Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Local Love Fridays: What's Cooking Ann Arbor

You have a toddler. Or maybe you have two strapping teenagers. You and your significant other both work. You believe in great nutrition for your family, as well as the restorative power of dinners at home. Maybe you're single, busy and want to eat a healthy meal without major hassle or expense.

Oh, wait.

You really don't have the time/energy/interest to cook.

Stacy Williams, of What's Cooking Ann Arbor, saw that need and went on a mission to fill it.

When you talk with Stacy, you can't help but be carried away with her enthusiasm for what she does. She's also very community-oriented: she wants people to eat good, healthy meals (she uses organic ingredients as often as possible, and she uses no ingredients that contain msg, high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated [trans] fats); she wants people to enjoy their family/evening time; and she wants to facilitate this. She's also reaches out to the community in other ways - creating fundraising opportunities and renting out her commercial kitchen space to like-minded Locavorious owner, Rena Basch.

Her customers are equally enthusiastic. Marietta Van Buhler, mother of the two strapping (6'4") teens mentioned above, has this to say about her experience as a What's Cooking Ann Arbor customer: "I was feeling bad with the amount of fast food supplementing that I was relying on to feed my family - and when I saw Stacy's 'What's Cooking' advertised with fresh and healthy whole grains and great taste... I gave it a try... it was everything she promised and then some. She cooks the way I would for my family if I had time." Jennifer Waljee, a surgery resident at University of Michigan Hospital, concurs: "Stacy's service provides healthy and delicious food with a lot of variety. We all have different tastes (my husband is a big meat-eater and I lean towards the vegetarian options), and there is always something for each of us. The convenience is hard to beat, and it has been a lifesaver for us. I recommend her to people all the time!"

In addition to being the primary chef, Stacy has hired eight people part-time as her business has grown over the past three years. One of her cooks is a former customer. Becky Smith loved being able to use Stacy's services at a time when she needed that flexibility in her life, and now she's delighted to help Stacy make that convenience available for many more people. "I always tell people about the different options, the fact that this can work for many kinds of people, and that the ingredients are all fresh and healthy."

Even in the Michigan economy, Stacy hasn't seen a drop-off in customers, and that's probably due to keeping prices reasonable. Her weekly menus are varied, and you can order something as simple as "Lunch Pals" for $5 (which include a variety of spreads or other protein, fruit, vegetables, crackers and a homemade [nut free] cookie), or take part in her salad "bar", or order adult-sized main dishes for $10.

This week's offerings include a summer vegetable pasta, sweet and sour stir fry with chicken or tofu with a choice of quinoa or rice, thai noodles with shredded beef, roasted cod, and chicken with black bean salsa. Sides include steamed broccoli, her salad bar options, spinach balls and tabbouleh. An order of four lemon-blueberry scones is available for $5, and for the summer time, there is a "Picnic Pals" option, including a variety of healthy sandwiches, cut-up veggies, a piece of fruit, a half-side of this week's specialty salad, and two of the homemade cookies. Once your weekly order is placed, there are many pick-up points around Ann Arbor and for orders over $50, your order will be delivered to your door.

Stacy Williams started her business after a long odyssey in dental hygienics and sales, followed by health care sales. She's always liked helping people and that's been a constant. Working with a big pharmaceutical was a less comfortable fit, and she'd always had a yen to turn her love of cooking into something she could do full-time. After falling into a job cooking for a friend's party (where the friend didn't want to cook), she received so many compliments that she conducted an informal marketing survey and one respondent said, "Call me. I'll be your first customer."

While it was challenging to figure out quality cooking in mass quantities at the beginning, it's now become second nature - she easily pulls out three hundred meals per week on average. Her customer base is broad - parents, singles, elderly parents whose sons/daughters live far away, tax accountants during tax season, other professionals during "crunch" times - all have been customers at one time or another.

Helping people has never been in doubt - it's what Stacy Williams loves and what she does best. The fact that she can now do this by helping many people eat delicious food and have more relaxed evenings? The best of all worlds. And from everyone I've talked to, it shows in her cooking.

Let's eat!

What's Cooking Ann Arbor can be reached here, by phone 734-645-5287 or by e-mail info at whatscookinga2 dot com. Information on how to get started is here, and you can see the full repertoire of dishes here.

If you would be so kind, please leave your comments here.


Anonymous said...

I am such a tightwad....I checked out her menu and wow, are things expensive. $10 for a pasta and vegetable stir fry? It would take me longer to place the order to cook that myself and it would cost me less than a dollar.

I'm thinking purchasing something from Busch's or Hiller's carry out food bar might be a better option in this economy for people that don't like/don't know how to cook. A whole lb. of the almost identical pasta and vegetable dish cost $4.99 at Busch's. Honestly though, is it really so hard to make it at home? The best thing if you have 2 strapping teenagers at home is to teach them how to cook!

Brian Miller said...

when you can combine your passion with what you do it shows...actuallt it is beautiful to watch...nicely written jen.

Meg said...

Your first paragraph is absolutely true--in my fantasy life. I'm trying to care about good food and nutrition again...I really am.

Unknown said...

What a great post! And thank you for commenting on so many of my posts this week :)

Jen said...

Well, Anonymous, while I might agree with you in terms of the cooking - it's probably easier for those of us who know how to cook, then for those who really can't/don't want to, etc., in terms of teaching the teens. $10 for a large serving is cheaper than most restaurants, and neither Busch's nor Hiller's is particularly careful about their ingredients. For personal chef services, which is essentially what she's doing, she's about 1/2 - 2/3 their cost and the fact that you can plan is important for some people. Again, this is a service for people who want the service and feel they can pay for it.

Thanks for the kind words, Brian. I was really impressed by Stacy and by her work, and so it made it that much easier to write.

Prefers - I think it's all our fantasies - great food cooked for you? Um... I'd take it in a heartbeat!

City Girl - you're so welcome - I try to get over to my blogroll folks once every day or every other day. This weekend, however, I'm down in Nashville at a wedding, so I'm probably going to be silent for a couple of days.

Anonymous said...

Wow that's really cool!It's so great to see others so passionate towards the community with the love of food!
Truthfully, I'm kind of glad I don't live around there...because I know I'll be tempted to order out all the time and will promptly be...bankrupt. lol!

Eleonora Baldwin said...

Beatifully written, Jen. And so informative. How I wish people like Stacy would start a similar service here in Rome!


Jen said...

Burp - It could be a problem in general in our area. ;-) It's one of the reasons I became a relatively decent cook - to avoid those temptations!

Lola - do you think so? I always thought this was an American "convenience" thing that Europeans would think was hysterical/ridiculous. It totally works in our society, but I didn't see how it would translate. That's really interesting.

karen said...

Hi and thanks for visiting my blog. It has taken me a while to visit back, but here I am, enjoying all the wonderful foodie blog posts, and will be back! :)

Jen said...

You're very welcome, Karen. You have a truly beautiful blog!

Jeanie said...

I love success stories like this! I'm glad things are working well for her. I'll have to pass the word to our A2 (sometimes) kid! He's very into organics and this is his thing for sure!

Jen said...

Jeanie - that would be great. I'm sure Stacy would love another customer!