By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Eryka Perry has had fun cooking since she was a child and as a small business owner nothing has changed.
After obtaining her biology degree from University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2005, Perry decided to take a break before enrolling in medical school to attend culinary school at Culinard.
“I was like, ‘oh wait, people do this for a living?’” she said of cooking. “I fell in love with it.”
That led Perry, 34, to combine her biology and culinary backgrounds to create Not Just Catering, where she is the owner, head chef and health coach.
The company offers personal, private and traveling chefs, health coaches and small events catering, which offers services from two to 40 people.
Personal chefs provide menu planning, grocery shopping and food preparation. Traveling and private chefs travel with families on vacations, musical artists. Health coaches teach clients how to live a healthy lifestyle.
“Our mission is to bring families back to the table, and help people with healthy lifestyles,” she said. “We believe that means celebrating milestones, knowing what to eat, when to eat and why to eat.”
An important aspect of catering is flavors, Perry said. “Flavors are personalities [of food,]” she explained. “We really work on how flavors work together and how they fit people.”
Being in the U.S. Army from 2000-2008 allowed her to experience different foods and flavors from around the world, she said.
“I was in Bolivia when I was supposed to be at graduation (from UAB), I just received my degree in the mail,” she said. “If I could travel the world and eat good food, and listen to great music that would be a great life.”
Not Just Catering, which was founded in 2012, is rewarding because of its creativity, Perry said.
“We get to know our clients and feed them according to who they are,” she said. “And that’s fun.”
Not Just Catering is a great way to help families, especially in the African-American community, she said.
“So often we’re focused on how to eat, like we need to make money, that we don’t take the time to worry about what we’re eating,” she said. “We don’t take the time to celebrate and enjoy the moment.”
The company is great for busy parents, she said.
“It’s okay for you to come home and be tired, that’s fine; with us, your kids and spouse are going to be at the table waiting for you, ready to eat,” she said. “You don’t have to choose between ‘do I cook? or help the kids with their homework?’ You don’t have to fight that battle.”
Access to good food is also important, she said.
“A lot of our community lives in food deserts and does not have access,” she said. “However, if we understood food better, and knew better, we would do better.”
When she does demos, Perry said she introduces people to vegetables like swiss chard – along with kale, mustard greens and collard greens—is one of several leafy green vegetables often referred to as “greens – which can be bought cheaply and cooked in multiple ways in under three minutes.
“I also teach that if you buy younger collard greens you don’t have to braise them for hours, you can just marinate them and it’s much healthier for you,” she said.
Perry said she wants families everywhere to be healthy.
“We’re set up as an umbrella company, and each of our four chefs have their own thing,” she said. “My executive sous chef is owner of Ijuswanafeeja, which is in North Carolina.”
Perry said her company takes a holistic view on health. “A lot of people think healthy and they think salads, and we think about what’s complete that’s going to make a person’s taste buds happy.”
To contact Perry, go to Notjustcatering.com or email her at info@notjustcatering.