Marriage represents the merging of values and morals, strengths and weaknesses, perspectives and personalities. When the holidays roll around, it also means the blending of traditions. Brian and Nicole Roland, who’ve been together for seven years and married for three, have found harmony in both their home and work lives. The holiday season is a time for them to not only celebrate the professional achievements they share, but also to foster new customs and bask in the joy of family.
As the co-owners of Crave Culinaire, the Rolands make a living feeding others and helping them entertain. With Brian serving as executive chef and Nicole as director of operations, the couple is able to collaborate every day to craft unique events that showcase Brian’s innovative cooking techniques and Nicole’s eye for style and attention to detail.
“Working together is sometimes the only way we see each other,” Nicole says. “I’m front of the house; he’s back. It seemed like a perfect marriage.”
For as career-focused as they are, Brian and Nicole have set rules for running their business that allow them to hit pause and relax with loved ones. In addition to taking off the Sunday before Christmas—which is typically a slower catering day—they also only encourage drop-off and pick-up meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. “We felt it was very important that we were able to make time for our families as well as allow our team members to be able to spend some time with theirs,” Nicole says.
When it comes to celebrating, Nicole and Brian host an annual Christmas Day gathering, combining all of their childhood traditions for 20 or more relatives, most of whom live in Naples. “We are known for the elaborate catered events we do all throughout Southwest Florida, and although there is a bit of an expectation from others when we are cooking, we try to keep it relaxed at home,” Brian says. “We do still enjoy making it special.”
For both husband and wife, those childhood traditions run deep. Nicole’s family, including her parents, Jack and Lisa Black, brother, Robert, and sister, Kari Black-Jones, attended church on Christmas Eve and had Mexican food at the only restaurant open in their small Washington hometown. They’d each open a gift of new pajamas, put out cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer, and then read ’Twas The Night Before Christmas. On Christmas morning, her dad, clad in a green sweatshirt embroidered with “I believe in Santa Claus,” would blast the “Hallelujah Chorus” through the house to wake everyone up, followed by gifts and a breakfast of waffles with whipped cream and strawberries.
“I don’t think I realized how special and whimsical my parents made Christmas for us, and it makes me even more excited to be able to do this for our children one day,” Nicole says. “Last year, my dad wrapped up the sweatshirt and gave it to me.”
Brian and his brother, Scott, grew up observing Jewish holidays, adding Christmas festivities into the mix after his parents, Bruce and Laurie, divorced and his mother remarried. “We appreciated Hanukkah and Christmas, and most importantly, we loved to share time with each other,” Brian says. “I remember lighting the candles on the menorah every night, and we would tell each other what we were grateful for.”
As it turns out, Nicole was no stranger to Hanukkah. “She surprised me when I found out that she actually knows the prayer for each night, as her mother’s father was Jewish,” Brian says. “We have lit the candles together in our home, and I also enjoy going to church with her family on Christmas Eve. To me, it’s all about taking a break and getting to enjoy time with our loved ones.”
Now they continue their traditions with their blended families of parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins. “Everyone keeps getting married and having babies,” Nicole says.
Having dishes, linens, extra tables, and chairs they can use from their business helps to accommodate the growing group. But the most important element is the food, including chateaubriand with Nicole’s mother’s gorgonzola cream sauce, roasted brussels sprouts, and potatoes. Because Nicole is gluten-free, she orders desserts from Ruth Wardein of Epiphany Gluten Free Bakery, such as this year’s chocolate layer cake with vanilla silk frosting and rosemary “trees” served on her grandmother’s wedding china.
This Christmas Day gathering is extra special as it is the first one Brian and Nicole will host in this home, which they moved in to in August. To help make the space as impressive as the food, they called upon Renée Gaddis Interiors to enhance it with Christmas trees, art, a rug, and fur pelts to match the faux-fur stockings they already owned. Sean and Melissa Stevenson of Kaleidoscope Home gave it a final festive touch with floral decor and place settings.
“Our family knows we do this for a living, so all they want for us is a relaxing evening,” Brian says. “Nicole and I, of course, put pressure on each other to outdo ourselves from the previous year, but that makes it the most fun.”
Given their careers, Brian and Nicole know the importance of timing, preparation, and good wine—with the latter being a big component in their own entertaining. The couple’s home boasts a 425-bottle, temperature-controlled wine room that is nestled under the stairs and acts as a focal point of their open floorplan. After the holidays, another tradition they share is SWFL Children’s Charities’ annual fundraiser, the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, to be held February 21 and 22 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa. It’s the eleventh year Brian has been involved in the festival, which brings together local chefs and vintners from Napa and Sonoma.
“Wine Fest gives us something to look forward to each year,” Brian says. “We are making a difference in children’s lives, and we get to do what we love all along. We have seen the impact—the new Golisano Children’s Hospital and children’s mental health programs funded—and it drives us to continue giving more each year.”
Brian’s participation has also helped him professionally. “In the last five years, we’ve gone out to Napa, met vintners, and toured the vineyards,” he says. “I have a better appreciation for wine, and I have a lot more knowledge for food-and-wine pairing, which is my passion.”
Being so involved with their business and the community makes the season move at a rapid pace. But Brian and Nicole always carve out moments to create traditions of their own, including jamming to Pentatonix Christmas music in the car and using that pre-Christmas Sunday to cram in activities like baking cookies and watching “oh-so-cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies,” he says. “At this point in our lives, Christmas is a celebration that goes by in a blur over a few hours, and we look forward to the day we will be able to relax and enjoy more time with our families.”