Like a chef: An honest review
When my husband and I started dating a few years ago, I had just moved into a flat in Muizenberg, and hadn’t yet navigated the built in kitchen and its fully fitted oven. I was already a mom of 2 and even though I had acquired some culinary skills in my years; working two jobs meant that my children were very familiar with Mac Donald’s happy meals and KFC pops.
My daughter, who was 1 and a bit at the time would even shout “Pentucky” as we drove passed Capricorn supermarket.
These were simpler times.
Regardless, in an attempt to impress my new boyfriend one Saturday afternoon, I decided that when he arrived, I would have a delicious barbecue chicken prepared.
I cleaned and spiced the pieces and popped them in the oven, turning the numberless knobs to what I assumed was 180 degrees Celsius.
He arrived, kissed me hello and sat at the dressed table with the kids.
“What’s that smell?”.
I assured him all was well. I assumed that the food drippings at the bottom of the oven from the previous tenants’ creations must be buckling under the heat, making a wee bit of smoke. It happens.
Once the chicken had done its 2 hours, I removed it from the oven, and lifted the foil to find blackened thighs and drumsticks.
I knew he was the one that day; because he ate it and said it was delicious… but even now in our marriage, he stills tells our friends the story of how I burned the chicken and blamed the oven in a desperate attempt to impress him.
I have spent the rest of my relationship trying to prove that it was a one-time accident, but I must admit that off Instagram, I have destroyed more than my fair share of simple, beginner dishes.
Now in 2018, my life has changed drastically since the stresses of working two jobs kept me in the grips of the fast food industry.
I now run my own business from home, which frees up my schedule substantially (most days) – I spend my first half of the day cooking meals for my family, and the other half planning what we will eat tomorrow. As much as this is a labour of love, it can be stressful, especially when you’re trying to keep everyone healthy – while wanting them all to agree on the menu.
“I hate vegetables” is my middle daughter’s motto.
Apparently she finds them “Just gusting”.
Like a Chef Review:
Day 1: Baked Bacon Barley Risotto
The Delivery man arrived on a Monday at 4pm. I had already prepared supper by this time, but was interested in delaying the review process for a day, to see how well the food kept up if you didn’t go according to the schedule.
The outside packaging was basic, with a Styrofoam interior.
Inside, each ingredient was measured, and in its own plastic container. Convenient and gorgeous, but immediately this struck me as wasteful. A point against environmental sustainability. I noted this for my pending interview with Jolin.
On Tuesday, I started with recipe number 3. I don’t do well with rules. Also, my primitive pallet had never had Risotto, and as I had heard of the dish in American movies, I wanted to try it ASAP.
I prepped my ingredients.
I immediately noted the ease at which one could find the ingredients for each dish. Like A chef allocates each recipe with a letter, and then puts the corresponding letter on each item needed for the dish. It’s like paint by numbers, but with food.
I remember standing in my kitchen, holding the bag of Pearl barley, thinking ‘What the actual fuck is Pearl Barley”, as I was forced to face my unrefined nature, head on.
I prepared the ingredients, making sure that, as each recipe instructs, all of my fresh ingredients were at room temperature.
Now, here is where my personal barriers came in.
I am a vegetarian. I have Crohn’s Disease, and for the last year (minus cheating in my pregnancy), I have been a vegetarian, mostly focused on eating fresh, natural foods.
As a wife and mom to barbarians, this sometimes poses a challenge.
The recipe calls for bacon bits. I chose to fry the bits up as instructed, and then put them to the side. The results were satisfactory. The green beans, mushrooms and baby spinach were delicious add-ons to the Barley, unaccompanied. My family, however, did enjoy theirs being topped with bacon.
To be completely honest, my four year old ate only the bacon.
Still, counting it as a win, nonetheless.
What I enjoyed most was that this was a meal I wouldn’t have chosen for my family, possibly ever.
Day 2: Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pies
I never understood potpies.
I always thought they were lazy.
Then again, my only experience with pies are from the petrol station after a night of drinking at Cubana, Claremont, so my judgement can’t really be taken into account.
For those who don’t know the difference, pot pies only have pastry tops, and no structural integrity whatsoever.
And as this dish called for chicken in the filling, I again had to make adjustments to make everyone happy.
My children liked this dish the most, and asked for a call back.
Yes, that is a piece of fluff that fell on my one pot pie pastry. I am not perfect.
When Jolin Judd, Founder and owner of Like A Chef contacted me, asking me to check out her new food delivery service, I was more than happy to leave the responsibility of deciding my family’s meals to an expert.
Although, to be honest, I was skeptical.
Jolin boasts 15 years in hospitality; her areas of expertise being recipe development, and purchasing. Her resume includes being the purchasing project manager of a large company, as well as experience in Catering and Restaurant management.
Jolin is cooler than me.
“Your daily dish, freshly prepared every day. Eliminate day to day shopping and cook Like A Chef. We will send all the ingredients as you need them, you cook them”.
That’s what the Like a Chef site’s ‘About Us’ promises.
And sure, like most of you who are from middle class homes – like myself – my first thought was ‘how expensive is this going to be?”.
The price is off-putting at first consideration.
Speaking to Jolin on the phone, we both agreed that in a pinch, it is very possible to feed a family of four on around R250 per week. I know many families who make do with even less.
But, do I think the box is worth it?
Well, I think that answer depends on who the box is for.
The recipes in the boxes change weekly, but the boxes in their entirety come in three different options.
Classic, Foodie and Wholesome.
