Food Issue: Smart Food

Dined, Sealed and Delivered: Eating well is as easy as picking up the phone.

By Kellie C. Murphy
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 3, 2008

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Photograph by Michael Persico

The best answer is Whisk and Spoon, a healthy eating service aimed at hungry Philadelphians who want to eat well but don't want to slave over hot stoves every night.

Mary McCusker, the dynamic proprietor of Whisk and Spoon, began the business a few years ago as a storefront food prep service for her South Philly neighborhood near 25th and Christian streets. But after spending last season establishing a reputation for quality products and building a network of registered dieticians, Whisk and Spoon has evolved into a local nutrition hub with an eye toward manufacturing.

"I'm actually not upset about not having the storefront anymore," says McCusker about the recent changes in her operation. "I just want a commercial kitchen so I can focus on quality. At first I thought it would be all about food prep, but actually it's all about service and manufacturing, using all local, quality ingredients and catering to the niche markets."

McCusker rattles off some of the products she's recently scored from local vendors--everything from succulent pork from Delaware and Swiss chard from Doylestown to gluten-free pasta from Vineland, N.J. The Teens 4 Good community garden run by Jamie McKnight at Eighth and Poplar streets is also a favorite. Given that few of us have time to scope out the best produce, herbs and butchers in the city--keeping up with seasonal crops can be a never-ending challenge-- McCusker relishes hunting for all this good stuff for her customers.

"I get a mix of clients," says the spirited McCusker. "I'll have everybody from doctors and professional people to the elderly couple we have in Center City who just appreciate how easy this service is. I have private customers, like the med students we're feeding, who've chosen a healthy lifestyle. Our clientele are people who choose to eat health-

fully. That's it."

McCusker has a healthy eating series, which focuses on the idea that great-tasting food needn't be bad for you.

"Rosemary and feta stuffed

chicken is one of the meals in our healthy eating series," she says. "People want trendy, but a little healthy too. We have people with diabetes who are watching their sodium intake and who want

to avoid hypertension. Everyone wants comfort food. We just want it to be nutritionally sound."

The organization's dietary network is made up of several registered dieticians based at Jefferson Hospital, who'll make house calls to new clients to offer counsel and set up a solid nutritional plan--something that works wonders for clients with dietary restrictions. For example, the pasta from Vineland was a big hit with McCusker's philiac clients and parents of children who need to maintain a gluten-free diet due to Asperger's Syndrome. She did 5,000 meals with those noodles.

Recently McCusker partnered with Keystone Concierge, the Philly-based drop-off service. She's excited about this relationship because the organization will now be able to offer delivery service, something her clients are looking forward to for the holiday season.

"Our pulled pork with sweet potatoes, gravy and rolls--people are ape-crap over that. And everything in that dish, from the onions to the meat--everything but the corn starch--was locally raised and grown," she says. "People want tasty food that's a bargain, but not something they'll have to slave over for hours over. With this they put it on, give it a stir and it's on for game night. People were so excited because nobody else was doing that."

The next step for Whisk and Spoon will likely involve branding and marketing, as McCusker is contemplating her own product line. Martindale's Natural Market in Springfield has agreed to sell her gluten-free pasta, a deal McCusker hopes to make with other markets in the area.

"My goal when I grow up is to build a healthy food company. I want to be on your grocer's shelf," McCusker says. "I want to create a line of food using local ingredients and support local farmers and suppliers. In this economy it's hard. There's been a downturn with my business. Our regular customers do see Whisk and Spoon as a necessity, but newbies are harder to attract. I'm not Joe the Plumber. If I made $250,000, I'd be very happy."

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