BY KATIE WOODZICK
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
November 25, 2015
It all started with pancakes.
As a little girl, Rio Rayne would watch eagerly as her mother made yeast pancakes on the weekends. After adding the yeast, the batter had to sit before frying the pancakes in butter.
“I was a kid so the wait felt like an eternity,” she said, smiling. “I remember them fluffy, yeasty and with plenty of butter and maple syrup.”
Rayne’s emerging interest in cooking only got stronger as she grew up. “When I was seven years old, I made my first full meal from a kid’s cookbook my aunt gave me,” Rayne said. Chicken enchiladas quickly became her specialty and remain a favorite for her to cook to this day.
In high school, Rayne created a cookbook of original recipes and took cooking classes as part of her senior project. She attended a Vancouver, BC culinary school in her mid-twenties, with aspirations to work in restaurant kitchens. After school, she moved to Napa, Calif. with her husband, Alvero, where they both worked in fine dining restaurants.
While she valued her restaurant experience and the skills it taught her, Rayne said she longed for a more personal connection with those for whom she was cooking. A local winery provided an employment opportunity for Rayne to make more rewarding personal connections with customers, as opposed to a fast-paced restaurant kitchen.
While the young chef transitioned into working for the local winery, her husband took a position in wine production. They found themselves so immersed in the world of wineries that they started plans to run their own winery. When land on Whidbey became available in 2008, the couple moved north to pursue Rayne’s dream of running a farm and winery.
Her childhood passion for cooking blossomed once again in 2013 when she was hired as a guest chef at Hedgebrook, the local literary non-profit and retreat that supports women writers. Cooking in Hedgebrook’s Farmhouse kitchen with the abundance of produce from the garden was a perfect fit for Rayne and inspired her to start a new business—Real Meals Whidbey.
After weeks of planning, Rayne finally launched the cooking and food delivery service earlier in November. Her customers include Hedgebrook alumnae as well as South Whidbey community members passionate about local, sustainable food she met through farming.
Rayne’s customers receive weekly emails that include a menu and ordering instructions. The menu changes and includes dishes like lamb curry, roasted beet and fennel soup, scalloped potatoes and double chocolate brownies. All menu items are gluten-free and Rayne works with Deep Harvest Farm, SkyRoot Farm and 3 Sisters Family Farms to source local, sustainable, organic ingredients.
“Real Meals is the sweet spot between the skills I feel I have to offer and a need I see in the community,” Rayne explained. “Cooking at Hedgebrook has provided me with some real insights into the challenges many people face when it comes to feeding themselves. I’ve witnessed how transformational it can be for people to not have to worry about cooking, and the spaciousness it creates in their lives. Through Real Meals, I want to provide a little slice of what Hedgebrook offers in taking care of people’s meals so they can dedicate their lives to the work they need to do in the world.”
Customers are already raving about Real Meals Whidbey. Hedgebrook alumna and Board Member and Founder of Giraffe Heroes Ann Medlock had this to say: “I knew Rio was a marvelous cook from enjoying her dinners at Hedgebrook. To have her using local, organic ingredients to make beautiful meals and bring them to my own door is kind of a dream come true.”
Rayne has found that customers not only want to order food for themselves, but also for their friends to keep them warm in the cold winter months. She has worked with customers to set up food funds for their friends and neighbors. Even though Real Meals Whidbey has just started, Rayne has clearly found her culinary niche on Whidbey.
“It’s such a privilege and a joy to cook with the abundance and beauty of our local produce,” she said.
Image at top: Rayne pulls cookies out of the oven. (photo by David Welton)
Katie Woodzick is an actor and director who can be seen on local stages and is the host of the Theatrical Mustang podcast: theatricalmustang.podbean.com. She can be seen next as Alice in “The Addams Family,” running at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, Dec. 4 through Dec. 19.
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