For the average one income family, the boxes are quite pricey, and don’t leave much leftovers. It isn’t for the person on a budget.
Personally, I think this service does suite the working professional mom, or couple, who do not have time to source fresh produce, and plan meals.
FYI; The box I tried was the ‘wholesome’ option.
As a working mother of three, I felt almost relieved each time I remembered that I already had my evening meals laid out and measured.
It saves time. It saves headaches.
“The target market is working professionals. People who have the need to want to feed their family healthily”, says Jolin.
I must agree, it was reassuring to know that my family would be eating nutrient rich foods.
Another point I feel I have to harp on, and no, this isn’t sponsored, is that the ingredients were of a high quality, and very, very fresh.
I purposefully kept produce heavy recipes till the end of the week, just to see if the vegetables withered quickly when in proper storage. I was pleasantly surprised.
After the four recipes, I gave Jolin a call to discuss some points I had noted. Most importantly for me, I brought up the service’s focus on sustainability, versus all the packaging.
“When you are talking about sustainability, you are talking about the fact that you are packaging things individually, and that in turn creates more waste; but what you viewed in my marketing, was referring to food waste. So, your biodegradable and compostable packaging currently available on the market does not meet our needs. Right now, the market is flooded with normal cups and your normal plates, coffee stick stirrers etc., that don’t really speak to our packaging needs”.
Jolin continued; “It’s a matter of sorting it, and then making sure it’s in line with the product, and that the consumable actually holds in it, over the four days that it is expected to stay in your fridge. We want to be sure that the shelf life of the product isn’t negatively affected by the change in the packaging”.
Also, the courier being used by Like A Chef allows customers to return all Styrofoam boxes, and gel packs, each week with new deliveries. This allows the company to reuse and recycle.
Another issue I encountered was in the third recipe I attempted.
Day 3 – Ratatouille Provencal ( A course vegetable stew, from France 1930 –a tomato heavy dish)
The news that I was to prepare a dish from one of their favourite movies was bitter sweet news for my children.
Finally, a fully vegetarian dish I could enjoy in its entirety.
And so I did, alone.
My husband’s acid reflux kicked in after two bites, and Rose and Jonah took one sideways glance at the Zuchini and demanded I make them each a bowl of 2-minute-noodles.
No fault to Like a Chef though, I am sure many families who are better than mine would have enjoyed a taste of a different culture. Regardless, I found the dish delicious, and it stored well as vegetarian meal prep, so nothing went to waste.
The issue I encountered however, was the recipe.
Only someone who has spent some time in the kitchen knows small tips and tricks that make certain flavours pop… and tomato is one of those things that need some assistance, or it could sour an entire dish.
So, when the Ratatouille didn’t require sugar, I was skeptical to follow the given recipe, without the assistance of Google.
“To be honest, we go through a recipe testing phase. The recipe developer writes up his content, and we test it and we have a tasting. Based on the tasting we decide how to proceed. That recipe itself doesn’t have sugar in for two specific reasons; at the time of tasting, we felt that it didn’t require that sugar level. Also we try to not incorporate the types of sugar that aren’t good for you. Generally we would then try to add something that would act as a substitute for the sugar, like honey. In this case it was just a matter of taste buds”.
Which lead me to my next question:
Like a Chef seems to market to ‘people who don’t necessarily know how to cook’. But from my experience, I would say it is more targeted at the person with intermediate skills in the kitchen. Who is this for?
‘Absolutely. This is for people who already enjoy cooking, but don’t have the time in the day to fret about what they are going to make every night. I can come home and make a pumpkin bredie at night, and make a tomato bredie the next night and my kids are going to enjoy it, but I am not introducing them to a bigger range of food. If you don’t enjoy cooking, I wouldn’t recommend that you take a box that makes you commit to cooking for four nights a week. This is for people who enjoy cooking but don’t have the time to stock up on the fresh dairy or veg or fish every night’.
The Saturday of that week, my husband’s china obsessed friends Emmanuel and Taahier came over to watch anime and be annoying (along with my husband). My kids were at their grandparents for the day, but I still had to feed the man of the house, and the Beef Fried Rice came at just the right time.
Anything with Soy sauce and Sriracha would have been a winner. I must say that this recipe got a 5 star rating from the boys. I was a bit sad that it couldn’t be made vegetarian though. But, it was nice to impress our friends with my skills, nonetheless.
In conclusion, I found the experience quite pleasant.
The food was A grade. Nothing was off. Everything was cleaned and neatly package. As someone who is drawn in by pretty aesthetics, and scrolls Pinterest for fun, I care about what my food looks like, just as much as how it tastes.
I know you Instagram fiends can relate.
Is it expensive? A little yes, but to be honest, no different to buying at Woolworths. The care and effort that is put into each recipe, whether it be the precision measurement of ingredients, or the step by step guide to perfecting each dish; the price is proportionate to the level of convenience this service affords you.
This is a luxury purchase.
Would I buy this again?
For my lifestyle and budget, yes.
My husband and I both have demanding professional lives. Yes, I work from home, but that means that I am expected to be online at the drop of a hat, and even though some days I manage my time quite well, other days my clients need me out of business hours… and my children don’t keep business hours either.
As an added bonus, for someone with my condition, who benefits from eating healthy, fresh, home-cooked meals, I must say I felt balanced and satiated.
I completely enjoyed the experience.
So much so, that I would like to share it with one of you.
At the end of this month, one of YOU will win a box!
You can choose between the three options, for both you and your partner, OR YOUR WHOLE FAMILY OF 4!