I sat down recently with Ashli Price, the brain and the brawn behind Plan to Plate. What started as a
grocery-shopping service has morphed into a personal chef service that is unique in its level of
customization and quality — and you won’t believe how she does it.
Tell us about Plan to Plate and how it works.
Plan to Plate is different from my original vision. Today, it’s a way for me to deliver totally custom-made food, prepared with love and adventure, for people who value fresh, seasonal foods, but just don’t have the time to make it happen on their own. Just like the name says, I do all the planning, shopping, and preparation.
First, I check in with each client – not just about overall issues like allergies and dietary needs, but also about anything they might be really craving lately, or new foods they’d like to try. I get their schedule for the week, and even check the weather forecast (cold, rainy days call for hearty soup!). Then, I’m off to the market to shop for just what that client needs. This is NOT a bulk-meal-prep thing, so I usually have at least three different grocery lists going all at once and it can get a little crazy! After the shopping, I’m in the kitchen, preparing each dish to order and packaging it all for delivery the same day. Everything is fresh, homemade, and specific to each client. And yes, it’s just me, so I know it’s getting done with care!
How did you find your way into this business, from your origins as a teacher?
The kitchen has always been a favorite spot for me – I grew up helping my mom and grandmothers cook, chatting for hours on end while preparing special meals for family. I was always the last person eating at the table- enjoying every last morsel of food. Once I met my husband, we spent lots of time in the kitchen together, and I really grew to love the creative process of planning out a week of meals, utilizing ingredients in multiple ways to avoid waste, and experimenting with different foods. When the time came for me to make a career change, I realized that my passion for strategically planning out a menu, being a savvy shopper, and cooking up fresh, seasonal goodies could really be shared with others. I started toying around with grocery planning and shopping for fellow teachers, and that soon grew into writing personalized recipes and prepping ingredients to make dinner time even easier for folks. The more positive feedback I got, the more I realized how much I love doing this – by then, the deal was sealed! I was on my way to becoming the Food Fairy full-time!
What has been your biggest surprise in this evolution?
First, I was surprised that people really wanted more help than just meal planning and recipes. Later, I surprised myself with how strong I stood in my vision of serving a need without cutting corners. I’m not willing to change my mission of helping people in a completely personalized way to make things “easier” for me.
So, at ClickAClass.com, you’re speaking to a bunch of health-conscious folks who sometimes have pretty peculiar dietary preferences – sometimes several different preferences within the same family. How can you handle that in your kitchen?
I love a challenge! Some people feel they’re being “picky” with their preferences, but really, it helps me to understand exactly what they need and want. I cook for clients with all kinds of requests – Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, low sugar, vegetarian, vegan, you name it. I actually get kind of excited (in a geeked out way) to put together pieces of a puzzle like this. It’s all in the planning – what does the client like to eat? What are they craving? What foods can they eat? What’s in season? What did they have last week? These are all questions I ask myself during the planning process in order to provide variety, excitement, and balance within a particular framework. If you have a good plan, it’s all workable – and I’m really dedicated to the planning process.
I’ve had two clients who were chefs, and I have one in sports medicine. At first, I was a little intimidated by their knowledge and expertise, but the more they shared with me about the food they love and why, the more I’ve learned. And they’ve given me some of the greatest feedback. It’s a gift to do this work.
Can you give us a list of your top 3 must-have kitchen needs?
1. An openness to ideas and possibilities. I call this the “magic” in my kitchen.
2. High-quality, super-sharp knives.
3. Citrus, garlic and herbs. (Can that count as one item?) This combination gives the biggest, best flavor hit in the healthiest, freshest way.
What’s the biggest myth about what you do, or what do people not realize at first?
I think people are so accustomed to the bulk-meal-delivery model that they sometimes don’t realize I’m making a meal ONLY for them, and especially for them. I’m cooking with love – I’m cooking from the heart, not from a textbook or a “multiply-by” recipe. My clients and I are both surprised sometimes – in a really great way! – how much I become a part of their lives. It makes me so happy that I can be more than just “the help” to these families; the love and appreciation they give back is priceless.
What’s next for Plan to Plate?
In order to keep my quality high, I only have room a few more clients on my caseload at this point. Beyond that, I’m looking for small bits of structured, controlled, and sensible growth (kind of like you’d grow a family). I am NOT into “going corporate” or expanding to the point that I lose personal contact with my clients. That’s one of the things that is so important to me – being a part of their everyday lives. I won’t give that up just to make an extra buck. I love working with Jackson Lowe Vegetable Farm to write recipes for their CSA members, and I’d like to become even more involved in the local food movement, making local produce available to a larger group of people. I’d also like to spend more time on my blog and write more recipes to share there. And nobody’s ruling out a future cookbook! So, stay tuned for more in that area.
If you had Ashli The Food Fairy at your disposal for one full week, what kind of kitchen magic would you wish for?
Great, big thanks to Ashli for taking the time away from her kitchen to talk with us. You will love her
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3 grocery lists, 2 shopping carts, 1 tiny woman. How and why? #blog featuring @PlanToPlate via @clickaclass. http://ow.ly/m0PiA