I first tried Chef’s Plate back in September. I had meant to write about my impressions of it but obviously didn’t get around to it till now. Since then, I’ve ordered again from them twice, so I guess the quick spoiler is that I liked it enough to do it again! If you’re looking for a little more detail however, read on…
What it is
It’s a service which delivers pre-packaged dinner ingredients and instructions to your door, to simplify weeknight cooking. (If you’re in the US, this is kind of the Canuck version of Blue Apron, from what I can tell.) From the website, you are given a choice of seven meals for the week (including at least one meat-free option) and of those you can choose either 3 meals (serving 2 people each) or 2 meals (serving 4 people each). They will ship you the ingredients in a box* on Tuesday afternoon, along with (fancy!) recipe cards with instructions on cooking everything up. The meals are quite varied, and also include a pretty good number of dairy- and gluten-free options.
* For those of you getting squeamish about the idea of raw meat or produce sitting on your porch for a few hours, don’t worry. The packaging is extremely thorough, well-insulated, and the packing folks are quite generous with the freezer packs, thus keeping everything cold. The logistics of getting the food from their Toronto HQ to your doorstep (assuming you’re in Ontario) are very well handled.
The expectations on their part for what you have on hand are extremely reasonable. If you have a knife, a pot or two, a pan, and something that can go in the oven, you’re pretty much set, equipment-wise. On the condiment front, they expect you to have salt, pepper and olive oil. That is it. Seriously. For one of my meals, they sent me butter to fry up the mushrooms. Butter! Who doesn’t have butter in their kitchen?! …You get the idea.
So above are the three recipes I chose for our very first shipment. Two dishes I was pretty sure would be homeruns with The Boy — one of which was sneakily vegetarian! — and one (the steak+zucchini rolls) which I thought would be tasty and a little experimental. Who doesn’t like learning new techniques, after all?
The quality of the food shipped was generally pretty good. With the exception of the beef for those “spiedini”-inspired rolls*, the meat I’ve received has been high quality, and very tasty. The produce has also generally been good except for that same meal’s arugula (maybe that whole meal was just cursed? Hmm). I started trying to wash it, and it was just too sad and wilty. I gave up and substituted some of our CSA greens. I’ve gotten spinach twice though, and both times it was fine, as were tomatoes, zucchini and all the other slightly more robust veggies (peppers, cukes, potatoes, etc.) I’ve received.
* If you’re wondering what was wrong with the beef, it was disastrously tough. Before you dare to suggest to me that I overcooked the very-thin steak pieces, let me tell you: I did not. We cut those open and they were just past medium. Just past medium, stringy and tough. Blech.
One thing that had annoyed me with the first box, but that they seem to have remedied recently is that the recipe cards didn’t used to have quantities specified next to the list of ingredients, rendering them kind of useless for future use as recipe cards, unless you measured everything and wrote it down prior to cooking with it. The last shipment we got (which was this past week), I was happy to see all the measurements provided.
Above are the contents of the Szechuan Stir Fry meal (which remains The Boy’s favourite of our Chef’s Plate experiences). The bean sprouts in the paper bag were… not so great, but honestly if I’d bought some at the grocery store, there’s a 50% chance they’d have been in the same state. Really nice, crisp bean sprouts are tough to find, and almost impossible to keep in that condition longer than a day.
You can see that everything is tidily pre-portioned, and also that (aside from the jar of sauce which admittedly could contain anything), it’s all Real Food. I really liked that. If you’re looking at the photo above and wondering if it’s really enough to feed two adults (or in our household, somewhere between 2.1 and 2.4 adults, depending on how much Starfish likes what’s on offer), I have to tell you, I had the same thoughts. The answer was that it never felt like enough while I was cooking (though in our house, we cook to create leftovers), but it was always (just) enough once plated. (Exception: the udon. Not enough noodles. But there are never enough noodles for my starch-loving heart.)
I actually tried one delivery with two of the four-person meals specifically to see if I would prefer having the leftovers. Answer? Maybe. It was nice to only have two days of CSA backlog to catch up on instead of three. It includes double the packaging though, because they just ship you two of each meal you choose, rather than consolidating anything.
Something to note: their time estimates are always low. Not surprising (I mean, this is meant to be convenient food; who wants to hear that it’s going to take 45 minutes?) but it’s a little annoying to have to factor it in. The food prep usually isn’t long, but for both times there was an oven component, I had to add an extra 20 minutes (and in the case of the Red Spiced Pork Tenderloin, that was just to get it to edible; it needed way more than that to cook all the veg properly). For stove-top stuff, the time is usually pretty close, though I’d add an extra 5-10 minutes, based on experience. Maybe I’m just slow.
