Archive for Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The queen of slice and dice

January 24, 2007

A mother of three, Shannon Herring knows what it feels like to come home after work and not want to cook.

"I usually put something in the Crock-Pot before I leave, but I do have a love for cooking and I love to see people enjoy their food," said Herring, a rural Lansing resident.

Five years ago, Herring melded those passions into her own busy lifestyle and launched It's About Thyme, a personal chef service.

As a personal chef, Herring first meets with clients to discover their culinary favorites. Then she buys the groceries and returns to her clients' kitchens, where she prepares a number of meals that can be frozen, refrigerated or baked immediately.

Herring came up with the idea after spending six years as a home-health nurse in Texas and Leavenworth County. That career, she said, demonstrated to her how eating poorly can affect one's health.

Brittle bones, diabetes, chronic illnesses and swelling throughout the body were just a few of the problems her patients suffered because of poor nutrition, she said.

"I found that the nutrition of the elderly was terrible," Herring said. "I wanted to be able to help not just the elderly, but families to be able to eat in their own homes together and not be in drive-throughs."

Herring's personal chef business led her to explore other business ventures. Eventually it brought her to Social Suppers, a "make-and-take-home" kitchen franchise she purchased this week.

As a franchisee, Herring will reverse the tables by inviting customers to visit her kitchen, where they will assemble meals from a regularly evolving menu.

Herring plans to open Social Suppers in March or April at 620 Cherokee, in downtown Leavenworth. She'll continue with It's About Thyme, but her focus will be on the new business.

The Social Suppers franchise began in North Kansas City, Herring said. She researched it for two years before she decided to launch her own kitchen.

"Social Suppers is a make-and-take (concept)," Herring explained. "You have a menu and you choose from it, and the customer comes in and makes it. They can make up to 10 or 12 menu items in less than two hours."

For example, she said, a customer who wants tacos would assemble a kit from a buffet of browned and seasoned beef, tortilla shells, shredded lettuce, grated cheese, diced tomatoes and other condiments. At home, the customer would reheat the beef and serve.

"There's an ingredients list that tells you exactly what you need," Herring said. "An entree would serve 6 to 8 people, and the (costs) are about two to three dollars per serving."

Other menu options might include white chili, chicken enchiladas and lasagna.

"I'm going to try to offer whole-wheat pasta as well as regular pasta ... healthier versions of old favorites," she said, adding that her menu also will skimp on preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Family time

Herring said she hoped her business would offer customers a way to save time and money while having fun.

"One of my goals is to help people to eat better by taking some of the work out of it," she said. "I want them to have fun bringing their family together to eat. I don't want it to be a chore."

Herring said Social Suppers would minimize customers' trips to the grocery store and allow them more time with family and friends -- whether it's assembling meals as a group in her kitchen or eating together back at their homes.

Herring developed a taste for the joy of feeding others when she lived in Texas during her early 20s.

"There was always something in my refrigerator and there was always someone there to eat it," she said. "And that's kind of how my love of food kept growing because people always came, and I thought I must be doing something right."

But Herring's interest in cooking sparked much earlier, and she hopes Social Suppers will help others develop that passion.

"My mom worked in the restaurant business," she said. "Probably the first thing I cooked was toast, but then rice and biscuits. It just kind of developed from there."

At the Herring home, the joy of cooking certainly has caught on.

The kitchen always is open to Herring's children, son Chase Zinser, 10, and daughters Shelby, 8, and Chloe, 2.

Pizza pasta salad is Chase's favorite dish to prepare and Shelby's is mini meatloaves.

And Chloe's tiny hands already help by performing tasks such as drying tomatoes and washing cilantro.

"They're at the point now that they want to do it themselves," Herring said. "Chloe insists on doing it. If I'm making something, she's in there. The older ones -- they like to get a cookbook and do it themselves. I'm really proud of them. They're really taking it on."

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