Dillavou has worked in New York City restaurants Charlie Bird, Marea and Maysville, and opened a restaurant with friends in New Orleans before switching to Family Meal in 2020. PHOTO COURTESY OF PHILLIP DILLAVOU

Challenge accepted

Family Meals by Phil offers clean dining experiences

Working in a restaurant at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic must have been wild.

With so much uncertainty and awaiting decisions that likely left a person without a job, the stress levels are incomprehensible. Having a baby around the same time would have been wild times a million.

“That was interesting,” Phillip Dillavou said. “The week after we gave birth was the week they started not letting fathers in the delivery room.”

Dillavou and his wife, Kristen Bykowski, had their daughter Scarlet on March 27, 2020. At the time, the family was living in Connecticut, but both parents were employed in New York.

Dillavou was a cook, working the crazy hours demanded by the restaurant scene in New York, and just before having Scarlet, the couple tried to reconfigure that lifestyle to be a little more family friendly. Dillavou worked in sales for an oyster company for a bit, then the pandemic hit, and everything disappeared.

He started to notice that people around him were struggling, for many reasons, but a specific one being that they were no longer able to supplement weekly meals with a dinner out or takeout. Some families went from cooking now and again to being responsible for each meal, every day, while homeschooling and working from home.

“It really kind of started off as something to do for families that were just needing a little help cooking for the family, and that’s kind of where the name Family Meal came from,” Dillavou said. The other part of the name inspiration came from the family meal back-of-house staff partook in after dinner service.

Family Meals by Phil started as a way to help people in that situation, but also as a way to give those who did not go to culinary school the skills to make delicious meals themselves.

“I think so often chefs shame people for not knowing how to cook but if you go to college and you focus on finance or journalism and you decide to have a family in your mid-twenties, when were you ever supposed to learn to cook?” Dillavou asked.

The meals Dillavou started preparing for people came with instructions.

“You don’t have to know how to do this, you just have to know how to turn on an oven to 350 degrees,” he said, or how to boil a pot of water. It provided an evening of community once that became a bit safer and allowed people to shake off their stir-craziness with something different.

After wanting to move back West and fortuitously visiting over the summer, the family relocated to Big Sky this past fall.

Family Meals by Phil now offers a couple of different options in town.

Each week, a menu is provided on the business’s Instagram and website. This three-course meal’s price varies depending on the products used but is approximately $75 per person. A recent Sunday supper included a rigatoni Bolognese, charred brussels sprouts with almonds and Amaltheia Organic Dairy cheese and a roasted pear and spinach salad.

The bespoke services, as Dillavou described them, involve meeting with families or individuals and essentially creating a meal plan with them—learning of any allergies, likes and dislikes—then creating a menu. Dropoff meals range from $80-$120 per person.

Dillavou also offers more private dining options and cook-in services, which accrue an in-house fee. He described each selection as a way to branch out from the standard takeout, offering a meal that is cleanly made.

Much of Dillavou’s menu and wholesome cooking methods are inspired by his wife.

The couple are foodies, so to speak. They enjoyed traveling before the pandemic to places with a cuisine they wanted to try. They have eaten at six different Michelin star restaurants and enjoyed good wine with their dinners. Bykowski occasionally ended a workday with a glass of whiskey.

That all changed rather sharply with Bykowski’s Crohn’s Disease diagnosis.

“It was really devastating for her,” Dillavou said. A lot of the advice the couple received after the diagnosis was no’s rather than yes’s.

Working with a nutritionist, the two shifted to an anti-inflammatory diet for Bykowski to follow. It was a lot of white chicken, white fish, no dairy, no gluten and no sugar, Dillavou described. Keeping the low inflammation requirement in mind, Dillavou started to experiment. The answer isn’t necessarily ingredients, its technique,” he said.

For example, if Bykowski wanted a Big Mac, this is a bit what the thought process would look like:

Instead of using beef, use ground chicken. Add garlic powder, onion powder and other spices to flavor the meat. Without being able to use sugar, ketchup or mayo, take some yogurt and flavor with more garlic and onion powder, along with a reduced tomato paste to get that ketchup-y sweetness. Use coconut oil instead of butter and a gluten free bun.

Does it taste exactly the same as a Big Mac, Dillavou asked? Of course not. But the point is that eating became a challenge. One he accepted because he wanted his wife to continue enjoying food the way she did before her Crohn’s diagnosis.

“All I wanted to do was make sure my wife wasn’t stuck eating steamed chicken,” Dillavou said.

The concept of thoughtful preparation filters into Family Meals by Phil.

Dillavou commented on how the active lifestyle of Montanans lends itself well to clean eating. In some cases, clients even begin the conversation stating they want clean food—almost like they have to declare it first thing, he said, because the association of collaborating with a chef is butter.

“I just think being able to cook healthy for my wife has helped me and has helped my clients. So often I think people talk to a chef, and I worked in a pasta restaurant where I’d go through 18 pounds of butter a night, (and) chefs’ food is associated with unhealthy food,” Dillavou said.

Of course, he can prepare buttery cream sauces and meat-based dishes, too, if desired.

“In the end, like I said, it makes that request, that fear of when someone calls you saying let’s work together and there are nine allergies…you’re no longer paralyzed by, what am I going to cook them?” Dillavou explained.

It is more of a challenge accepted kind of mentality.

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