She’s always had a fascination with food and the cooking process. But Katherine B. “Katie” Strickland said her recipe for starting a successful gourmet food delivery service in her native Birmingham, Alabama, may never have been complete without one key ingredient: her Mississippi State education.

“When I tell people that I went to Mississippi State, no one has ever said anything bad about the university,” said Strickland, the owner of Katie’s Plates and a 2013 cum laude food science, nutrition and health promotion graduate. “There’s also something about Starkville that’s just special, too. I think I am a true Mississippian at heart.”

Along with providing a supportive environment in which she could nurture her passion for cooking, Strickland said classes like professor Sylvia Byrd’s science of food preparation and instructor Renee Matich’s quantity food production and service classes helped her develop an interest in catering.

A summer job as a nanny, with food preparation being a primary duty, further honed Strickland’s interest as she entered her senior year.

“I was able to get the children of the family to eat foods they never would before,” Strickland recalled. “Their mom encouraged me to become a personal chef and suggested that I cook meals for five different families per week. I wanted to serve as many families in Birmingham as I could, so I took that idea and ran with it.”

With that, Katie’s Plates was born.


MSU alumna Katherine B. Strickland (top left and throughout) has found success in the competitive food industry through Katie’s Plates, her gourmet food delivery service. Working out of a Birmingham, Alabama, storefront she and her dedicated team of cooks and delivery drivers prepare convenient, pre-cooked meals for families and individuals in the area. The healthy and well-balanced meals allow her to share her lifelong passion for nutrition.

Since starting the gourmet meal delivery service two and half years ago in the one-oven kitchen at her mother’s condo, Strickland has experienced immense success as a business owner. Now operating out of a storefront in downtown Birmingham, she serves an average of 100 to 130 clients every night and is considering opening a location in Nashville, Tennessee.

Most of the inspiration for Katie’s Plates’ meals comes from recipes Strickland finds through Pinterest. Clients can purchase one to five servings for a lunch order, and dinner orders are available in single, couple and family sizes, as well as eight-serving “family-plus” portions. Healthy, freshly cooked breakfast, dessert and snack options also are available.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

1 medium spaghetti squash
2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter
2 cloves minced garlic
1 diced carrot
2 diced celery stalks
1/2 cup minced yellow onion
1 diced small red bell pepper
3 cooked and shredded chicken breasts
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup hot sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 whisked eggs

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Place the squash cut-side down on a baking sheet and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the skin gives when pressed. Remove the squash from the oven and reduce the temperature to 350°F.

3. Let the squash cool for 5 minutes, remove the seeds and use a fork to remove the threads. Place the threads in a large mixing bowl.

4. Melt the coconut oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, carrot, celery, onion and red bell pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the cooked veggies to the spaghetti squash.

5. Add the shredded chicken, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, hot sauce, mayonnaise and whisked eggs to the bowl. Mix everything together and pour in an 8-inch square glass baking dish.

6. Bake for 1 hour or until the top forms a slight crust that doesn’t give when you press in the middle.

“Sometimes, I like a recipe just how it is or I will change ingredients around to make it healthier,” Strickland explained. “We do new things almost every week, so it’s really fun.”

One of Strickland’s personal favorites is a buffalo chicken casserole. “It tastes like hot wings, yet it has veggies and even spaghetti squash,” she said. “It’s great because kids don’t even realize it’s healthy.”

Another Katie’s Plates’ best-seller is jalapeno popper chicken, which is breaded with almond flour and taco seasoning then filled with jalapenos and dairy-free cream and cheddar cheeses.

“A lot of our clients have dairy allergies and can’t have regular cheese, but they can enjoy this meal because it’s dairy-free,” Strickland said. “I’ve done this meal with regular cheese, and honestly, it’s way better with the dairy-free cheese.”

Asked how Katie’s Plates stands out from other food delivery services on the market, Strickland shared a few key differences. While other companies deliver boxes of ingredients for clients to use in preparing different meals throughout the week, Katie’s Plates delivers freshly cooked, ready-to-eat meals that can be enjoyed straight out of the packaging.

“One other cool thing about Katie’s Plates is that I have a degree in food, nutrition and health promotion from Mississippi State, so clients can trust that what they’re eating is healthy and designed for their nutrition,” Strickland said. “Ordering from Katie’s Plates also is great because you’re supporting a local business.”

Grateful for her hardworking cooks and delivery drivers, Strickland said she always is open to adding new members to the Katie’s Plates’ team. She often welcomes interns from both in- and out-of-state institutions of higher learning who are seeking hands-on experience in the food-service industry.

“I really want Mississippi State students to come intern with us at Katie’s Plates,” Strickland said. “This is a really fun place to work and because most of our interns want to have a job like this when they graduate, they’re getting great experience.”

Management responsibilities often keep her busy in the kitchen, so times when she is able to personally deliver meals have become special for Strickland. Having the support of fellow Mississippi State alumni in the Birmingham area is icing on the cake, she said.

“One night, I was short a driver, so I made deliveries. When I got up to one of the houses, the man who came out recognized me and asked me to wait a second while he went back inside,” Strickland said, recalling how the gentleman returned with a magazine produced by Mississippi State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“There was a story about me in the magazine, so he asked me to sign my name on it for his wife, who is a Mississippi State graduate,” Strickland said, adding with a laugh, “I got to sign an autograph while making a delivery. That was cool!”

To this day, Strickland attributes her ability to manage a growing business to her Mississippi State education, as well as a beloved childhood hobby.

“When I trained horses growing up, I learned about responsibility and the importance of being fearless,” Strickland said. “With catering, we’re on a deadline every single day, so I have to make sure I properly manage my time and staff. I’m glad my mom let me work with horses when I was younger because what I learned has helped me so much with my business. I feel very lucky.”

Want to see more of Katie’s Plates? Like Katie’s Plates on Facebook or follow @katiesplates on Instagram and Twitter.


By Sasha Steinberg, Photos by Beth Wynn