Our Story

The Bartleby & Sage Story

Back in 1997, armed with a passion for great food, a master’s degree in English literature, and a ridiculously affordable lease in Long Island City, Leslie Nilsson began the Sage story. The original Sage American Kitchen was an homage to The Silver Palate, New York’s first gourmet take-out shop. With reverence for regional American cooking, sustainable food, and emerging flavors and techniques from around the globe, Nilsson grew the catering branch of Sage into its own distinct event-planning company, Bartleby & Sage. It’s not just about delicious food – our mission statement hasn’t changed since those early days, and we continue to seek out local, family-owned farms and businesses, compost our waste, use only biodegradable paper goods and pay our staff far above industry standards to assure they too have sustainable lives. 10% of our profits go back to the communities that have supported us, from the Chocolate Factory Theater and Socrates Sculpture Garden in LIC, the Food Bank and the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger here in Brooklyn, where we moved our kitchens in 2016,

Who is Bartleby? He is our tribute to America’s greatest writer, Herman Melville. There is no more astute observer of American culture, no wiser satirist of our uniquely American mix of religion, capitalism and immigrant hopefulness. Bartleby & Sage represents that mix in our dedication to delicious food, loyalty to our clients and staff, and whimsical humor when you need a good laugh after a stressful event. We are partners with our clients and cultivate long-lasting relationships that go beyond the catering and into the many aspects of event planning.

Leslie Nilsson Founder & Creative Director

Leslie Levin Nilsson grew up in a small town obsessed with food, so obsessed that in 1997 she left a career as an English professor and Glamour editor to start the Sage brand. Bartleby & Sage traces its roots to the original Sage American Kitchen take-out shop that led to a boutique catering company focusing on handmade, locally sourced foods and sustainable business practices. For the past 20 years, Leslie has guided the company, which has been featured on The Food Network, ABC, The New York Times, Time Out, Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides, and New York magazine, to name a few. She is on the board of many local organizations which aligns with the company’s commitment to community, staff and education.

Her favorite foods?  The lobster roll at Bagaduce Lunch in Brooksville, Maine, with New Orleans cooking and all things Italian close seconds.

Our Chefs

Ramon Lara, Executive Chef, hails from the Dominican Republic, graduated from the Culinary Institute of Miami, and worked for more than 18 years for very respected institutions, from the Delano Hotel to Great Performances, before joining Bartleby & Sage in 2012. His instinct for the earthy cuisines of the D.R., Italy and ethnic America, along with his experience cooking for such high-end events as the Grammys and award dinners for Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, fashion clients, and NYC mayors, among others, make Ramon the perfect chef for our vast array of clients, from the farm-obsessed to the fashion-focused.

Jorge Cuzco, Chef de Cuisine, grew up in Ecuador and came to New York to work as a cook at Café Society, where he met Leslie back in 1995. She recognized Jorge had that rare talent—a great palate—and they have worked together ever since. He is now the chief flavor creator at Bartleby & Sage and oversees the recipes and execution of events alongside Ramon and Leslie. Jorge creatively melds South American flavors with contemporary trends to create amazing dishes. Outside of work, his favorite pastime is cooking for friends and family on a  wood fire when he goes home to Ecuador.

Molly Ballard, Senior Event Planner started her career with a B.F.A. from Syracuse, then sang and danced her way to NYC. Along that way, Molly fell in love with event planning and has done it all, from bartending to event production for 3,500 guests, to roasting whole animals for outdoor weddings.

This is a woman who knows her way around a floor plan and you need to trust her when she tells you the best way to set up a venue. Her 20 years of experience combined with a wicked smart sense of humor, make Molly a treasured addition to the Bartleby and Sage team. She heads up all events at the Picnic House, Warehouse Studios and other Brooklyn venues.

Paul Moreno, Senior Designer & Planner came to Bartleby & Sage as a freelance stylist who has worked on projects for The Martha Stewart Show, and MSLO, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, T magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Best Made, Estee Lauder and others. At Red Rocket Creative, Paul worked on projects for BHLDN, O, The Oprah Magazine, and David’s Bridal.

Since 2008 Paul has also done work in interior design and event planning. He brings a calm, creative beauty to the weddings and events he has produced with Bartleby & Sage. As a planner he works with clients to develop a stunning visual design then pulls together all the elements from florals to lighting to build-out. He knows his way around philosophy too, as he studied at the Gallatin School at NYU.

Hans Baang, Pastry Chef/Creative Food Development, graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, then started working with Bartleby & Sage creating chic minimalist pastries and cakes, along with savory items developed specifically for our clients. Having grown up in the Philippines, Hans has developed a knack for recipes that merge the flavors of Asia and the Americas, not to mention those hand-iced buttercream wedding cakes and completely innovative flavor combinations. His food blog, “The Sugar Hippie” (www.thesugarhippie.com), is dedicated to the art of food, flavors and design.

Rachael Livingston, V.P. Marketing and Sales, spent three years developing the sales and corporate partnerships for Boomset, a tech company that devises applications for corporate event planners. Her non-stop energy and sales smarts grew the start-up 150% in two years, while she also handled operations, marketing and trade shows. She has a B.A. in Public Relations and Advertising and just completed a culinary entrepreneurship program at the International Culinary Institute, with the intent of getting back into the food world. Rachael is as passionate about baking as she is about sales growth and we look forward to developing many new projects together.

Rachael’s favorite food is Mac & Cheese, so she was delighted to learn our five-cheese artisan version was featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”.