Maddalena Stancampiano needs an apprentice.
She’s got plenty of basil, lemon cucumbers and kale, but she’d like more time. She produces and delivers 15 to 20 plant-based, catered lunches each day, five days a week. She’d like to bump that up to 30, “or even 100,” she says, laughing with a shrug.
Stancampiano’s lunch delivery business, Luv Box, does not lack labor intensity. The chocolate chips embedded in today’s carrot-apricot pie crust start as raw, green cacao beans. The almond milk is homemade. Plums are picked at the neighbor’s. And Stancampiano’s tangled and fecund garden, which supplies 50% to 100% of Luv Box’s produce, is just another ingredient resisting mass production.
Today, Stancampiano glugs a stream of olive oil over red heirloom rice, no measuring, when her husband, Angelo, enters the commercial kitchen, formerly their garage, followed by their two children, ages 5 and 3. Angelo, having just downshifted working as a carpenter, is doing lunch deliveries today; they confer on timing and the kids follow him out like ducklings.
Many events conspired to create Luv Box. There were Stancampiano’s two decades as a chef and butcher; developing and running a raw food snack business out of Gunnison that retailed in Whole Foods; being a stay-at-home mom for five years; and contracting skin tuberculosis three years ago.
However, it may have begun in eighth grade, when Stancampiano read “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain. She was already enthralled by her after-school job in a bagel store in Palo Alto, California, and at 16, enrolled in the California Culinary Academy. After many years at the helm of high-end restaurants featuring late nights, heavy drinking and plying diners with indulgent, meat-centric meals, Stancampiano sought something more aligned with her values of environmental sustainability, health and availability to her family.
Stancampiano scoops mounds of red rice into stainless steel bento boxes, bought and owned by the customer and refilled by Luv Box via subscription program. Beside each scoop of rice is a dollop of whipped white beans flecked with sorrel. She takes a moment to comfort a crying child before sprinkling a potpourri of edible flowers on a multi-ingredient salad, which takes up the most space in today’s lunch. Each lunch contains a main dish, salad, low-glycemic dessert and drink – though because Stancampiano uses neither recipes nor rotating menus, there are never repeats.
“Sometimes I feel challenged. I think, ‘I should do more mainstream stuff,’” Stancampiano says. “But every lunch is focused around the principle that plant diversity is best for our overall health.”
Three years ago, Stancampiano contracted two types of skin tuberculosis which required IV antibiotics three hours a day for five months. “When the doc pulled the pic line out of my heart after five months, she says, ‘just eat some yogurt.’” Stancampiano’s already large eyes expand as if to say, ‘Can you believe that?’
Antibiotics likely saved Stancampiano’s life; she believes they also wiped out her mircobiome. The trillions of microorganisms in our gut, reproductive tract, skin, mouth and lungs, are known collectively as our microbiome. Studies suggest that a diverse microbiome supports immune system health, prevents auto-immune disorders and promotes mental wellbeing.
After healing from skin tuberculosis, Stancampiano consciously committed to building back her intestinal flora. “Everything I read recommended eating a diversity of whole foods, while minimizing sugar and processed foods. Two years later I’m digesting better, fighting colds well. I had people tell me I’d never be the same. I think I’m better. I bring these principles to my customers.” She believes the quality of her produce is directly tied to her soil, nurtured with regenerative practices, and fed every season with fresh compost she makes on site.
An added bonus, Stancampiano believes, to creating a healthy, resilient microbiome is that people’s digestion can suddenly handle foods that they may currently restrict, like gluten, dairy, eggs, corn and legumes. She finds it offensive that food fads are becoming so restrictive.
Stancampiano is packing lunches into coolers when her 5-year-old daughter wanders into the kitchen. Chewing on a Barbie doll’s foot, she stops under the dry erase board, filled with names of today’s customers, grabs a pen velcroed to the board and begins to write her name. Her brother pushes open the door and announces, “I didn’t like you pouring my trucks down there!” She pauses and replies, “I won’t do it again.” “Ok,” he says. Peace is restored.
Angelo sets off for deliveries – lunches are brought to eight spots in Durango daily – handing the kids off to Uncle Louie, who lives in an RV on the property. “I love you guys,” Angelo calls out to all available ears.
The bustling hum of the morning settles and Maddalena Stancampiano pauses for a satisfied moment. Bringing her vision to life has been a dream; and she could really use an apprentice.
Rachel Turiel blogs about growing food and a family at 6512 feet at http://6512andgrowing.com.