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Andersonville Chef Works With WGN Meteorologist Tom Skilling On Personal Weight Loss Quest

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Patricia Butkus and Tom Skilling

Patricia Butkus was a little girl when she began watching her grandmother prepare homemade soups and baked goods. Later on, the Andersonville resident attended Kendall College in Evanston to attend a culinary arts program. Since then, she’s worked in recipe testing and development; owned an upscale catering and event planning company serving Chicago and the North Shore; and was a house manager and chef.

Since the start of this year, however, Butkus has developed a small but growing list of set clients for an in-home, “stock your refrigerator” concept that focuses on high-quality, seasonal food that is built around personalized customer service. It’s called Seasoned Kitchens.

The long-time chef is now also preparing meals for Tom Skilling, WGN-TV’s Chief , in his determined quest to lose weight, improve his health and make a permanent lifestyle change.

“He’s happy because he’s seen results, he feels better, and his clothes fit better,” Butkus said on June 3 at La Colombe in Andersonville. “It started in February or March. I worked with his doctors at Northwestern to make sure that Tom’s food plan is part of his overall health plan.”

Once a week, Butkus drops off four days’ worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, as well as snacks, at Skilling’s residence. “I always throw in soup and a salad,” she said. “Lunches are wrap sandwiches or are substantial salads where the focus is on no preservatives and fresh foods. If anyone has any special dietary needs, allergies, or is on the paleo diet, for instance, I really pay attention to those needs. It’s basically like having your own private chef for your own private needs.”

Butkus said when she meets with potential clients to review their food and health goals, she learns what foods they do and do not eat. “The one thing that really surprises me is the specific needs of each diet, of what each person wants to consume,” she said. “Everyone wants to eat more healthily. I don’t do desserts or anything else. People want to know how they can improve their diets.”

If a client particularly likes a recipe, then she’ll make sure it shows up a little more frequently as a staple of their menu rotation. Skilling likes turkey meatloaf, and so Butkus might incorporate that dish into his meal plan twice per month, for instance.

But Butkus mainly aims to prepare meals for people who don’t want to give any thought to food. “They want a choice, but I just use whatever (ingredients are) freshest, and there is a season. There is a rotation. Every week, it changes, and every week there is something that’s different.”

There are many things Butkus loves about cooking.

From being able to make people smile, to bringing people together over a good meal, to being able to control her creation, to purchasing the exact ingredients, preparing it, serving it, even the arrangement on the plate, “it’s creativity. It’s a challenge both mentally and physically … that I really truly do enjoy.”

She has roughly 12 to 15 active customers, and she’d like to raise that number to about 25. All of her clients live in Andersonville or Edgewater, and she’d like to stay local.

“That would be enough that I could still give personal attention, but also enough that I could support the company,” Butkus said.

She shops for food every day, either at Andersonville Farmers Market, Restaurant Depot, Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop, or Plum Market.

“I make all homemade vegetable stock, chicken stock,” she said. “Being small gives me the capability of being much more attentive to the details of sustainability, product quality, and customer service, which are a lot of the details that are lost in big, commercial operations.”

Meanwhile, Butkus is also passionate about helping the clients of Care for Real, a non-profit organization based in Edgewater that provides food, clothing and counseling services to those in need.

“I started by donating my time to work the lines and actually see the client population in lines for food earlier this year,” she said. “Executive Director Lyle Allen asked if I would be part of their board, and it was the best decision I ever made. My main responsibility is I help organize fundraising events, because I have a background in catering.”

The first fundraiser Butkus was involved in at Care for Real was in April at Urban Pooch, which raised $10,000. The fundraiser was geared toward seniors who need assistance feeding their pets. Oftentimes, she said, senior Care for Real clients would take portions of the food they received from the non-profit and give it to their pets.

“They would short-change themselves to feed their pets, who in many cases are their only family,” she said.

She is involved in planning three other Care for Real events this year. Those events will all be neighborhood centric.

Meanwhile, Butkus will continue working with Skilling to help him meet his health and diet goals. “Tom decided to throw himself out there to see if anyone can benefit from doing a lifestyle change,” she said.

For more information about Seasoned Kitchens, or to talk with Butkus, visit seasonedkitchens.com or call 847-338-2422.


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