#155 In which our hero talks about food.
The Scientist heard about a trend that is “sweeping the nation!” and got a little excited about it. Basically, it’s cook-it-yourself dinners. Which doesn’t sound very exciting, especially since every dinner is cook-it-yourself for me, except on those few occasions that we go out. But here’s the deal: you go to a special cooking center where all the ingredients are already prepared for you and you just supply the labor. The idea is that for two hours worth of work you walk away with two weeks worth of meals.
Now, I worked for years in commercial kitchens, so this wasn’t going to be an exotic experience for me. And I know that even though the country is currently obsessed with celebrity cooks, and shows like 30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray and ever the hated Emeril Lagasse make cooking seem like a wonderful lark, I know the truth: cooking for a living sucks. You are by definition in an extremely hot, greasy environment with other employees who are mostly semi-literate at best. Well, that last bit was maybe only my experience; I didn’t exactly work at any 4-star restaurants.
Anyway, I was game to try it, if for no other reason that my wife and I could avoid asking “what’s for dinner tonight” for a couple of weeks. See, I love cooking, but I hate planning to cook. I’d like nothing more if The Scientist sat down and planned out the week’s menu, leaving it to me to shop and cook. We actually did this for a short period, and it worked out great. Problem is, at The Scientist’s new job, she doesn’t have the time to surf for recipes and make menus like she used to. Thus the endless questioning of “what’s for dinner?” And if it wasn’t for the girls, the answer might often be “Ramen,” but we do try to feed the girls good food.
Thus The Scientist found an outfit called “Simply Done Dinners” and signed me up. For $200 we were to get 12 meals of our choice from the monthly menu. We avoided anything that we thought one of us (that is to say, she) wouldn’t eat, including a jerk chicken recipe and a peppercorn tenderloin.
I should mention that I wasn’t that excited about this thing, really. Like I said, I’ve been in commercial kitchens before, so that’s wasn’t going to be a thrill. And I wasn’t entirely sure that I couldn’t assemble a menu myself for 200 bucks or less that would have been just as good. But, as I am not into the menu planning thing, I figured why not? If the math didn’t work out in our favor, I’m sure it would be reasonably close, especially considering that most meals are last minute affairs that don’t benefit from any sort of economies of scale anyway.
But, honestly? I was looking forward to showing off in the kitchen. I figured the class would be full of harried moms and maybe an incompetent man or two. I’ve always enjoyed the looks I get when I tell people that I do all the cooking at home* and I like to do my part to shatter the “idiot husband in the kitchen” stereotype which is perpetuated mostly, I am sad to say, by my own industry. So it would be fun to show off my knife skills and stand there smirking, my own dish being done and looking exquisite in the chaffing dish, while others struggle with the correct amount of paprika. And cooking is fun, so I figured it might be a light, enjoyable evening. With wine.
But, come Friday morning, I got an urgent email from the owner asking me to call him about my appointment on Saturday. Turns out there is some emergency on Saturday and they’ve had to cancel the class (of which I was the only one). The options were to reschedule for another night or allow them to prepare the food and I could just pick it up (this is usually a more expensive option, but they were going to give it to me at the same price). So I opted to just pick it up.
The place is about an hour away, and naturally I get a little lost finding it. But I get there eventually. The place is simply a big storefront with about a dozen work stations. Each work station is a big cutting board with a cooler well of what fancy-pants chefs would call “mis en place” which is just stainless steel containers full of ingredients that have already been peeled, chopped and otherwise prepared so you only have to assemble the dishes. There’s no ovens of burners, and the owner explains to me that there’s no real cooking down on site, it’s all raw ingredients.
This is disappointing to me, of course. If everything is already prepared, then there’s no show-off opportunities; and even if there was, I was the only one scheduled in the class anyway. I could show off to myself in my own kitchen and not have to drive an hour to get there. Plus, part of the motivation was meals we could quickly prepare… but if it’s all raw food, then we still have to spend an hour or two cooking it.
But, it’s all about the eating, so I’m keeping an open mind. That is, until I tasted the food.
The Scientist is finicky about some foods, and doesn’t like anything that is even slightly spicy like, say, black pepper. And onions and peppers upset her stomach. So I went though the menu and took note of anything that had ingredients that might upset her stomach and/or she just wouldn’t like. I told the guy on the phone and he told me no problem, we want the food to be to your liking, blah, blah, blah.
So the first night we eat a tilapia with rice dish. The fish is decent, but the rice is chock full of red peppers. Red peppers that were not listed in the online ingredient list. Next night was cheese ravioli in an alfredo sauce. The sauce, once again, was full of red peppers. So now we have two giant pans of fish and ravioli that The Scientist won’t eat, and I wasn’t crazy about (the ravioli was too heavy for my tastes; frankly, I like my own alfredo sauce much better).
Of course, if I had been there in person like I was supposed to, I just wouldn’t have added anything that The Scientist wouldn’t eat.
Now we have all this damn food that we need to get rid of. Most likely The Scientist will give it to a co-worker. Which is fine, but I can’t help feeling that we just shit away $20 a pop.
So what have we learned? Well, the jury is still out… maybe the rest of the food will be delicious. But I can’t help but think that our $200 would have been better spent on buying our own ingredients and locking me in the kitchen for a weekend to just cook. Ingredients that would not have included red peppers.
* When I say “all the cooking” I mean most of the cooking. The majority. But not all. Oh no! The Scientist does occasionally cook, and I like her cooking, especially her tuna noodle casserole, which I find delicious. Okay, honey? Can you stop giving me the evil eye now?