From Kathryn Ciano. Follow her on Twitter @katciano. Email her at kathryn[AT]borderstan.com
DC has become a major food city. Within a one mile radius you can get pizza in various stages of preparedness, at least 22 types of mussels, and beer — goodness, so much beer. But what if you want to save money, eat healthier and learn to cook for yourself?
Enter Sarah Waybright, entrepreneur extraordinaire, walking New Year’s resolution and, hands-down, the coolest girl who ever made me a massaged kale salad. Ah, Sarah’s massaged kale salad — but that’s a story for another day and another book of sonnets.
The idea behind WhyFoodWorks is simple. Sarah comes to your kitchen and makes you dinner — not like a personal chef, but like a personal nutritionist, ready to explain exactly what food you need and how to prepare it, all in the course of a dinner party.
I sat down with Sarah to talk about her blog, her business and her relationship with the Borderstan community.
Borderstan: So explain exactly how this dinner party idea works.
Waybright: I provide a healthy, delicious effort-free dinner party. I bring the ingredients, the food, the pans and blender, the silverware, placemats, EVERYTHING — all I need is your stove and sometimes a microwave. All you have to do is invite your friends. I even take the dirty stuff home with me, so there’s no clean up for you, which is unarguably the worst part of hosting.
Parties are for four to eight people; that’s the best size for good conversation and it lets me talk to everybody and answer their questions. And that’s what you’d plan anyway for a dinner party, to get the right vibe.
Borderstan: What kinds of food do you cook?
Waybright: I always have five menus available for selection. One of them will rotate monthly and the others seasonally. You can choose whichever menu you want. There are already a couple of dietary considerations taken in — one menu is vegetarian, one is gluten-free, one is dairy-free, but I can also take into account allergies and intolerances — I can replace items without compromising nutritional integrity.
The key is that I’m offering healthy options I know are delicious and that I know I can teach you to make well for yourself.
Borderstan: How did you get started on this?
Waybright: I’ve been doing dinner parties since college. I grew up on a dairy farm, as part of a big family, so I’ve always had people over, with lots of focus on good conversation and good food. In college I wasn’t thinking about nutrition as much as whether the food looked and tasted nice. Since doing my Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, I can make things delicious and beautiful, and also a meal that’s actually good for you.
When I first considered launching the business, I looked to see whether anything like this already exists. I found personal chefs and meal services, but NO ONE else is teaching home cooking with a focus on health IN private homes.
I want to teach people to do things that they’ll actually use again. Hiring a professional chef doesn’t teach you how to cook for yourself. You’re probably not going to make fancy food on a regular basis, and some chefs charge so much. One I found in the DC area costs $500 for a two-person in-home class. I want to reach out to people who aren’t part of this elite group that can spend $500 on a chef for the night. Cooking doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. Fresh, simple, and cheap ingredients can be delicious if you know what you’re doing.
Borderstan: Tell me more about this cheap, healthy food.
Waybright: For parties I keep things at a price that’s reasonable for what you expect to spend eating out at a nice restaurant. I’ll even do wine pairings, for an additional $8/person, which includes two glasses of wine per person, plus education about wine and nutrition.
The food will be delicious. It will feature techniques anyone can do, and you’ll have an opportunity to ask whatever questions you want. I’m a nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian (RD). It doesn’t take much to call yourself a “nutritionist,” but RD’s all have at least a Bachelor’s degree in the subject, have completed an internship, and passed a standardized national exam.
Borderstan: What’s your philosophy on food?
Waybright: I’ve boiled down my eating concept into a few basic principles. Any diet works — paleo, vegetarian, whatever — as long as you’re applying these principles. When I do parties, the point is to show people how easy it is to apply these principles to every meal.
A lot of times people think about food like there are “good foods” and “bad foods,” like cookies are off-limits and everything else is okay. But that’s just not true; it’s all about amounts. At dinner parties I talk a lot about food pairings — what foods work best to maximize nutrition together. For example, my February menu includes bacon, but I serve it with an oat risotto, and the fiber from the oats prevents absorption of all of the cholesterol in the bacon.
It’s important to appreciate how our bodies process food. People know that eating a high-fiber diet is good for their cholesterol levels, but they don’t know why. At the end of a dinner party, I don’t want people to be focusing on their colon necessarily. Intestines aren’t very sexy. But if they never think about their colon, then this can be that special opportunity.
Borderstan: Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Borderstan and the community?
Waybright: This is a 100 percent woman-owned business — it’s just me. I live in northern Borderstan, and I’m constantly out and about around here — I bought a brick at Saloon, to support their efforts to build schools in impoverished places, and I work at the Columbia Heights Farmer’s Market. I really believe in community. I’m hoping this business spreads mostly by word of mouth. The blog is to get awareness out there and really develop a community base, and the website gives more info about how to book a dinner party.
One of my goals is to do a 10-to-1 ratio: For every 10 parties I book, I’ll do one for a population that can’t afford a party or education about nutrition, or donate a party for a charity. My first donated party will be auctioned off at the Chris4Life Eat4Life Celebrity Chef Cook-Off on March 19. And I work with ScratchDC; they take the leg work out of from-scratch meals and deliver them to your door, and its customers get a discount for my parties, too.
I also want to build loyalty into my plan. Hosts of a dinner party get 50 percent off, then if that person hosts a second party they get 75 percent off, and the third party for the same host will be free. If a guest tells someone else about it, all of that person’s guests will get $5 off.
The feedback from parties so far has been FANTASTIC. I loved working with the guests, and I think they felt the same way. Some of what they said were the “best” parts really surprised me — like after dessert, we all sat around and talked nutrition. I wasn’t even thinking of that as part of the experience, but that was something everyone commented on as being so valuable. I love doing this, and I just can’t wait to do more.
To schedule a dinner party, please fill out the form here, or contact Sarah at 202-505-2396 or sarah[AT]whyfoodworks.com. Find FoodWorks on Facebook at WhyFoodWorks, Twitter at WhyFoodWorks andPinterest at WhyFoodWorks.