In today’s world – a world where Google delivery drones are an impending reality – it’s not hard to imagine an on-demand ingredient delivery service. In fact, as we near the end of 2014 – a plethora of services exist. Blue Apron, Meez Meals and Hello Fresh, just to name a few. I chose to try one called Plated, after being referred to the service by a friend.
The premise is simple. Sick of grocery shopping? No time to cook? Most services like this are subscription-based – meaning that you opt in to a repeat delivery of services, kind of like a weekly grocery shopping routine without the hassle. Fortunately Plated offered a one-time delivery option, so I could test it out for purposes of this post, which runs about $60 for four meals (two different recipes/ingredients of two-servings each). I had a choice of “land, sea, or vegetable” which was convenient for my pescatarian preferences. I also liked that chefs put a lot of thought into the components of the meal – even before trying it out, I could tell that I’d be getting something well-balanced and nutritious.
But, in terms of practicality – how would this play out for someone like me, with a teeny Manhattan kitchen, who shops at random times, and enjoys cooking but rarely does anything fancy, since I don’t like the hassle when I’m tired at the end of the day? For context, twice since I’ve been in my current apartment – ConEd (electric and gas provider) has called to confirm that someone lives in my apartment because the gas reading was so low. My response? “Please don’t judge me — I travel a lot – and I don’t cook. But please note that I’m alive and living here and would like the option to cook if I get the urge.” (Note: Since then, I’ve taken to cooking more, but VERY simple things usually sans recipe.)
Naturally, the day of the delivery ended up being a very busy one – and when 4PM rolled around and I remembered I’d be getting a shipment of ingredients, I actually sighed in preemptive exhaustion realizing I was going to have to be active in the kitchen when I eventually got home. Not only that, but I had accidentally scheduled a trial of a new laundry on-demand app (called Cleanly, for those who are interested) on the same evening. So – for those with hectic calendars, you do have to be able to plan a time where you’ll be in a position to cook at home within the 4-5 days the ingredients stay fresh. For me, that was harder than one would imagine.
The packaging of the ingredients was impeccable – aside from the fact that they eventually nearly filled an entire trashcan of plastic wrapping. So, even if the ingredients are sourced with sustainability in mind, the same can’t exactly be said for the packaging. Clearly labeled with a nice large recipe in the box – it seemed fairly common sense. That said, some kitchen skills are still required – ingredients don’t come pre-chopped, for example, or washed. I found that the mise en place preparation took me a long time (probably longer than other kitchens) because of my lack of counter space and constant need to clean to create more room. I also don’t have a dishwasher, so it was an ample amount of clean-up.
Now for the edible result – the dishes turned out beautifully. I cooked “Pesto Shrimp Orzo with Summer Squash Carpaccio” as well as “Stuffed Tilapia with Marinated Tomato Salad and Couscous.” Aside from cooking time on my seafood ingredients being a little different than what was listed in the recipe, I impressed myself with the execution of my dishes – taste-wise, but especially aesthetically. Being the visual person that I am, I was on a mission from the get-go to make my recipes look as much like the picture as possible (you can judge for yourself based on my photos). It was a very pretty meal. I could almost pretend that I was ordering this at a restaurant. And the two servings produced a nice portion of leftovers for the next day’s lunch.
But would I do it regularly? Only if it was a really slow week, and those aren’t too often. Though I have a small kitchen, I live quite close to Fairway, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods (just to name a few) and am used to doing small frequent shopping trips for what I need that day – so getting ingredients isn’t a huge hassle. For someone not used to cooking every night in this manner, it was an added strain on my time. Even though the service let me complete recipes above my normal weeknight standard and with added ease, I ended up eating later and going to sleep later than normal. And getting enough sleep has quickly climbed to the top of my priorities list in the past year. So, no bueno there. But remember – this is for my daily existence. For other people, this might fit their lifestyle quite well.
Still, it was a satisfying (and very Instagram-able) experience, and a friend who is a frequent Plated user cooked the same dishes as me, so it was fun to virtually cook together over Facetime. So, box checked. And let’s be honest – if I’m going to slave away in the kitchen, nine out of ten times my sweet tooth is controlling what I make. I’ll be testing the service out again should they expand to Plated: Desserts.