Foodie Friday today features Kelsey Casselbury, owner of Kelsey Jean Creations. Kelsey is a freelance writer, editor and designer who’s well known in foodservice public relations circles as an editor and also a board member of the International Foodservice Editorial Council. She also loves to travel and especially to Italy, or New York City to enjoy Italian food and theater. What makes Kelsey unique though is her special affinity to school lunch programs and nutrition. Read on to see her challenge to all of us foodies.
What is your role in the food industry?
As a freelance writer, editor, and designer, I have a finger on many industries, but one of my favorite roles is serving as a contributing editor for School Nutrition magazine. Previously, I worked on staff as the food editor (and currently as a contributing health and beauty editor) for What’s Up magazine, a regional publication in Annapolis, MD. Because I have such a strong interest in food and nutrition, a lot of my writing for that client leans in the direction of how food affects health. I am also on the board of directors for the International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC) and have been lucky enough to be able to write about food, wine/beverages and nutrition for a variety of other websites and print publications over the years.
How did you first get involved in the food industry?
As a broke copy editor for a small newspaper (my first job out of college) during the recession, I got very interested in cooking inexpensively. I asked another editor if I could write a twice-monthly column for our lifestyle section about whether it was cheaper to make or buy certain foods, such as bagels, spaghetti sauce, jelly, etc. I also started a very amateur food blog on the newspaper’s website. I parlayed that experience into the food editor job in Annapolis, where, luckily, I didn’t have to focus quite so much on budget food!
What/who inspired your current role in the food industry?
Without a doubt, Patty Fitzgerald, staff vice president of communications and marketing at the School Nutrition Association and the editor of School Nutrition magazine. She’s not only helped me understand and fall in love with the world of school meals but also served as an incredible editor, mentor and friend. Both Patty and Maria Robertson, the former SVP of communications for SNA, who hired me at SNA in 2012, showed me how effective, kind and trusting bosses can make a person love coming to work each day and aspire to do their best.
If you had one message for people who don’t live and breathe food like we do, what would that message be?
It’s not so much a message as a lack of understanding. People say that they forget to eat when they get busy. That’s a mystery to me.
What food trends are most influential in what you do?
Generally speaking, trends in restaurants trickle down into the K-12 segment, so I’m interested in anything that can be adapted to a school setting. The creativity of school nutrition professionals to adapt trends in an effort to increase participation in their programs is nothing short of amazing.
As a health editor, I keep my eye on food trends that intersect with wellness. For example, like so many others, I’ve been intrigued by the exponential growth of CBD-infused products and the effect it can have on both physical and mental health.
Finally, on a personal level, I’ve enjoyed seeing the growth of making good food more accessible through services like Instacart and DoorDash or Uber Eats. Even though I am lucky enough to work from home, I don’t like taking time from my workday or time from my family on weekends to grocery shop, so I love that I can just put an order together and have it delivered from, say, Wegmans. And now that DoorDash has expanded to my suburban area, I can order pho from my favorite Vietnamese place that has never delivered in the past whenever I want!
What is the most significant change you’ve seen in the food industry?
A great emphasis on where food comes from and sustainability practices.
Describe a food fad/trend you would love to start.
I’d love to see people take on a school meals challenge—making a lunch that includes a protein, whole grains, fruit and vegetables for a little more than $3 per serving that also adheres to the federally mandated nutrition standards regarding calories, sodium, fat, whole grains, etc. I know that it would be really difficult for me to do on a daily basis!
What keeps you motivated as a food professional?
Hearing from readers that the ideas or information that I’ve shared in a magazine or on a website has helped them in some form.
What’s your favorite food to make at home?
I rarely make the same recipe twice—maybe it’s a casualty of being a member of the Pinterest generation. However, my friends and family love when I make lasagna soup, which is just essentially deconstructed lasagna made with sausage, mushrooms, onions, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, chicken broth and farfalle, plus seasonings. At the end, I swirl in a couple of spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and sprinkle mozzarella on the top.
What’s your favorite meal to order in a restaurant?
Anything with seafood.
What three foods/ingredients could you not live without? Why?
Olive oil, onions and garlic are fairly standard answers, so in the name of being a little less predictable, I’ll say tapioca flour (an excellent, inexpensive thickener), crushed red pepper flakes for a little spice and sesame oil, which always seems to make Asian-style dishes a little bit better.
My first night in Rome, Italy, at Hosteria La Vacca M’Briaca, eating tonnarelli carciofi e guanciale (tonnarelli with artichokes, bacon and pecorino).
Tell us about a memorable meal you’ve had.
Here’s the scene: March 2018, Sorrento, Italy. A restaurant, O’Puledrone, down by the pier with a view of Mt. Vesuvius across the water. The weather is overcast but warm enough to sit outside without being chilled. Three close girlfriends, a carafe of wine and bruschetta and pasta to share, including a mushroom pasta that I will never forget.
Amusingly, our dinner that same night was memorable for a different reason—we were back in Naples at a restaurant where the staff didn’t speak a modicum of English. A friend ordered pizza con salsiccia e patate and was served a pizza topped with sliced hot dogs and French fries. Were they trolling the Americans? We will never know.
Who in the food industry do you most admire? Why?
There are so many school chefs that are doing amazing work in schools. I’m lucky to have developed a working relationship and friendship with chef Sharon Schafer, SNS, who is currently the director at Gretna Public Schools in Nebraska. I’ve watched her take her career in multiple directions while staying true to who she is and what she believes in, which is serving good food to kids in schools, all while raising a family. She’s always around to answer my questions about the nitty-gritty of school meal regulations, as well as giving me much-needed parenting advice about raising my own 4-year-old son!
What food or meal makes you happiest? Why?
Snow crab. There are generally only three occasions where I eat it, so it means one of three things:
It’s somewhere around Christmas Eve, and my husband and I are enjoying our tradition of snow crab legs, steamed shrimp and fondue while watching “Love Actually.”
I’m in Fountain Hills, Arizona, near my hometown of Scottsdale, and I’m at the local resort where we hosted our wedding’s rehearsal dinner. The attached casino offers snow crab legs on certain nights, and they’re just delicious.
I’m home alone overnight — a rarity when you have children — and snow crab legs are on sale at a local grocery store, so I treated myself!
Tell us about food or ingredient would you never use or eat.
I’ve had a texture issue with beans since I was a child. Although I’ve grown enough that I can eat garbanzo beans without issue and black beans are tolerable in a mixed dish, I generally avoid the rest whenever possible.
Where would you most like to live? Why?
I’ve always been a New York City kind of girl. I got pretty lucky—my parents moved there for two years while I was in college, and I was able to live with them while doing an editorial internship at The Knot between my junior and senior year. I have long been a musical theatre geek (I minored in theatre in college) and Broadway-obsessed. The most memorable day of 2018 — other than that week in Italy — was last October, eating dinner at Becco (Lidia Bastianich's restaurant) and seeing Hamilton.
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