Inside The Booming World Of Recipe Delivery Services

For home cooks with za'atar-dusted dreams of cooking their way through a Jerusalem recipe to wind down a busy work day, but with the time (and remaining brain power) to barely open a can of chickpeas, there's a solution. Well, several of them, with the growing number of "Fresh Direct meets Epicurious" services available for subscription.

The concept is smart: Each week a box containing all of the raw ingredients needed to cook a meal (usually 3-5) arrives at your doorstep via UPS or local delivery service. The box is packed tightly with ice, so that the contents will not spoil, even when left out for up to 24 hours. The result is that unlike Fresh Direct and Peapod, scheduling a delivery time is not required. In the box you will find everything you need to complete a meal (except salt, pepper and cooking oils). Ingredients like red wine vinegar, cinnamon and nobs of ginger — as well as harder to source ones like palm sugar, mirin and freekeh — are packed into little vials and baggies and labeled. Like if Julia Child ran the Cartoon Network.

Last December, Food Republic editors reviewed two of the pioneering services, Blue Apron and Plated. Both New York–based companies operate with a similar ethic — a box of food will arrive at a door for the user to mince, dice, pickle, sauté, steam, braise, bake and whip into something for dinner. Since then, several additional companies have emerged, including HelloFresh, Chefday and Simply Fresh To You — which join an already established industry of fully prepared meal delivery services (mostly diet-related) like Diet To Go, BistroMD and Freshology.

On a recent afternoon this summer, Matthew Wadiak welcomes me to the Blue Apron test kitchen, greeting with a flute of bone-dry French rosé (this reporter passed) before assembling a pepperonata made with gypsy peppers, the key component for a whole wheat pizza recipe he was developing that afternoon — and scheduled to enter subscribers' kitchens this fall.

The scene I walk into is slightly shocking, given that the company announced this morning that they have closed a $5 million Series B round of financing (adding to $3 million last year), making Blue Apron one of the hottest food startups around (to the tune of 100,000 meals a month). They also announced that they are starting West Coast distribution, which is sure to raise that number dramatically. Unlike the shiny culinary labs found at the headquarters of glossy magazines and food companies, Blue Apron tests several recipes a week out of Wadiak's home kitchen — which takes up the lion's share of his tiny Lower East Side walk-up apartment.

I join the company's recipe editor, Jessica Fox, and a freelance photographer tasked with shooting not just the final beauty shot, but the recipe's mise en place and step-by-step instructions. While a small dog bites at their ankles the team works through the pizza — Wadiak cooking with Fox manning a timer while clicking notes into her MacBook Pro.

Wadiak, a Culinary Institute of America graduate and Bay Area kitchen veteran whose resume includes a stint working under Paul Bertolli, came to the company after meeting CEO Matt Salzberg over a casual dinner. Soon, Wadiak was in his kitchen, developing recipes that strive to combine key factors like simplicity (under an hour to prepare), health (roughly under 800 calories per serving) and a bit of a wow factor. The last facet is what hooked my wife and I on the service (we've been paying on-and-off subscribers for close to a year). Instead of featuring snoozers like baked orange roughy with rice pilaf or fettuccini Alfredo, the meals are often inspired by seasonal ingredients or by Fox and Wadiak's shared love of international flavors.

A recent Roadside Noodles was clearly inspired by the flavors of Thailand, while others have reference Morocco, the American South and South America. The second recipe tested during my visit was an interpretation of a Filipino vegetable stew called pinakbet, which included a long debate about using either opo or moqua squashes. The verdict had yet to be reached as I excused myself from the kitchen to be on my way, but I have little doubt that I will find it a sound one when I slice the marrow into half moons sometime in late September.

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