When Rose Reisman first learned to cook, she admits her definition of a good meal started with “a ton of butter and 12 eggs.”


Later, when she hit her 30s she was diagnosed with high cholesterol. The genetic predisposition had already taken the life of her grandmother at 52 through a heart condition, and later that of her father, who was also in his 50s.


“I knew I had to change my lifestyle,” says Reisman. “The question was how?”


Reisman started to experiment with new low-fat recipes, incorporating them into her family’s lifestyle, and eventually writing a popular cookbook, Rose Reisman Brings Home Light Cooking in 1993.


Although the book sold more than 400,000 copies, the idea of cutting back on fat was a hard sell to the wider community.

Fifteen years later, with trans-fats making headlines, and a legislative push on restaurants in North America to include detailed food content on menus, healthy eating is at the forefront. And Reisman has become a face of change in Canada.

For starters, she acts as a consultant for companies like McCain Foods Canada, where she has a series of popular ads. Then there’s her own line of meals at the Pickle Barrel restaurants, 17 cookbooks, investment in a weight-loss chain in Toronto, a catering company that serves upwards of 2,000 meals daily, and a busy speaking schedule.

Recently she rolled out a new product: Home-delivered meals.

Spread on Reisman’s boardroom table in her East York office are a variety of meals ready to be home delivered. There is a dish of lean flank steak and wild rice that comes in at 375 calories. Salmon with Japanese beans and couscous is 350 calories, while a triple chocolate brownie is 140 calories. All are genuinely delicious. By comparison, the calories in a Big Mac with cheese total 540.

Behind the boardroom is a 10,000-square-foot kitchen. Last year Reisman, along with her investors, which include the Pickle Barrel chain, purchased Catering By Davids’, a high profile supplier of meals to movie productions.

The synergy was obvious. Reisman’s husband Sam, also her biggest backer, was familiar with the company as the head of Rose Corp., the majority owner of Filmport, the mega film studio being built in the port-lands area of Toronto.

On the corporate side, Reisman’s customers include Ernst & Young, Deloitte & Touche and law firms such as Torys LLP.

“I literally just went from door to door knocking and cold calling until they let me in,” says Reisman.

Reisman even catered a free lunch to prospective clients so they could judge for themselves.

“After that, they realized that they could eat well and stay healthy.”

When the catering company was purchased last February, revenues were in the $5 million range. Now it is doing $1 million a month in sales.

The pickle barrel connection

  • Peter Higley, president and CEO of the Pickle Barrel Restaurants Ltd., approached Rose Reisman four years ago to design a healthy menu for his customers.

  • “People are much more interested in what they eat today, they’re looking for information, but most people don’t know how many calories they’re putting away,” says Higley.

  • Reisman’s offerings, including dishes that are under 500 calories, represent a significant 10 per cent of the chain’s offerings, says Higley.

  • While the Pickle Barrel still has high-fat offerings, Higley has gotten so health conscious he even took hotdogs off the children’s menu.