Though a catered affair in Arkansas often means fried catfish, cheese dip, pork ribs, and other artery-clogging fare, the proprietors of a new catering service that opened Jan. 1 in Little Rock say it doesn’t have to be that way. With registered dietitians on staff for menu planning, an eye toward portion control, flavor without fat — and a four-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — they hope to make the meal at your next get-together a healthy one.
Will Hutchison is the director of the program. A certified sous chef and former director of the Arkansas Culinary School of Apprenticeship, Hutchison made the jump from kitcheneer to caterer after the Arkansas Center for Addictions Research, Education and Services (CARES), a division of the UAMS department of psychiatry, received a four-year grant in July 2004 to start a health-conscious restaurant (the money comes in the form of a matching grant, so interested parties can still donate to the cause). Though the idea was soon scaled down to a catering business — CAREfully Catered — the business will stick to the original mission: serving as a training ground for at-risk women seeking to return to the work force. The program hopes to give 12 women training in restaurant and catering skills in the next four years. Three women per year will work 40 hours a week under Hutchison’s supervision, and attend classes one day a week at the Arkansas Culinary School of Apprenticeship. Hutchison said it will be a good opportunity for everyone involved, and a chance for Little Rock as a whole to shape up.
“We’re going to keep a really close eye on sugar. We’ll offer nutritional analysis with most all our meals and scale back portion sizes,” Hutchison said. “Primarily a lot of people are concentrating on losing weight and having a more healthful diet. We’re not preaching to people, we’re just offering them choices.”
Those choices don’t have to be the equivalent of hospital food on wheels, Hutchison insists. In addition to items like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, and legumes, Hutchison’s long list of possible menu choices includes such unexpected items as pork teriyaki skewers, potato salad, sweet potato casserole, and corn bread.
As an advocate of what he calls “Pseudo-Southern cuisine,” Hutchison said the trick is in finding ways to replace the fat with flavor (some of his dishes substitute yogurt for mayonnaise, for instance), choosing leaner cuts of meat and especially portion control. Hutchison calls the huge portion sizes served at restaurants a “marketing thing.” After years of eating big meals because they are there, Hutchison said most people don’t know how much food is enough.
“We being Americans, we tend to eat everything on the plate because we don’t want to waste food. So we stuff ourselves,” he said. “We’re not looking to stuff people as much as we are looking to leave them satisfied with good food. It’s a different philosophy.”
“We have portion distortion in the U.S.,” said Katie Tumlison, a registered dietician who is helping Hutchison cook up the menu. “We don’t know what a portion is. This will help people know, ‘Hey, they gave me enough, and I’m full,’ instead of eating a whole super-size fries because it’s there.”
The business will prepare meals in donated kitchen space at Christ Episcopal Church. Though the company won’t offer traditional set-up-and-serve catering, Hutchison said CAREfully Catered will be able to package and deliver pre-prepared meals for groups ranging from 12 to 150, with about a three-day turnaround time. Orders will be taken by fax, phone or soon-to-be-online website, which will list all the menu choices, nutritional information, and cost per person. Hutchison said that without the overhead of running a stand-alone restaurant and with only a small staff, they should be able to keep their prices competitive with any catering business in the area — around $6.50 for box lunches and $7 to $15 for hot plate lunches, depending on the menu items chosen.
For more information, contact Chef Will Hutchison at 626-7279.
Food doesn’t have to be fatty to be good. The following is Chef Will Hutchison’s recipe for new potato salad with mustard and dill. Big on flavor, with just 111 calories and 3 grams of fat per serving, it’s bound to bring a smile to the dieting Southern food lover in your midst.
4 lbs. new potatoes
4 oz. imitation mayonnaise (no cholesterol)
4 oz. light sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1 green bell pepper, julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
4 oz. celery, julienned
Boil potatoes in salted water until done but still firm. Chill well and cut into quarters. Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, garlic, salt, black pepper, dill and mustard; mix well. Combine remaining ingredients and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serves 20.