Recently, RMFR was sent a three-meal sample from Blue Apron, a company that supplies customers with fresh ingredients and step-by-step instructions for a meal.
In a large box generously padded with ice, we received fixings for Beef Tartines with Zucchini au Pistou, Crispy Catfish & Yuzu-Kosho Udon and Chicken Steam Buns with French Breakfast Radish and Cucumber Kimchi.
According to its website, Blue Apron’s mission is to “make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone.” All the ingredients are responsibly sourced, by way of sustainable farming and fishing practices and the like.
The ingredients were definitely high quality. The produce for all three meals — like the snow peas, garlic, scallions and radishes — were robust and showed little sign of the shipping process.
What follows are our two perspectives on the service:
Given our schedule, I started all three meals before Bryce got home, and then we finished them together. This meant doing the prep work and assembling all the ingredients for the meal. Since all the food was new to me, I was happy for the simplified process and the easy directions for prep and cooking. All three recipes took exactly as long as advertised (25 to 35 minutes) and made exactly enough for two good-sized portions.
My favorite dish was the catfish with udon, which was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before, and came with spices and seasonings normally found only at specialty markets (which can be tough to shop for on your own). The beef tartines were the next best, delicious between the garlic bread, spinach pistou, Fontina topping and lemon spritz on nice steak. The chicken steam buns were quite good, though I would opt for shredded pork to fill them up, instead of the ground chicken.
Downside: Blue Apron is about as unlocal as it gets. If you lived in a food desert, or a place with limited restaurants and food culture, it’s a welcome addition to the kitchen. Since we do not, here in the Springs, I felt somewhat guilty getting food dropped on my front door.
The process is largely assembly and execution, so it felt lacking some of the romance that comes from scavenging your own ingredients. That, and the lack of leftovers, was too bad.
Empirically, Blue Apron and its home-cooking Millennial competitors are a force for good. Anything that helps people eat quality product and spend time together has to be a positive thing, right? But actually using the service proved a nuanced experience.
• It’s fun to order. The website is responsive and fast, and offers you previews of all the meals to come, complete with preparation videos. Naturally, you can even buy the same kitchen tools the company uses to create and demo its recipes.
• Like Netflix back in the day, it’s fun to receive. You find yourself counting down until delivery day, and it’s a bit like Christmas to see the big logoed box sitting outside your door.
• The variety of ingredients and spices handed to you. It’s not that I can’t find gochugaru or togarishi or ponzu or French breakfast radishes or Pugliese bread. But it’s hard to improve on door-step delivery of fresh, pre-weighed and easily distributable ingredients. The Crispy Catfish & Yuzu-Kosho Udon was a particularly delicious pleasure: Didn’t have to find udon, didn’t have to cook udon, didn’t have to find yuzu kosho, didn’t have the measure spices: just had to assemble and eat.
• It all tasted pretty damn good. Whether it was sinking our teeth into super-moist beef covered in an herbaceous Provençal sauce, or loving the texture of steamed buns, the meals only disappointed in specific ways. (Like the ground chicken was a little boring.)
• You basically just assemble and eat. There’s something about finding a recipe, going to the store to forage for ingredients, and then pulling culinary creation from chaos. And that over-romanticizes what can also be a total pain in the ass, but it’s interesting how flat the cooking experience felt. See onion, chop onion. See spice, dump spice. Cook meat. Mix on heat. Eat. And that’s basically how much of cooking goes anyway, but there was just something … less … about the boxed cooking process.
• The food for three meals arrives in one sealed refrigerated bag, which can take up a lot of room in the refrigerator if left unpacked. The meat juices leaked a bit as well.
Ultimately, would I buy Blue Apron again? I think probably, and I definitely recommend a try-out to any fan of cooking. But I wouldn’t order every week, or even every month. The experience lives somewhere between staying home and eating out, and it’s hard for me to fit it perfectly. Bottom line: The service allows you to easily eat widely at home, and that will have as much value as you have interest in the outcome and difficulty doing the same.
Overall: We agree, Blue Apron is definitely worth a try if you can swing it, and to help, here’s a coupon for two free meals.
[Images: Bryce and Edie Crawford; top image courtesy Blue Apron]