By Lisa Capobianco
Honest, Organic, and Pesticide-Free Eats. These are the words that describe HOPE Kitchen and Marketplace, a community supported kitchen establishment that has served Connecticut for more than five years.
For Chef Cathy Blanchette, being the owner of HOPE Kitchen and Marketplace, LLC means sharing her passion for health, food and cooking with the local community in every food preparation she makes. Recently, the professional chef expanded her business to 26 North Main Street, sharing a space with the Sixpence Pie Company.
“I want this to be Southington’s Community Supported Kitchen—it’s their kitchen now,” said Blanchette, a long-time resident of Southington who initially started her business at home. “Nothing is processed here.”
A Community Supported Kitchen (CSK) is a weekly or bi-weekly box of locally grown and raised food for individuals to cook. The box varies each week, and includes a variety of food selections, including meats, vegetables, soups, salads and other items. From hormone and antibiotic-free meats to wild caught seafood to farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, HOPE Kitchen provides natural and organic food to the community, committed to supporting local farms.
Blanchette has provided produce and poultry from a variety of local farms, including Lewis and Karabin Farms in Southington as well as other ones throughout the state including Bethlehem and Morris.
“It’s really easy to develop those relationships cause I’m in a commercial setting,” said Blanchette, adding that she learned a lot from local farmers. “We have so many farms right here available to us.”
A typical week for Blanchette involves creating a menu and sending it out to clients, preparing the food on Mondays and Tuesdays after ordering ingredients and produce, then cooking on Wednesdays. Clients order their food in advance, and pick up their “box” on Thursday evenings from 5-7 p.m. and Friday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. HOPE also offers curb-side pick-up.
Offering vegan and gluten-free items, the menu at HOPE provides a diverse selection, as Blanchette cooks everything from scratch. The menu offers clients breakfast, lunch, salads, dressings, soups, entrees and vegetables. The professional chef said some popular items include her lemon and herb crusted cod, granola and frittatas.
“Our granola is flying off the shelf,” she said.
After working for 30 years in financial accounting, Blanchette decided to pursue her passion in 2007 with inspiration from her family. While working full-time, Blanchette completed training in Advanced Culinary Arts at the Connecticut Culinary Institute in Hartford, where she graduated as valedictorian in 2009. She became a professional personal chef after completing the Culinary Business Academy’s course and then opened her first business, Peppercorns Personal Chef Service, LLC. Two years later, Blanchette started working with her sister, Julie Wallace, the owner of Bloom Yoga Studio, preparing meal options for participants of the studio’s weight loss program.
“When I started doing this, I wanted to be healthy,” said Blanchette, who conducted research on the health effects of packaged food in the supermarket chains. “A lot of the foods in there are pesticides and food colorings—we really weren’t seeing what we thought we were seeing there.”
Blanchette said some her clients from the weight loss program are also her current clients at HOPE Kitchen.
“What I’m cooking is helping people heal,” said Blanchette, adding that her own health has improved overall after changing her lifestyle. “I love being able to do this for the community.”
Dawn Leger was (and still is) one of Blanchette’s first clients, who now serves as a marketing consultant and grants writer for HOPE Kitchen. She joined HOPE Kitchen after attending the Integrative Weight Loss classes at Bloom Yoga, and successfully changed her lifestyle. Through Blanchette’s cooking, Leger said she lost 50 pounds over the course of a year, reporting health improvements in previous stomach issues she experienced. Leger’s daily diet now consists of eggs, quinoa, salad and chicken.
“I wouldn’t survive without her food,” said Leger, adding that her previous lifestyle consisted of diet Coke. “What she’s giving us is the best she can give us in the state of Connecticut—it really shows.”
Now that Blanchette’s business has expanded to downtown Southington, the chef said she hopes her business will continue to grow. Blanchette added that she plans to have a retail section her business, in which clients can purchase items.
“We’re Connecticut’s first CSK,” Blanchette said. “I want to bring this out there because I believe folks want it.”
For more information, visit http://hopekitche-nandmarketplace.com.
By Lisa Capobianco