For this latest installment of Creative Corner we spoke with Chef Jay Russo, FITfood founder looking to put a healthy spin on food delivery services. Combining his passions for culinary arts and clean eating, Chef Jay created FITfood to deliver fresh meals made with local ingredients to customers throughout New Jersey. With dozens of unique menu options and the convenience of an e-commerce integrated website, Chef Jay is helping to erase the stigma attached to healthy eating while growing FITfood into a meal delivery dynamo. Here, we talk to Chef Jay about what drove him to create FITfood, some of his client success stories, and what we can expect next.
Did a personal lifestyle change inspire you to start FITfood?
In so many ways, yes. After graduating culinary school, I started educating myself of the importance of putting whole food ingredients into my body. It was only a matter of time before what I was learning was demonstrated in the food I made.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I always enjoyed playing with food, trying new things. Plus, a hectic, fast-paced kitchen atmosphere suits my personality.
What sets FITfood apart from other delivery services?
Our continuous effort to showcase that clean eating isn’t just grilled chicken a bunch of different ways. We strive to add excitement and flare into both the meal prep industry, and delivery.
Your meals are more inventive than one might expect from typical health food – what inspired your creative flavor palette?
I think the answer is simpler than you’d expect. It’s simply thinking like a trained chef, but using fresh, real food ingredients.
You are always coming out with unique menu specials – how do you keep FITfood fresh and inventive?
I like to have the specials be in tune with the seasons. Often times that means starting with the produce. I’ll look at what my local farmers are growing and picking, and plan our specials from there. There’s a certain kind of old school charm I find in going back to our roots, using what is local and what is available to us in the area.
Where do you find your ingredients?
We work with over 120 local farms in NJ, NY, PA & DE. Every week we have the pleasure of seeing not only what the farmers are picking and providing to us, but what is growing on the horizon. It’s honestly one of the biggest joys of my job—getting those emails and seeing all the fun stuff these hardworking farmers are growing.
What does a typical “day at the office” look like for you?
Well, we cook & deliver 3 days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those days somewhat mimic the atmosphere of a typical restaurant. But we differ from them in that we cool our food after cooking it, then “plate” it in containers. Honestly the most hectic part of the day is when it comes time to bag all the orders, route the delivery drivers and make sure we get everyone out the door on time.
What made you choose an online business model for FITfood?
In some regards, I always wanted (and still want) your typical store front or restaurant. But right now that’s not what we’re about. We’re strictly delivery, and we’re not even technically “open” every day of the week. It just made most sense for people to be able to hop on the e-commerce integrated website at their convenience and order their meals.
FITfood started as a business of one and is now fully staffed – how do you handle the challenges of rapid growth?
Like any business, it has its challenges. We’re “fully staffed” but at the same time, we’re a small crew that’s capable of a lot. Being in the restaurant industry for a dozen years prior to FITfood has helped, as some of my help has stemmed from connections I’ve made in previous jobs.
If you had to eat the same meals every day for the rest of your life, which FITfood dishes would you have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
I’m particular to our breakfast burrito bowl, buffalo chicken meatballs, and our sundried tomato & artichoke heart stuffed chicken.
How do you find a healthy work-life balance?
Although things can be hectic and demanding, my work-life balance is probably better now than at any Chef job I held prior to this. We’re only in the kitchen a few days a week, whereas in prior jobs it was all day 6 days a week. Of course, on my end I’m still often “working” even when not in the kitchen, but fortunately its things I can often schedule at my convenience.
Do you have any notable success stories from your FITfood customers?
Plenty. One of the biggest joys of my job is the personally interaction I have with customers and I frequently have them share their success stories with me. It can be anything from losing weight, to having more time (and energy) to play with their kids. Each one seems to be unique and I think its so very cool.
What’s in the future for you and FITfood?
I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I’ve got a lot of ideas, and I’m sure some will materialize. In the meantime we continue to just try and push the envelope a bit, change people’s perception of what meal delivery can be.
To learn more about FITfood please visit http://fitfoodnj.com