Deciding what to do for dinner used to be simple: Cook something for yourself, speed-dial the nearest Chinese joint with “Cottage” in the name, or forage in the fridge for whatever semblance of food you can find. But the game has changed significantly in recent years. Seamless has cancelled out the terrible part of delivery where you actually have to speak to another human being. Caviar lets you order from restaurants that don’t otherwise deliver. Blue Apron drops off the exact amount of ingredients you need for a recipe to take the stress out of home-cooking. And the David Chang-led Maple wants to deliver ready-to-eat food cooked by real chefs out of centralized commissaries.
Add to that growing list of options Kitchensurfing’s “same-day dinners” service, which launches today. The personal-chef concierge has made its name by matching users with chefs who can come to your home to cater a meal—perhaps a dinner party, or a family-style feast. But this new service is targeted more directly at harried New Yorkers who want a healthy, home-cooked weeknight meal, but don’t have to time to make it (or the money to pay for full-time help).
Here’s how it works: Until 3pm each Monday to Friday, you can go on the Kitchensurfing website or app and choose from one of three meals—a meat, pescatarian, and vegetarian option. Each includes a main and two sides, and costs $25 per person (tax and tip included).
There are five time slots to choose from, on the hour from 5-9pm. The idea is that your personal chef shows up at the beginning of the time slot, cooks your meal, cleans up, and is out the door by the time the half hour is up. The chefs bring all their own equipment, so you’re not left with any washing up to do besides the plates you eat off of. Like cooks at a restaurant with a daily-changing menu, they learn the week’s dishes before heading out, and all of the ingredients come from a central prep kitchen.
Kitchensurfing generously offered us a complimentary preview of the service earlier this week (there was no promise of coverage). Here’s what thought of it:
“Same-day dinner” test drive
The process for ordering was super easy. I sent my girlfriend the website to choose from the three meals available, and it was sort of fun to know we had something to look forward to later. At 4pm, I got a confirmation that included the name of our chef and a breakdown of the menu (we chose cider-brined pork loin with roasted red potatoes and Brussels sprout fricassee). It also included our chef’s cell-phone number, as well as a number for a Kitchensurfing logistics staffer, in case anything came up.
Despite best laid plans, both my girlfriend and I got home about a couple minutes after our time slot began, and we found the chef at the door ringing our buzzer. He was very gracious about it. I showed him a few things in the kitchen—where the plates are, how to turn on our finicky front burner, etc.—and then he was off to the races.
We cracked some wine, threw on the D’Angelo station on Pandora (“nice music!” the chef shouted from the kitchen), and went about our business. Within 10 minutes, the apartment was filled with the scent of rosemary and roasted pork—a pleasant, appetite-stimulating experience you don’t get with takeout. Around 25 minutes in, the grub was on the table, and our guy was packed up and ready to go soon after. The kitchen, I should note, ended up cleaner than when he arrived.
Our friendly Kitchensuring chef, Samson Kebede
The food was excellent, and what we liked most was that it was very good home cooking, not an approximation of a salt- and fat-blasted restaurant meal. Still, it was definitely more ambitious than anything we would have made ourselves. We could have cooked up some pork chops, but I probably would have overcooked them a bit, and they wouldn’t have been festooned with chew lardons and aromatic herbs. I could have whipped up some potatoes, but they wouldn’t have been roasted in duck fat. And my Brussels would have been straightforward, not pimped out with autumnal touches like walnuts and chopped apple.
So: the product is good, and the service definitely delivers a unique experience. But $25 per head good? Let’s get into it…
- Cooked-to-order food is better than food that’s been sitting in a plastic container on the back of a bike for 30 minutes. Fact.
- The smell of a cooked meal wafting through your house is nice, and something you miss out on with takeout.
- The portions were quite generous, to the point where you could probably turn the meal for two into dinner and a leftovers lunch.
- The food was very good and didn’t leave us with a sodium hangover. Our only knock was that the potatoes were a bit bland and could have been crispier.
- At $25, the meal should really include dessert. (We got two bite-size Askinosie chocolates, like you’d find on your pillow at a hotel.)
- There’s nothing that Kitchensurfing can do about it, but the timing thing does put pressure on you to be home in time the let your chef in. That’s on you, obviously, but I see it being a problem for New Yorkers who get caught up at work, stuck in the subway, etc.
- When you choose pork chops before 3pm, sometimes you’re in the mood for roasted-vegetable enchiladas by 8pm. #FirstWorldProblems
The social aspect
The elephant in the room, of course, is that you have to let a stranger come into your home for a half hour to partake in this service. If you’re a card-carrying New York yuppie with a housecleaner, a dog walker, and a standing Fresh Direct order, you might have no problem with this. Our chef for the night was extremely friendly, and we enjoyed chatting with him a bit about how the service works, his cooking background, and so on. But even if I’d wanted to just dispatch him to the kitchen and go take a shower or work, I think I’d feel a little weird about just ignoring him. So basically, if you have social anxiety like me, you’ll probably feel some pressure to chat with your chef, which could be a good or a bad thing. Most New York apartments are tiny, and there’s something undeniably intimate about having someone there cooking in your kitchen.
The other inevitable bit of awkwardness is that there’s a necessary delay between when the chef serves your meal, and when he finishes cleaning up and heads out the door. Do you start eating? Wait for him to leave while the food gets cold? Our chef encouraged us to begin, but I think we both felt like we couldn’t really relax and settle into the meal until we’d seen him off. It’s a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode waiting to happen.
The Brussels sprouts
Bottom line: The food was really tasty, and we felt like we’d had a satisfying, healthy dinner with a bit of fun that distracted us from our usual weeknight stress. But the price point is too high for this to become a regular habit. For $25 each without any drinks, we could easily spend less getting takeout or going to a neighborhood restaurant. If they included more perks—dessert and a bottle of wine, for example—or reduced the cost significantly and turned it into a delivered ready-to-eat meal rather than a cooked-to-order one, I’d be more inclined to sign up.