Aileen Kruidenier of Eilo’s Kitchen on food as medicine, micro-sourcing and cooking in an Airstream.
Aileen Kruidenier is the founder and owner of Eilo’s Kitchen; the hippest, healthiest mobile catering service in Southern California. Inspired by her grandmother, a background as a certified health coach and a pesky diagnosis of Lyme disease, Aileen opened Eilo’s Kitchen on Earth Day, April 22, 2018. It’s one of the first full-sized commercial kitchens to operate in an Airstream in California. And by a full-sized commercial kitchen, I mean it actually has a walk-in fridge. It’s an impressive vehicle to deliver food to satisfy all diets. Paleo, vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free? Sure thing. Eilo’s has you covered, inviting you never to sacrifice flavor or quality to eat the way that makes you feel the best. (Hint, their dedication to health is strong, down to the sugar-free ketchup). They cater, quite literally (you can book them for your next party), to diets that have long excluded some from the dinner table. No longer. This is real-food catering in the most Pinterest-worthy mobile kitchen out there. I sat down with Aileen to get the scoop on Eilo’s Kitchen to learn how it went from a dream to an Airstream.
Q: I think I have the Cliff Notes version of Eilo’s conception story: Your diagnosis of Lyme disease helped reinforce your focus on good food as a foundation of health, and at Eilo’s you aim to show that healthy food can taste great and leave you feeling your best too. Because your illness in part instigated your creation of Eilo’s can we talk about food as medicine? You are a certified health coach, can you share more about your personal journey with Lyme disease and the effects you feel from adopting a healthy diet?
Aileen Kruidenier: When I was diagnosed with Lyme disease it was interesting because the doctor told me that I had the worst results she had seen, but I was the highest functioning. She asked me my secret, and I told her that I just live a very healthy lifestyle. Not knowing what was making me sick, I had already changed so much in my life regarding my diet, and it was funny because up until my diagnosis I thought my body was failing me, but at that moment I learned that it was actually supporting me. Lyme disease affects people in different ways, and there still isn’t a lot of concrete ways to treat it. With this information in mind, I knew I could do even more to support my health. So at that point, I continued to eat a really healthy diet, but I started to focus more on where my food was coming from. Before that I wasn’t really paying attention to my ingredients — is it local, is it organic? Was my meat pasture raised, hormone and antibiotic free? These things matter, and that’s when I really noticed my health improve. My food was my medicine.
Q: Now take me back to that moment in time when you decided to share your passion for healthy cuisine and dive into the arduous task of creating a healthy eatery. Your roots are in Arizona, were you involved in the food industry in Arizona before moving to Southern California?
AK: My husband was involved in a sushi chain called Sushi Brokers, but it’s so different from what we’re doing now. When we first moved to Orange County, we saw a lack of mom and pop concepts, and we couldn’t find a lot of options for restaurants that worked with allergies. Our boys were diagnosed with Lyme disease as well, and it was tough to take them to restaurants, so that’s truly what inspired us to move forward and create this concept because we started noticing that there were a lot of families like us. We wanted a concept where people could have fun and enjoy the food, but also trust that they are getting the best possible ingredients, without cross-contamination. Trust is very important; I get calls from people saying that they have an EpiPen for a particular allergy, and they ask me, will I be ok eating your food? It is amazing how many people out there have allergies, and fear going to restaurants because they may get sick and have to deal with the aftermath. We also noticed that when you have an allergy, you feel like you’re removed from the community because so much happens around the table and around food, and so we felt like inviting people back to be apart of the community to share food again.
Q: You named Eilo’s Kitchen in honor of your grandmother, Eileen. What is her influence on you and your business?
