Americans spent over $1 billion on home-delivered meal kits last year.
My first experience of cooking with a meal kit transported me back 20 years, to my time as a nervous, sweaty-faced culinary student in scratchy checked pants and a stapled paper hat. Intrigued by chef Matty Matheson’s hilarious how-to video for the Munchies (VICE's food and culture site) meals he created for Chef’d (imagine Melissa McCarthy doing a killer Guy Fieri impression), I’d ordered the trout almondine dinner for two.
I’ll admit to a deep suspicion and reluctance toward meal kits. For one thing, I know how to cook, plus I like the shopping and prep, and I find meal kits’ excess packaging problematic. Still, my curiosity won out. Studying the instructions, gathering the equipment and assembling the ingredients was a total throwback to darling Chef Pascale’s teaching kitchen. “Don’t freak out,” he told us on the first day of school. “Freaking out is not gonna help.” Back then I found myself astonished and empowered every morning by the intensity of flavor that I could coax from a handful of vegetables, a piece of protein and—let’s be honest—lots and lots of butter.
I’ve been a food professional for a long time—I’ve done stints in restaurant kitchens and as a private chef, and collaborated with Anthony Bourdain on two books—and I now cook from a place of confidence and instinct. But to my happy surprise, I learned a few things from meal kit cooking. The technique for roasting yellow fingerling potatoes (sliced lengthwise, tossed with olive oil and cooked face-down for 20 minutes at 400 degrees) gave me easily the best result I’ve ever had, and I’ll add it to my repertoire.
Meal kits won’t replace cooking school, but they can treat you like a benevolent (or irreverent) teacher, and give you the confidence to be a better cook. I’m not sure I can count myself among the converted just yet, but I am looking forward to the Andrea Nguyen pho meal I just ordered from Chef’d.