Honestly, it’s pretty good. At roughly $25 (including taxes) for a two-person meal, it’s cheaper than take-out, and probably healthier than a restaurant meal would be (less salt, less sugar, less grease). With that said, it is definitely not cheaper than picking a recipe and doing the groceries yourself. (Yes, even factoring in the “local” farm factor. We get our veggies and a goodly portion of our meat from CSAs/farmers. I did the math.) So what are you paying for? I feel that (aside from the food, obviously) Chef’s Plate delivers two things:
- Weeknight cooking that doesn’t require thinking.
After a long day when my brain is mush, I just have to show up, pull the ziplock baggie out of the fridge, and follow the instructions on the card. All that washing, chopping, sautéing or whatever can happen on auto-pilot, and I know I’ll have a reasonably balanced meal at the end of it. Given that lately all of my dinner-cooking endeavours are accompanied by an enthusiastic (if somewhat messy) sous-chef, the fewer brain cycles I need to devote to timing my meal and/or coordinating leftovers, the better.
- Fun new recipes that you can use again later.
The recipe/instruction cards are pretty high quality full-page-sized cardstock, definitely something you could keep for future reference if you liked the recipe. And out of the 8 meals our household has tried so far? We’d for-sure make 6 of them again (though one of them would be demoted to weekends only (or heavily modified) due to the finickiness involved). I know all of us have The Internets, and finding recipes is no big deal, but having one on-hand, that you’ve tried (and presumably liked), that’s got pretty photos and clear step-by-step instructions with no scrolling? Is nice.
So does that make it worth it? I think that depends on you. In our case, there are some weeks that are completely crazy and getting a reasonably healthy dinner on the table every night is problematic. For the price of one take-out meal, I can get the assurance that I have three nights out of five covered: for me, that’s not a bad deal.
To be clear though, I wouldn’t want to do it more than once a month, and not only because of the cost.
Let’s talk a little more about this thorough packaging
I know the website states that all of their packaging is recyclable, and maybe that’s true in Toronto, but up here, plastic bags are not eligible for recycling and… there are a lot of plastic bags with every shipment. There’s the huge, pouffy, insulatey one that lines the box and keeps everything cool. There are the large ziplocks that hold each meal’s ingredients (minus the meat) together. There are medium-sized bags containing greens or fresh herbs. There are the smaller ziplock baggies that contain stuff like flour, rice, breading mix, or even smaller ones that contain sesame seeds, spice mixes, individual, peeled garlic cloves.
…there’s a lot of bags, is what I’m getting at.
On top of that, there are a minimum of 3 freezer packs (laid out cleverly on top of the vacuum-sealed meat packets) which the website cheerfully recommends reusing, but let’s be real here: who doesn’t already have enough freezer packs? (If the answer is you, let me know, because I have a whole bunch you can have!) I desperately wish that Chef’s Plate offered an option to collect your freezer packs, fill up one of their delivery boxes, and then have Fedex pick it up and bring it back to them when they drop off one of your Tuesday shipments, or something like that.
All in all, I feel really guilty every time I get one of these deliveries.
But what about their recyclable bottles and jars?
You remember those vintage Friday Bento posts that I haven’t done in forever? Y’all know I’m a total lunch container junkie, so I never feel like I have enough eensy little bottles to pack salad dressing or whatever in (or these days snacks for Starfish). I actually quite like the little bottles and jars Chef’s Plate includes — some of them are so cute! If you’re not a compulsive jar hoarder like me, however, yes, they are totally recyclable. They also totally don’t compensate for the ridiculous number of plastic bags, insulation and freezer packs that end up in the garbage.
It’s pricey, but convenient. The food is good, and I like that I can pick recipes that are interesting enough that I want to add them my rotation. Could I achieve the same thing with some googling, more careful meal-planning and fridge organization? Probably. This is definitely a luxury.
With that said, if you do live in Ontario and want to try it, you can get $44 off your first box if you use the code #2mealsFromSquishyFishy. That’s the equivalent of two free meals on the 3x 2 people bundle, or one free meal on the 2x 4 people one. (Disclosure: if you do use that code, I get $22 off a future order of my own.) If there’s anything else you want to know about our meals, ask away!