Wednesday, November 21, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 37
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Eat good, feel good: Sexy Eats' Dannika Stefano offers inventive dishes in her meal prep service

Rebecca Rose


DIVERSE OPTIONS
Sexy Eats offers pre-made meals in a variety of cuisines including Asian fusion. Owner Dannika Stefano, who was once the private chef of The Tonight Show announcer Ed McMahon, was heavily influenced by the cooking of her Filipino grandfather.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF DANNIKA STEFANO

Dannika Stefano had big dreams for herself growing up in Guadalupe. The makeup artist-turned-private chef spent her youth dreaming of going to Hollywood to pursue her dreams. 

"I was in the beauty industry doing makeup for a long time, since getting out of high school," she said. "I came to Los Angeles to pursue acting and singing."

It was there that she landed a job as the private chef to television personality and former The Tonight Show announcer Ed McMahon (who died in 2009). Stefano said McMahon's wife was such a fan of the sample meal she prepped for the couple during her interview, she hired her on the spot and invited her to move in with them as their personal chef. She was just 19 years old at the time. Stefano learned her cooking skills from her grandfather, part of a family that loved cooking and food.


GUILTLESS DONUTS
Through Sexy Eats, Dannika Stefano creates Pronuts, a “guilt-free” baked doughnut made with her own specially made oat flour, protein powder, and almond milk.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF DANNIKA STEFANO

"My grandfather is from the Philippines," Stefano said. "When I was younger he had me in the kitchen, cooking with him. Food was his passion. Everything he ate was grown from his garden and he would catch his own fish."

Years later, after having children, she moved back to Santa Maria and opened a makeup studio. She enjoyed the work but found balancing a family and professional career challenging. 

"It was hard for me, traveling and doing weddings," she said. "I was lugging my babies around ... it just got tiring for me."


FOOD FIRST
Dannika Stefano said she launched Sexy Eats as a way to harness her cooking talents and be able to spend time with her three children. She offers pre-prepared meals in various packages for clients exclusively through her Instagram page.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF DANNIKA STEFANO

So she started making pre-prepped meals for herself, packaging groups of meals at once, to help her regular week be easier to manage. The food–meals built off her own family recipes and designed to help her lose weight after giving birth–caught the attention of friends and co-workers.

"My friends started asking me about it," Stefano said. "I was dropping pounds despite not having the time to workout as much. I told them it was just because of the food I was eating."

She started posting pictures of the meal prepping online and began to gain followers. After getting enough inquiries, she finally decided to start selling her meals, launching her business as Sexy Eats. She said the name comes from believing that if you feel good about what you eat, you'll feel good about the way you look.

Today she runs her business almost entirely off of her Instagram account, which she said has gotten a lot of attention for her posts on fitness and clean eating. Sexy Eats offers a variety of packages built around what meals customers want prepped for them during the day as well as their own culinary tastes. 

Meals on the go
Sexy Eats accepts orders and inquiries through Instagram only via instagram.com/sexy.eats/.

In addition, Stefano also preps meals for people who are on custom diets such as keto, plant-based, vegan, and more.

"I will pretty much do any plan that anybody needs or wants to be on," she said. "I'm not a physician or a doctor and I tell people that. But I let them bring their plans to me and see what I can do."

A lot of her meals are Asian-fusion, influenced by her Filipino background and her love for Korean food and other styles. She also makes soul food and Southern food, including a spin on fried chicken with macaroni and cheese.

"I've come up with this cauliflower mac and cheese everyone is going crazy for," Stefano said. "I also do a low-carb 'fried' chicken which comes with veggies, too. It's not deep fried; it's all baked. I do it with Japanese panko breadcrumbs ... they're not as heavy as using regular bread crumbs."

All of her dishes, including specials like Korean short ribs with jalapeño fried rice, are low fat and low carb. Stefano said she never set out to deliberately offer health-conscious food; it was just her natural style of cooking and eating. She said she struggled with her weight growing up and eventually tried eating plans designed for bodybuilders, consuming lean meals such as chicken and vegetables.

"I did lose a bunch of weight," Stefano said. "But I thought, this isn't going to be my life. I started having to make my food for what I liked but wasn't processed from a box or from [a restaurant]."

But that doesn't mean she hasn't found ways to indulge. One of her most popular items is a product she calls "pronuts." Pronuts are doughnut-inspired treats that Stefano makes using her own oat flour, protein powder, egg whites, and almond milk. For frosting, she uses sweeteners such as Stevia or maple syrup to avoid refined sugars. 

The future of Sexy Eats includes pop-up restaurants in and around Santa Maria as well as partnerships with local gyms, where people can try her foods like pronuts and ask questions. The goal of her business, she said, is to help people with their eating habits as well as the mental aspects of how they see food.  

"I'm trying to teach people what I wish I knew when I was struggling," she said. "That's what I want to do." 

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is a sexy eater. Contact her at rrose@santamariasun.com.

 


Presqu’ile Wines
PHOTO COURTESY OF PRESQU’ILE WINERY

Presqu'ile Winery is running case specials (12 bottles) for the upcoming holidays. Deals included 2014 Presqu'ile Vineyard chardonnay cases for $400, 2014 Presqu'ile Vineyard pinot noir (pictured) cases for $540, and mixed cases of both varietals for $470. The tasting room is located at 5391 Presquile Drive, Santa Maria.

Natural Cafe's albacore sandwich (pictured) is made fresh daily with mayo, pickle relish, and onions, served on whole wheat bread with mustard and fresh sprouts. You can get it with a bowl of one of their daily soups for $10.89 at 2407 S. Broadway, Santa Maria.

• The time is right to get your hands on some new brews at Barrelworks by Firestone Walker Brewing Company. ZinSkin Batch No. 3, a wild ale fermented with zinfandel grape skins, and El Gourdo Batch No. 4, a wild ale made from roasted pumpkins, are both available for purchase. The taproom is located at 620 McMurray Road, Buellton.

• Drumroll please! Hill Haven Provisions now offers bahn mi, made with chicken, a house made ponzu sauce, daikon, carrots, cilantro, and roasted peanuts. All yours for the taking for $14 at 448 Atterdag Road, Solvang.


Natural Cafe - Albacore Sandwich
PHOTO BY REBECCA ROSE

Niya Restaurant in Orcutt has a new menu item, pork bao sliders. Made with a plum reduction sauce, the sandwich features crispy pork belly, pickled veggies, and candied plum slices on a bao bun with cilantro and basil. Sounds good! Check them out at 205 E. Clark Ave.

• Learn all about cheese pairings on Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. with Cailloux Cheese Shop. The workshop features tastings as well as tips and tricks for perfect pairings. It's $25 per person; get tickets online at caillouxcheeseshop.com.




Weekly Poll
What do you prefer on your Thanksgiving table?

Turkey.
Holiday ham.
Tri-tip.
Tofurkey, please!

| Poll Results