Fork It is coming upon its fifth year operating live, but the origin of our company goes back a few more years. A few of our customers remember the initial meals, in the burn unit at Loyola, that formed the roots of the company that Fork It is today. If you live in the Crystal Lake area or the suburbs around Chicago, you likely have heard of us, or maybe you’ve seen us on TikTok and Instagram. Either way, we often get asked about how long we’ve been open and how we got our name. So, here’s the story.
Jess was a nurse at Loyola before starting Fork It, and that’s actually where the whole thing got its start. She simply was making meals for the crew she worked with at the hospital, cooking each of her friends their favorite dishes. Over time the amount of people, and the amount of food increased - and her (great) friends started offering her money. At the hospital Jess was able to hone in her recipes and form a sort of sign up sheet for all of her coworkers. Other people became interested in signing up, but not just for themselves, for their neighbors, friends and family. Eventually the budding company was big in the hospital and the Maywood area.
Some of our favorite recipes, and the classic Fork It recipes that people know, come from this time. The recipes that Jess started making for her friends are the same ones that our clients enjoy today: turkey meatballs, stuffed peppers, pasta primavera…if it works, it works!
So, how does cooking for your friends become a business? Before Fork It actually became a business, Jess was cooking and bringing meals to the hospital for a year. The first 3-6 months at the hospital she started honing in her process: the sign up sheet, shopping on Saturday, cooking on Sunday, packaging properly, then having someone meet her in the garage at the hospital to bring everything inside. She said that somewhere in the process she was running numbers and realized she might be able to make a profit. The next 6 months were spent writing down the recipes, making the website, licensing, and finding a commercial kitchen while working full time at the hospital. August 2017 Fork It went live, online, social media and as an official business, and Jess quit nursing in 2018 to run the company full time.
We got lots of compliments…and comments, about the name ‘Fork It’. It’s brilliant, and has an edge. Before landing on that particular name there were a lot of different options... At Loyola, Jess, many of our customers may be conscious of her fire, had a strong vocabulary. Every few days someone would mark the amount of times she used a specific profanity, beginning with ‘F’ and ending with ‘K’. There was also another obscenity represented by EAD. With her coworkers and friends, one of Fork It’s possible names was, EAD (Excellent and Delicious, of course). Fork You was another option, which developed into Fork It with the help of Jess’s Dad and Brother, “I don’t wanna go out let’s just Fork It”. If you’re going to leave a solid career in nursing and you’re gonna take a leap, it has to be bold - so is the name.
As the company has grown, the goal has been to make the meals with as much fresh, local food, as possible - the goal was never to make diet food, but to have a well rounded diet, with vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates. Attempting to make Food as delicious, convenient and local as possible has been one of Jess’s favorite aspects of creating the company. Part of that involves getting to know local farmers, and forming real relationships. Making connections with farms and small businesses has been a crucial aspect of achieving healthy and diverse produce sources. It’s also been an interesting way of networking, not something nurses need to do. Web design and finance were a foreign part of running a business, and that’s why Joanne, Fork It’s co-founder, has been an integral part of the company since the very beginning. Spearheading the behind the scenes aspects that make a business run.
The end of the year is a busy season, but as we get into the run of the new year we have more time to diversify what we make for our customers. We have such a creative set of cooks in the kitchen, that every week a flight of ideas comes out. It’s often a conversation buzzing with “oh, but what about this, and what about this?” A lot of people may want to buy the same thing every week, but we hope our clients appreciate the diversity. When you are trying to cook food that flows with the seasons, that means you’ll be adapting to what is available, and that means each meal may be a bit different.
This somewhat connects to our charcuterie and grazing. The fun part about our grazing tables and charcuterie is that if you are trying to push the envelope you can. Not everyone wants to spend money on an expensive slice of cheese, but our tables allow you to try it, and if you like it you may be more willing to spend money on it for yourself if you know it’s good. Fork It originated as a company focused on meal prep, and has developed its palate quite a bit. We are excited to be connected to the community and to farmers to show people the beauty and value of food.
How to Choose Items for My Charcuterie Board?
When you are making your grazing board it can seem impossible to choose the right products. What are people going to like? What will look stylish and sophisticated? How much should I use? Here we will go over some of our favorite ingredients to use on our boards. We’ve also put them in order of how we place them on the board so you have an idea of how to start putting together your own charcuterie board.
Grazing Board: The Starters
The first two things we start with to frame our charcuterie boards are crackers and grapes. The grapes can be a beautiful filler piece, creating a magical and elegant look. If you want something extra stylish, choose lady fingers or concord grapes. Next, we’ll add a variety of cracker options from croccantini to water crackers, and even some gluten free options. Another great carb to add is sliced French bread. You can put them in messy piles or line them up just as they were in the box to create different looks.
Grazing Board: Meat and Cheese
Next, you’ll want to add cheese. Some of the staples of typical grazing boards include: a wedge of brie drizzled with honey and topped with berries and goat cheese with our famous apricot habanero jelly. Other cheeses you can use are a sharp cheddar or our drunken goat cheese with a red wine outer layer. The fun part of this is choosing a variety of colors and flavors.
After the cheese you can add the meat. We like to choose a mix of deli and sliced meats from mortadella to prosciutto, as well as different kinds of salami. You can find all kinds of salamis that can cover the palate spectrum from something spicy to something a bit sweeter. Have some fun and slice your meats in different ways to add extra texture to the board.
You can also find creative ways to fold your meats from the salami rose to the prosciutto rivers.
Grazing Board: Vegetables and Fruits
The next garnish that we like to add are vegetables and fruit. Some of our favorite veggies to choose from include: cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers. Our fruits vary depending on the season, but you can cut up melons and oranges, and add whole apples, pears, or plums to create some variety. Some of the very last things we like to add are a variety of berries from blueberries, raspberries and black berries. Berries sprinkled on top create a fun and dynamic look.
Grazing Board: Dried Fruits, Chocolates, Olives and Nuts
Some of the best filler ingredients and something to go a bit easier on include dried fruits, chocolates, and nuts. We like to add dried apricots or figs, a variety of nuts, and chocolates around the edge of the board or in a cute dish.
Olives are also a great addition of flavor to your board.
Grazing Board: Extras
Don’t forget to try our apricot habanero jelly, handmade in-house, by the jelly man. Keep an eye out for our post on the Jelly Man to learn all about how we got started with this incredible addition to our boards, one of the things that makes catering with Fork It so special. Our jelly is great when it covers a goat cheese. You can also try an almond hummus, one of our most famous extras, or a regular hummus to dip the veggies.
with Fork It Foods | Crystal Lake, Illinois
Now that you have an idea of how to put together a grazing board, you should be ready for your next party! If you still want to learn more, you can contact us about our workshops. We’ll help you learn tips and tricks on how to put a charcuterie board together and make it look extra special. You can even bring a box home to share your creation with your family and friends.
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