With pandemic safety measures canceling events, caterers now are focusing on heat-and-eat meals for individuals and families, offering us the chance to try out the luxury of a virtual personal chef.
For some of the chefs, cooking these meals is a return to the earlier days of their food career. Regan Waugh of Delicious Dishes was a personal chef 17 years ago. Mark Lopez of Gather and Feast Farm (which also operates Crave Catering) started his food business 20 years ago as a taqueria and now he has returned to tacos. His most popular weekly meal so far has been a taco kit filled with carne asada and squash tacos.
Waugh and Lopez held their businesses together during the recession in 2008. The skills they gained have helped them get through this pandemic.
Waugh learned to be flexible during that recession by adapting her catering menu and pricing to create budget-friendly options for clients who couldn’t afford expensive parties. When clients began canceling catering events in March, Waugh took a week off and decided the smart thing was to keep her business going.
“I needed to be creative and keep my name out there,” she said.
At the same time, some of her catering clients were asking for low-sugar and low-carb meals, which inspired Waugh to create a meal business called Clean Cravings by Delicious Dishes.
Unlike Waugh, Laura Jhaveri of Killa Bites doesn’t have a background as a personal chef and her wholesale and catering business wasn’t set up for individual to-go meals. Nonetheless, her catering experience helped her to create meals that were easy to transport and reheat.
“When we cater, we prep ahead and make it the day before and it sits out at the event. So it’s not like a restaurant where food is cooked and served immediately,” Jhaveri said.
Food that travels well and tastes good when reheated is ideal for people sick of cooking and disappointed that restaurant meals don’t taste as good at home.
Clients of Gather and Feast Farm told Lopez that his food is more pandemic friendly than ordinary takeout.
“Folks said, ‘We got takeout from our favorite restaurant, but by the time we got it home and heated it, it wasn’t so happy. We like how yours reheats,’ ” Lopez said.
Lopez wasn’t sure about moving forward when his catering jobs disappeared in March. His initial response to the pandemic was to just wait it out. However, the chickens at his farm didn’t cooperate.
“We had eggs. Our chickens were producing like nobody’s business,” he said.
The idea for his weekly meals began when Amber Baker of Red Truck Farm contacted him to see if he could add something to her weekly produce boxes. He made jars of one of his favorites, chimichurri, and then started making heat-and-eat meals.
Lopez believes that keeping his business going is a matter of asking the right questions. He optimistically hopes that some of the lessons he learns will ultimately help his business.
He keeps asking his staff and himself, “How do we make it work better than before?”
The answer at present is to keep farming and continue to feed people through weekly meals.
Here are some of the local caterers offering heat-and-eat meals. If you’ve worked with caterers in the past and you like their food, contact them to see if they are offering individual or family meals. The best way to keep up with the businesses on this list is to follow them on Facebook, where they post weekly meals and information about ordering and pickup.
Delicious Dishes (220 Pioneer St., Ridgefield; 360-903-3835) has a Clean Cravings menu. The menu is posted once a week on Facebook. Orders are placed by phone by Monday night at 5 p.m. by calling or texting Waugh. Meals are picked up on Thursday at Delicious Dishes Catering in downtown Ridgefield. Chef Waugh focuses on making healthy versions of popular dishes. The menu has five meals with options like Thai chicken lettuce wraps and green chile chicken enchiladas. Customers have a choice of ordering one to two of each meal per week. Ten meals are $125 and five meals $65. There’s also a mini meals, snacks and desserts menu with things like sous vide egg bites (four for $10.50), energy balls (five for $7) and cheesecake (two for $10).
Killa Bites (510 Pioneer St., Ridgefield; 360-635-8650) offers one meal a week. Past meals include butter chicken paired with a Mango Lassi Gose from Trap Door Brewing, vegetable lasagna and beef cannelloni. Orders are placed on Killa Bites’ Shopify website (killa-bites.myshopify.com) by Tuesday night and picked up on Thursday between 3 and 3:30 p.m. at Killa Bites’ kitchen in the Ridgefield Administration and Civic Center. Salads, sandwiches and Killa Bites’ cake bombs, popcorn and biscotti are available without pre-ordering at The Birds and the Beans Coffee Shop in the same building as the kitchen. The coffee shop is currently open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Gather and Feast Farm/Crave Catering (2706 N.E. 369th St., La Center; 360-768-3323) offers “Dinner for Two,” but the large grocery bag of food could easily feed four people. The meals come in a regular version for $40, or deluxe with more expensive items for $60. Past meals have included a Greek meal with grilled pita with turnip skordalia, a large Greek salad, a huge container of quinoa tabbouleh, grilled vegetables with za’atar, chicken souvlaki skewers and baklava. The most popular item so far has been Chef Lopez’s Taco Tuesday menu with housemade tortilla chips and salsa, a farm greens salad with tomatillo vinaigrette, spicy black beans and Spanish rice, squash and carne asada taco fillings, and Mexican brownies for dessert. Orders are placed on Gather and Feast’s website by Sunday night and picked up on Tuesday at Gather and Feast Farm in La Center, Crave Catering in Portland, or Bleu Door Bakery in Vancouver. Produce and eggs from Gather and Feast Farm and pantry items like chimichurri ($7.50), pesto ($7.50) and vinaigrette ($7.50) can be added to your order.
Simply Thyme Catering (14020 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver; 360-891-0584) is the most flexible. Customers can call and order meals based on Simply Thyme’s menu posted on Facebook or smaller versions of anything on the regular catering menu. Orders can be made any day of the week and picked up at Simply Thyme’s kitchen or delivered to your home or business.
“Vegan, vegetarian, Paleo — you name it, we’ll do it,” chef and owner Tammy Leibfarth said. Heat-and-eat meals include things like garlic shrimp with stir fry vegetables over rice noodles or smoked flank steak with arugula, cauliflower and snow peas. There’s also salads, dessert and sides. Baked goods (regular and gluten free) like bread and chocolate chips must be ordered ahead.
C’est La Vie (1307 N.E. 78th St., Vancouver; 360-553-5836) recently expanded the hours for its Hazel Dell market to Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The shop is stocked with a rotating menu of grab-and-go items like date night charcuterie boards and heat-and-eat meals like roasted vegetable and sausage lasagna, crab cakes, and mac and cheese. There’s also salads, sandwiches, quiche, desserts (like a Valhrona chocolate budino), and a wide variety of pantry items, produce, cheese, and fresh loaves of bread from Grand Central Bakery. Menus are posted on Facebook. Items can be ordered ahead by calling C’est La Vie.
Rachel Pinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.