The Fantasy of a Personal Chef, with CookUnity

On a latest Monday, I acquired a giant tote crammed with a dozen cardboard containers, every sealed with plastic and sheathed in a paper sleeve: my first order from CookUnity, a subscription-based supply service. Once a week, prospects choose, from as much as 300 choices, between 4 and sixteen single-serving, absolutely cooked, ready-to-heat (or ready-to-eat) meals designed to maintain within the fridge for so long as a week.

I related the meal-subscription mannequin, of which there are a lot of examples, with restrictive diets, from meatless to keto (for years, I’ve been pummelled with Instagram advertisements for a “plant-based” iteration known as Sakara Life, endorsed by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop); the purpose was to make calorie counting or ingredient exclusion as painless as potential. I’ve by no means toyed with a weight loss plan, and I experience meal planning, buying, and cooking. Still, I might see the attract. The advertising and marketing for these providers usually evokes the near-universal fantasy of having a private chef.

Customers in twenty-seven states can order 4 to sixteen ready-to-heat (or ready-to-eat) meals a week.Photograph by Eric Helgas for The New Yorker

CookUnity certainly caters to the dietary fads of the second, with paleo, vegan, and gluten-free choices, and conspicuous assurances that its meat is humanely raised and its stance on G.M.O.s is “no.” What impressed me to strive it’s what set it aside. The firm, a three-year-old startup that not too long ago raised $15.5 million and delivers to twenty-seven states (from Maine to Arkansas), identifies as a “collective of independent chefs,” together with some distinguished New York restaurateurs. In a latest interview with Forbes, the C.E.O. and founder, Mateo Marietti, defined that half of his (prescient) concept was to create alternatives for cooks “beyond the confines of a restaurant kitchen and lifestyle—enabling them to scale and grow.”

And so I crammed my cart with meals that adhere to my present culinary routine: supporting New York cooks as they navigate the pandemic. Among my alternatives had been slow-cooked salmon with quinoa, butternut squash, and coriander French dressing, by Dan Kluger, of Loring Place; braised lamb sabzi with cumin-seed rice, from Einat Admony (Taïm, Balaboosta); Pierre Thiam’s Casamance kale salad, that includes fonio, mango, and tomato, additionally on his menu at Teranga; and wild-mushroom bibimbap, by Mökbar’s Esther Choi. All the cooks oversee the cooking personally, in CookUnity’s commissary or in their very own kitchens, and a few have been capable of rent again furloughed workers.

Bulgogi ramen, from Mökbar’s Esther Choi, options beef marinated in Korean barbecue sauce and a seasonal kimchi.Photograph by Eric Helgas for The New Yorker

No one might accuse CookUnity of providing romance. Government laws require meals to be stamped with calorie counts. The system can’t account for impulse: on the finish of the week, I discovered myself staring down a meal that I’d chosen after I was feeling virtuous—the Alta Calidad chef Akhtar Nawab’s Indian spiced cauliflower with coconut yogurt and RightRice, a high-protein imposter made with powdered lentils and chickpeas. It was nearly the very last thing I felt like consuming.

And but, if being caught at residence for almost a yr has made most individuals drained of having to coördinate meals, not to mention put together them, and determined for selection, CookUnity solves for each. For 5 days, I subsisted on various dishes that ranged from really satisfying at greatest to genuinely attention-grabbing at worst, requiring little extra effort than turning on my toaster oven, and nearly no thought.

Dishes from Einat Admony, of Taïm and Balaboosta, embrace a spicy Moroccan fish with roasted cherry tomatoes and sliced challah.Photograph by Eric Helgas for The New Yorker

The drawback with many diets, as Barry Estabrook factors out in his glorious new e book, “Just Eat,” is that they “play down or completely ignore the important, sensual role” of meals. Maybe not, if a proficient chef is concerned? Nawab’s cauliflower and RightRice—vegan, low-fat, and low-cal—was surprisingly persuasive, the cauliflower complexly seasoned, the Franken-rice convincingly textured. Besides, it was just one meal of a dozen. Admony’s comforting lamb sabzi—the tender meat redolent of mint, dill, and Persian lime, the rice gone barely crispy within the oven—felt nicely price its 9 hundred and thirty energy. Marc Forgione’s Ode to the Chicken Under a Brick, that includes a leg nestled with quartered Yukon Gold potatoes and a bundle of broccoli rabe, a tackle a widespread entrée at his eponymous Tribeca restaurant, got here topped with a dice of butter. (Subscriptions begin at $53.96 for 4 meals.) ♦


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