When Melaina Balbo’s commercial kitchen space in Lexington, Kentucky fell through, that twist of fate led her to Chef Space, Community Ventures’ kitchen incubator in Louisville. That fortuitous glitch put the fledgling business owner on solid footing as Balbo used knowledge gained through Chef Spaces’ interactive Entrée-preneur series—classes aimed at developing new food entrepreneurs—to launch Bis Kitchen’s inventive take on preparing authentic Italian meals at home. Bis, in Italian, means “to have seconds.”
“I’ve always been a good cook,” Balbo pauses and laughs before adding “’She said modestly.’ I’ve always loved to cook, and people tell me my food is good. I learned to cook working in the kitchens of my family’s New York restaurants.”
Balbo says Tom Murro, President of Chef Space, was instrumental in implementing her concept.
“The class was really helpful with technical issues like registering with the state, getting inspected, labeling, general food safety, plus it came with a free month of kitchen space,” Balbo said. “Tom seems always to be available and is really invested in helping all of us at Chef Space to do well. The staff is always helpful as far as averting or fixing problems. All the members are supportive of each other—there is a level of real comradery. That’s why I continue to drive to Chef Space instead of pounding down the door of the much closer kitchen in Lexington. I wouldn’t have had that kind of support from another commercial kitchen that isn’t an incubator.”
Balbo comes from a long line of restaurateurs, so she decided to put her knowledge to use, noting “One problem I see with (purchased) pasta sauce is that it is all processed to make it shelf-stable. No matter how fresh, organic, natural or non-GMO—they are all processed. The minute you unscrew the cap you see a film on top, plus processing really affects the flavor.”
Her idea took root in graduate school when Balbo’s parents would overnight soups and sauces frozen in dry ice because she didn’t have time to cook. When she realized no one really sold frozen pasta sauce, she decided to figure out a way to do just that. Professing a distaste for waste and noting that 40% of food in the U.S. gets thrown out, Balbo incorporated a fix for that problem as well.
“Unless you are feeding a family, or you want to eat pasta every day until it is gone you end up with a partially used jar in the back of your fridge that becomes moldy and gets tossed,” Balbo emphasized. Her solution is to freeze her products in cubes using molds of differing sizes depending on whether it is pesto, pasta sauce or broth that she is packaging, making it possible to prepare the exact amount and flavor of sauce needed for the number of people being fed and thus eliminating any waste.
Bis Kitchen’s products are currently available in central Kentucky at Good Foods Co-op, Wilson’s Grocery, Critchfield Meats, Café Emporio by Busalacchi as well as the Paris-Bourbon County Farmers Market. Balbo ships cross-country to Washington state to Vulca—the Smug Etruscan, with Taste on Elm in Northern Kentucky soon to come on board. Balbo is currently exploring her options in Louisville as well as working on shipping products direct to consumer.
To learn more about Chef Space, or to find out how Chef Space can help you achieve your culinary dreams, visit www.chefspace.org today.