03 August 2015

My Blue Plate Special

When I first heard about Blue Apron, I was intrigued - partly because back in the carefree days when we had no kid there was a company called Impromptu Gourmet that sold dinner kits, chef-designed do-it-yourself dinner kits, in the refrigerated case of upscale grocery stores. I'd bought one one day, and locked my husband out of the kitchen, and presented him with a really stellar meal a half hour later. A little internet sleuthing reveals that I served up Charlie Palmer's Crisp Duck Breast with Pomegranate Molasses Glaze, Duck Leg Confit, Cipollini Onions & Toasted Couscous.

That company doesn't seem to exist anymore, probably because their business model wasn't right - it was good for the customer who wanted to do something special on the spur of the moment, but I would think it was damn near impossible to coordinate perishable supply with unpredictable demand.

In the past couple of years, a few new companies have sprung up, providing the same kind of dinner kits, but on a subscription basis. That makes it a lot easier to predict demand, so they can tailor their supply chain and have everything come out even at the end.

Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated and their investors see ample opportunity to carve out their own place within the industry by offering recipe kits filled with healthy, sustainably farmed food for less than the cost of buying the ingredients on your own. And that's without factoring the savings in time, they say.

A friend of mine has been using Blue Apron for a while, and really likes it. One of Blue Apron's marketing schemes is that they reward existing customers with a meals to give to friends, and through her generosity, we got to try out the service. And then I forgot to cancel, so we paid for a second week of meals. That was last summer. A couple of weeks ago, they sent a "hey, try us again" email and I got sucked back into it.

It is distinctly amusing. A box shows up with - really - all the ingredients you need for three meals for two people. Well, all the ingredients except salt, pepper and olive oil - which you have, right? And you need pots and pans. And knives. But all of the grocery shopping is done for you, and lots of the ingredients are portioned out. A quarter cup of heavy cream, in a wee bottle. A couple of tablespoons of flour in a tiny plastic tub. A small plastic bag with just the right amount of panko. The vegetables are not prepped, but you are given just enough - one onion, a sprig of tarragon, a handful of fava beans, 2 ears of corn, 3 kinds of exotic mushrooms. No need to buy a whole bottle of balsamic vinegar, or a kilo of israeli couscous.

It's up to you to do the cooking. If you're reasonably skilled in the kitchen, it'll be easy - I got a dinner of breaded chicken breasts and a corn/cucumber/tomato/arugula salad on the table in 45 minutes.

Dinner, on the table in 45 minutes. #blueapron

A photo posted by @magpiemusing on

If you're a novice cook, the instructions are pretty good, and include color photos so you have an idea about what you're doing.

There is zero food waste - though there is a prodigious amount of packaging. Remember all those tiny tubs and wee bottles and small bags? And everything shows up in an insulated bag with two large ice packs inside a cardboard box.

The service seems fairly priced: three meals for two is $60 - which includes shipping - so it's $10 per meal. Yes, the pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella we made last night was less than $20 for two people, and because we cook a lot we have a pantry full of stuff that can be turned into cheap meals. Still, $10 per person is cheaper than going out to almost anywhere I'd care to eat, and the results are damned tasty. And it gets you out of the same old rut.

I did choose to do it while the child was away...she would have eaten the chicken but not much else. [There's a family plan which looks like the food is a little more kid-friendly.]

We did the three meals on consecutive nights, but the FAQs say the ingredients should be good for a week. I can imagine that a fridge full of very specific ingredients could be a bit onerous and guilt-inducing in the I have it, so I have to use it way that a CSA can be oppressive.

In short, I have really mixed feelings about Blue Apron. No time to cook? Skip it. Can't justify the $10/person and all of the packaging waste? Skip it. No sharp knives or desire to cook? Skip it. If you're adventurous, craving novelty, and bored with all of the things you usually eat, you might really enjoy it. I even ate mushrooms last week, and liked them.


Jeanne said...

It sounds to me like this might be attractive in February, when I can't get out to go to the grocery, I'm tired of everything I make, and I'm out of ideas.

Jocelyn said...

I really love this review, as I hear about Blue Apron all the time on various podcasts. However, for me, $10/person for a meal continues to be a dealbreaker. That said: I totally get trying it out, esp when the girl is gone!