AK: When we decided to move forward with Eilo’s it seemed so fitting to have her name involved. Her name means light and bright, which is perfect for our business. She was sick with cancer at the end of her life and in hospice care when she started painting the most beautiful paintings of places she’s visited. We have an incredible painting of the Lone Cyprus in Pebble Beach on 7-mile drive. We had no idea about her talent; this was the first time anyone had seen it. I asked her “Why didn’t we know you had this talent?” And she said, “Don’t wait until you’re an old lady like me to share what you have to share with the world, go and do it when you know the time is right.” When we decided to move forward with Eilo’s, we thought, well I think this is what she was talking about! I always feel like she has a hand in my life. When something cool happens, I think she must have been a part of it.
Q: As you’re well aware, opening any new dining concept has its challenges. I understand that Eilo’s Kitchen started as a brick and mortar concept, intended to go that direction in the future, however, until you find your home, your mobile Airstream kitchen accomplishes something special and unique— full-service catering of healthy, tasty dishes, brought straight to you in a fun mobile environment. It’s a Pinterest page dream with so many personal touches. Your Airstream is the first full-sized commercial kitchen in the state; tell me more about its design. Any particular features that make people say, wow?!
AK: People are really surprised that it’s a full-size kitchen because most people feel like it’ll have a mini version of everything. We even have a walk-in. The quality of the space is amazing, as well as how much we can produce out of it. I don’t think people expect to see what they see. It’s not your average mobile food experience.
Q: Tell me about the menu you created with the talented Chef Kathy McKnight. I love that “healthy” can include a burger!
AK: Eilo’s is a Paleo template, meaning we take a flexible and individualized approach to our menu with an equal focus on veggies and well sourced, pasture-raised animal proteins. We know that eating healthy isn’t about depriving yourself. I always encourage people to listen to their body because there’s no one right way to eat if you focus on the sourcing. If you’re eating the best quality food and listening to your body, how can you go wrong? That’s why some of our menu items have little bunny ears next to them, to say, listen to your body, what does it need today? I do believe that certain ways of eating work for some people and not others, so it’s really in the micro-sourcing of ingredients that we place our focus. We have some people who come to us who haven’t eaten a burger in 20 years, but they trust the quality of our meat from Stemple Creek. They eat it and do fine because there aren’t any additives, or vaccines and antibiotics.
Q: Which leads me to ask; What is micro-sourcing?
AK: It’s our term to describe the care we put into selecting our hyper-local ingredients, and the importance we put on eating in-season foods in our region. We find the people closest to us who make the best possible product. Our veggies come from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, our poultry comes from Primal Pastures, and our meat comes from Stemple Creek to name a few.
Q: I think there is a misconception that eating healthy is harder because it isn’t convenient — especially for today’s non-stop families. For those looking to make a lifestyle change, do you have tips on how to turn pizza night into a better-for-you option?
A: I think the mindset for a healthy diet isn’t about taking away, but instead it’s about replacing something with a better option. For instance, you can have pasture raised meats, and local organic veggies delivered right to your door. Or you can make a fun family activity by visiting your local farmers’ markets. I find that my kids appreciate healthy food more when they get to pick it themselves. It isn’t about taking away pizza night entirely because you’ll end up feeling deprived, its about finding ways to swap out a healthier version. That’s the starting point, and that’s what I love to help people do.
Q: Tell me, if I were to barge into your home right now, what would I find in your fridge and pantry? Any go-to recipes that you find yourself making time and time again?
AK: In my home, you can find many of the ingredients and dishes that we serve at Eilo’s. It truly is that special to me. We don’t offer anything that myself and my own family don’t eat. A family favorite is our chicken cutlet sandwich. We always have our super seed mixture for the sandwich ready to go. Its made from hemp and flaxseed and we cook it in coconut oil, and the kids think that it’s a chicken nugget because it’s so crispy and crunchy. We make this a lot and put it in everything from sandwiches to salads to tacos.
Q: I think we’re all dying to know. Apart from catering gigs where can the general public find Eilo’s Kitchen? Any cool initiatives on the horizon?
AK: We do many collaborations at The Ecology Center, and we’ll be at The Ecology Center for Green Feast in September. Hopefully, we’ll be in our own brick and mortar cafe space soon where we plan to have a market for grab-n-go items as well. For now, hire us, and we’ll come to you!