You grow up in Fluvanna County, graduate from the local high school, and you’re wondering, what am I going to do with my life? College is the next step—at least, it is for many people—so you attend Christopher Newport University, in Newport News. You study sociology and anthropology, and there’s one class, the anthropology of food, that you find really interesting. This is the first clue to your future: You enjoy learning about what people eat, how they produce and prepare it, the everyday rituals and customs of nutrition. In high school you worked in a couple of kitchens, including the one at Wild Wings Café. There might be a thread here but you don’t realize it yet.
You decide to leave college. You move to Charleston, South Carolina, living there for three years with a friend. In Charleston the food is amazing—so many good restaurants! But you feel the pull of home, and you’ve started dating someone in Charlottesville, so you move back, even though you’re still not sure what kind of work you want to do. You need to support yourself, so you take a nanny job you saw on Craigslist. You like the people you work for. They take you in, sort of like family. They have a personal chef but that doesn’t work out, so they ask if you would like to cook for them, too.
One thing leads to another, and you end up taking on a couple more nannying jobs. You also pick up more kitchen work, at Edible Arrangements. The food preparation there is like clockwork, precise, well-composed. Also, one of the families you nanny for has a beautiful kitchen, and you cook for them, too. On Tuesdays you go to Whole Foods, buy ingredients—healthy stuff, like whole grains and fresh veggies—and you cook in that kitchen all day. You make the same thing over and over again, a Mediterranean quinoa salad with a bunch of toppings. Someone else might find this monotonous, but not you. You’re learning knife skills, bulk preparation, and how to balance flavors, like the tangy lemon and rich acidity of the balsamic vinegar in the dressing.
While you’re helping this family to eat well, you decide you ought to do that, too. You discover the Whole30 program—it’s like paleo but even more strict. You eliminate certain things from your diet—sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, dairy—and you begin to feel…different. Better. You get into a routine, preparing food for the whole week, placing portions in containers and stocking your refrigerator.
Now you’re feeling really, really good. Boom! It hits you. Before, you were Della Bennett, a nanny and a cook. You were looking after others. But now you’re Della Bennett, looking after yourself.
Business is personal
“I prepared all of my food in advance, and it was always waiting in the fridge for me,” Bennett says. “That changed the game—changed my entire life, actually. Not even just the food and stopping eating certain things, but just having meals there in the fridge. It sparked this feeling in me: I want this for everyone. I want people to feel nourished and taken care of, even if they don’t like to cook or don’t have the time. I want everybody to feel this way when they open the fridge.”
Today, Bennett, 33, owns and runs the personal chef service Plenty, preparing and delivering food to as many as 30 clients a week. Since launching the business in January 2017, she has reached a point where she needs a bigger kitchen, and two delivery vehicles aren’t quite cutting it, so she’ll have to get a third, and eventually a refrigerated truck.
Of the many things that helped her achieve this, four really stand out:
1. Six months in the kitchen at Common House, working on the line for chef Antoine Brinson. From Brinson she learned that everyone in the kitchen is part of a single organism—they all work together, doing their own part, to create good food. Brinson also taught Bennett that as a cook, you have the opportunity to improve other people’s lives. “Working with chef Brinson was a great experience.” she says. “It propelled me and reassured me that I was going in the right direction, and that I had something positive to offer the community.”
2. Bennett’s partner, Kt Ehrlich, who is somewhat famous in Charlottesville food and art circles. Ehrlich gained a following as a bartender at Mono Loco and the Downtown Grille, and she’s now a glass artist, creating colorful, whimsical pieces as the owner/operator of Torchress Glass. She always has Bennett’s back, and helped her muster the confidence to start Plenty.
3. Instagram. Foodies love it, and it connects Bennett to clients and fellow cooks. “I really enjoy interacting with people there, and a lot of my clients follow me,” she says. “They send their requests and feedback, and tell me how they heard about me. I just really like that intimate interaction that I get. It’s the antithesis of having that jar of tomato sauce sitting on a shelf in the store, and you don’t get to interact with the maker.”
4. The families she nannied and cooked for upon arriving in Charlottesville—they got her started.
Here’s how the business works: Clients sign up on plentycville.com, and pay a one-time $50 fee to cover the serving dishes and an insulated bag. Bennett uses Pyrex and fills Mason jars with salads. On Wednesday, she emails the weekly menu to clients. It includes a quiche of the week, a couple of jarred salads, four entrées (chicken, beef, fish, and a vegetarian dish), and a dessert. “My menu is free of a lot of added sugars and preservatives,” she says. “It’s made from fresh vegetables and sustainably sourced meats. I’d like to move more in that direction, and do more farm-to-table cooking. I guess my meals are very veggie-friendly. There are some grains in there but no heavy pasta—I’m sure that’s what my clients are eating when they don’t order from me!”
The deadline to order is 9pm Friday—$50 minimum, and entrée offerings for two, four, or six people, with side dishes, ranging from $25 to $45.When all of the meals are ready, she parses them into individual orders, and then places them in the bags with ice packs. Monday morning she makes the rounds, delivering nourishment to people’s doorstep.
Bennett says she’s preparing to move into a bigger kitchen, a shared commercial space. She’s considering a couple of places, but she’s agreed not to mention them by name. Wherever she lands, we’re betting on her continued success.