Maybe your cooking hero is Jacques Pépin, the Barefoot Contessa or Rachael Ray. Maybe your guilty pleasure is watching the Chopped teams battle to make an edible appetizer incorporating lemon zest, lamb brains and crème fraiche.
Me, I'm a Peg Bracken gal, an acolyte of the sardonic author of 1960's I Hate to Cook Book. ("I may hate to cook, but I like to eat," she'd explain.) And now, thanks to some clever Stanford entrepreneurs, culinary-wary folks like me can bypass traditional take-out and put a delicious, healthy, fresh meal on the table by following a recipe that goes: 1. Order on easy-to-use website. 2. Open the door.
Based in Palo Alto and serving the region from Sunnyvale to Redwood City, Gobble lets you order chef-prepared family dinners from a menu you preview and approve. Ooshma Garg, '09, a biomechanical engineering major, had already sold her first start-up, an online recruiting tool, when she launched Gobble in 2011. "My vision was to solve dinner for you in a daily way," says Garg, the firm's "chief eating officer."
Kitchit is the brainchild of Brendan Marshall, MBA '11, George Tang, '11, MS '11, and Ian Ferguson, MBA '11. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, Kitchit can help you entertain like a pro—or more precisely with the help of a pro. The site matches you with a local chef who, for a set price per guest, prepares a menu, brings the food and asks only for a couple of free shelves in your refrigerator and workspace on your kitchen counter before creating dinner.
The Gobble plan is a $14.95 per individual meal with a $9 per week delivery charge for unlimited nights. You set up profiles for individual family members, listing preferences as well as dislikes, allergies or restrictions such as low-carb or gluten- or nut-free. During three weeks with Gobble, we ordered an amazing variety of foods cooked by a variety of local Gobble-screened chefs, enjoying tofu panang curry, pork chop Milanese and spring quinoa salad, and shredded beef enchiladas verdes. The items arrived right on time in microwavable containers that could be on the table in minutes. My daughter Blair especially loved her slightly spicy Sonoma chicken, while daughter Marie's favorite was a chicken and pineapple curry. Marie liked the standard medium spicy, but you can order the heat turned up or down when you preview the menu online a few days in advance. Garg says busy professionals love the service, and Gobble is scaling up its delivery area locally and reviewing metropolitan markets around the country for expansion.
Two-year-old Kitchit, meanwhile, was my answer when a looming project deadline was at odds with a dear friend's birthday. I was able to work all day and then host—and by that I mean sit at the table with my guests—a wonderful dinner for six prepared by San Francisco chef Michael Mauschbaugh. At the Kitchit site, you can choose from basic, family-style meals starting at $35 per guest up to "culinary tour de force" options for more like $200 each. Your chef sends a tasting meal in advance so you can communicate about it or request substitutes. If you supply your own wines (Chef Michael emailed me excellent recommendations), you can have a spectacular meal without restaurant alcohol mark-ups.
Co-founder Tang, the firm's CTO, says the idea of Kitchit was to "affect people with technology but also bring joy and happiness." That was mission accomplished at my dinner. My guests—foodies all—not only raved about the meal, but also were pleased when Chef Michael discussed the richness of fish cheeks and shared how he got the watermelon radishes in his shaved-vegetable salad to curl so artfully (soak in ice water). He prepared a roasted trout stuffed with persillade herbs and sweet bay and a brined guinea fowl as our main courses; sides were blanched asparagus in sauternes with salt-cured uni roe and fantastic pan-seared wild mushrooms. His chocolate cake was a tad dry, but the candied orange peel and whipped hazelnut cream sauce was rich and flavorful. (I rarely have the gall to call anything that anyone is willing to cook for me "a tad dry," but I'm trying to sound sophisticated here.)
Peg is no longer with us, but if she were I think we could collaborate on I Hate to Cook But I Love to Order a Personal Chef.
Joan O'C. Hamilton, '83, is a frequent contributor to Stanford.