As most of you know, our philosophy to be “healthy” at Eat Life Whole goes well beyond nutritious food on your plate. Every so often we share encouraging stories and tips to move and inspire you in other aspects of your life.
This month’s featured “EAT LIFE WHOLE-ist” is Claire Hoyt – founder of Big Dipper Baby Food in San Francisco, California. Inspired by food and raising healthy families, she made a huge leap this past year to leave her former career in Art Direction and start a new venture to help little people eat better. Checkout her delightful interview and photos from our recent visit to her commercial kitchen and storefront in Bernal Heights, San Francisco.
What is Big Dipper Baby Food?
Big Dipper Baby Food is fresh, organic infant purees. The fresh factor is what makes it so rare and really defines us. Unfortunately you can’t find readily available shops with fresh baby food for busy parents that don’t have time to make every meal from scratch. That’s where we came in. I think that our attention in recent years towards how we feed ourselves, (i.e. – seasonally, organic, fresh) needs to be applied to our babies.
In the past few months, the demand for our food has grown. We’ve received a lot of requests for fresh, organic children’s food as well. In addition to our infant purees, we provide really yummy kids meal boxes made with clean, whole food ingredients that parents feel good about. Our food is high-quality, prepared with love, and allows our babies and kids to comfortably explore new flavors.
Why is FOOD POWERFUL to you?
Really, it’s because of my mother. I grew up at her side in her restaurants, bakeries, catering businesses, and many dinner parties at our house with friends and family. She kept me close and taught me a lot. She was a big part of my social life when I was young. I think the fact that she was doing something that she was passionate about for a living brought our families and friends together. She always had me get involved and it definitely left its mark on me.
The whole aspect of bringing people together to feed them good, quality food eventually translated in my life as an adult when I had my son. It was very natural to make his food, and to enjoy it along with him! When I was challenged to cook for him at 13 months within some very tight guidelines due to a host of food sensitivities, I was determined to make food that was delicious, nutritionally balanced, satisfying and varied. It was fun to look to other cultures for inspiration. I started to incorporate ingredients like parsnips, coconut milk and fennel. I had to completely avoid things like potatoes (either sweet or regular), rice, milk, wheat, and many more typical jarred baby food ingredients.
It was really fun, and I think my family and my business are all the better for that challenge.
Did you always think this way?
I think yes. It has always been a big part of my gatherings with friends and family – to make good food and eat it together. I consider myself to be a true foodie. Before my son came along, there was a lot of trekking about, checking out classic and new food spots. I had a job that allowed me to travel, I lived in New York for a few years, and SF – so I was always exploring food and was inspired by the industry. It is always evolving. When my son came into the picture, I slowed down a bit and couldn’t explore the city as much, but born with him was my dream to build my own business.
What are your favorite seasonal flavors?
I love Fall. More than just about anything, I love roasted root vegetables – caramelized and crisped on the edges with lemon and herbs under a whole roasted chicken. But I also do enjoy Spring. Its fleeting and fresh fiddle head ferns and fava bean are such a welcome change from the heavy foods of winter. I guess I’m a fan of transition
Where do you go for culinary inspiration?
The San Rafael farmers market, the Asian markets in my neighborhood in the Outer Sunset, Avedano Meats and Sand Box Bakery in Bernal (where my store is).
I recently experienced some of Soulful Farms chicken, and subsequent stock and am completely converted. I love getting into the wine country as well. “Cook” in St. Helena, Taylors’ Refreshers Ahi Burger, and Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg are great too. These days, a night out in SF is almost unheard of. I’d be hard pressed to choose between Kokari, Incanto or Francis, and I stop any chance I get in the T.L. at Saigon Sandwich. More and more I am inspired by my shop neighbor Liz Storm of Pauli’s Pickles. She does all the salads and meats, including her own cured lox –REAL fresh tuna salad made from a whole fish not from a can, her own corned beef, and a killer brisket. She’s meticulous, and it shows in her food.
Who else is behind Big Dipper Baby Food? Any special taste-testers? Kitchen helpers? Family members that contribute to your success?
Obviously my son Forrest is my main muse! I’m also fortunate to have another young lass named Jemma that has been eating Big Dipper since her first bites. I am lucky to meet new inspiration and muses daily as my infant clients are strolled through our doors. But really Big Dipper would not be what it is without the invaluable help of my boyfriend and partner-in-crime, Kyle. He has supported this dream of mine since its inception. His MBA education was instrumental in helping me secure funding for Big Dipper. We share a house and a young son, and everything that comes with that. In launching a new business I’ve quite effectively thrown all of our schedules for a loop, and he is nothing but flexible and responsive. I doubt that I would be as graceful about it all if it were the other way around.
What a cool name. Tell us more about how you came up with that.
Naming the business reminded me of naming my son. It was the part that I thought would be the easiest and most fun, but when it came time to do so, I was overwhelmed with such a sense of pressure! I liked the idea of a spoon being a part of the name, somehow. Scoop, or Scoop SF? I really didn’t know.
One evening I decided to try a new approach. I needed to relax my mind, and see what came to me. I walked out into my back yard in Noe Valley. It had a magical view of the city below, and the stars above. And..I just looked up. I was metaphorically looking to the larger universe for some guidance, and found it there, literally. Big Dipper. I had found my spoon.
If you were granted 3 wishes for Big Dipper, what would you ask for?
The genie-in-a-bottle question for my biz, huh? Toughy!
First – I suppose it would have to be that I want Big Dipper’s fresh baby food to be a real competitor with the status quo – the status quo being shelved, stabilized overly processed baby food. That status quo just seems so dated at this point, and I want Big Dipper to help create new habits around how we feed our infants. And in the same vein, I want parents that are determined to feed their infants fresh food to look to us to share that work load and to recognize our products as one that meets their standards.
Second – I also want Big Dipper to be synonymous with some of the other movements aimed at nourishing people in healthy and sustainable ways. I’m looking forward to reaching out to the community and participating in events aimed at educating people about food and healthy families.
Third wish? – to somehow inspire my son while doing all of this. That one really should be first.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I suppose if I stepped outside of myself I would look at me and say that I am not the type to sit still very easily. I never clearly knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Instead, I focused more on the type of lifestyle I wanted to have. I am adventuresome, love a great challenge, and in the back of my mind, always had an inkling to have my own business. I have a vast array of interests, but it’s not because I am unfocused – it’s because I truly enjoy discovering the interconnectedness of it all – how one thing really does lead to another. I truly believe that I am where I am today because of decisions I made both last week and ten years ago.
You’re obviously going after your dreams. What advice can you give other people that are reaching for new goals in life?
Do it! But you must prepare for and embrace the challenge. It is hard, hard work, and lots of it! At the same time I do believe that really rewarding things don’t come without equal, if not more effort. It reminds me too of that saying about the importance of the journey, rather than the destination. The majority of our time is spent between goals and end points. That is where most of our living happens and its filled with change, instability, big highs and low. That’s all I can really say about it right now. I’m not even in the middle of my dream yet! I just started this journey with Big Dipper. I have these huge goals and visions for it, and then I am sobered by the fact that it is going to take tiny, day-to-day steps to get there. There’s just no getting around that fact.
School is about to begin. Anything new happening with your baby food or kids menus this fall?
There is! We have released our entire seasonal puree menu that parents can order from AND have it delivered to their homes both in SF and lower Marin. It is a great, customizable option for parents that ensures high quality delicious food for their infants and it’s always there when they need it. We also have our kids meal menu out for Fall (September/October) that parents, day-cares, and schools can order from for pick up or delivery as well! We are really excited to offer a local, artisan option for school lunches.