's Gourmet Kitchen, 882 Oakwood Road, is open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Call-ahead and takeout orders are highly encouraged. Call 304-881-3779 to hear the day's menu and place an order.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.