Out-saucing supper in the city

2009-10-30 12:12

I LOVE to cook. Or rather, I love to cook for an occasion?– an anniversary or a dinner party. What exhausts me is the planning, shopping and chopping for daily meals.

So when I heard about Chef ­Direct, I couldn’t wait to log on.

The company is an online service where you can order just about anything you fancy from a vast menu, with new meals added weekly. When you’ve made your choice on www.chefdirect.co.za you pick a delivery date and ‘hey, ­presto’, it arrives.

Each meal is perfectly portioned in its own sealed packet with instructions that are easy to follow, whether you can’t cook or won’t cook. They also do kids’ meals and ready meals for those days when even following simple instructions is a big ask.

Says chef Regev Afek: “We offer people the option of ordering an all-in-one meal packet or they can create their own meal – buy meat with the sauce or without it, with a salad, with potatoes. You can buy for one or for 10. You can buy mash for three then stuffed chicken pieces for one, fish for one, a lamb kebab for one and create three different meals with the same side dishes, and that’s completely unique. In the shops you have to buy so many chops or pies.”

The business is the brainchild of Afek, who had a similar business in Durban, and Jonathan Akal, who looks after the numbers and logistics. Chatting in the coffee shop that fronts their enormous, professional kitchen in North Riding, the two are excited about the food they make and the service they offer.

Israeli-born Afek found his passion for food when he was a child and at 16 he went off to chef school to transform it into a career. For many years he worked in Israel’s top hotels and kibbutzim before moving to South Africa.

Akal says: “We started trading in August last year, very low-key, refining the model especially the website, making sure it was user-friendly enough. Set-up took a long time, almost a year, sourcing the right equipment, again doing homework, testing the market. The premises were important too. Sourcing the food too. As we’ve grown we’ve been able to maintain the quality, but buy better because of our quantities.”

The kitchen, which the two built to their specifications, is impressive. It has rows of gas hobs, top-of-the-range ovens and a fancy fridge that cools food very quickly, which is why they guarantee that the meals will last a week in your fridge.

From a mezzanine level you can look down on the kitchen and see the staff manning their stations?– one deals with all the chicken dishes, one prepares all the salads and others are in charge of packaging or sauces and chopping vegetables.
Afek cooks most of the dishes himself and oversees operations. He stands over three pots while we chat, adding garlic, spices or chopped tomatoes as needed. One is the filling for cottage pie, another chicken-and-leek pie and the third is chicken à la king. He doesn’t seem to need any recipes as he stirs, seasons and tastes while talking about his love of food and putting together menus that cater for everyone.

So I get to eat what I like without any of the work. Also, I’ve done the maths?– I save money because I don’t have to buy a whole packet of carrots, potatoes and chops. Rather I get just enough of each for a meal. It also means I don’t have to have broccoli three times in a week just to use it up before it goes off.

“There are two distinct markets?– those who are very price conscious and want to see how Chef Direct can save them money, and those who are not. Those who want delicious, different ­options that aren’t available anywhere else. While we can’t be all things to all people, we try to cater for both,” says Akal.

I fall into the price-conscious category, but if I want something different I have that option. For example, for a treat I often order salmon teriyaki, or a beef fillet stuffed with blue cheese or a malva pudding and custard from the deli menu.

One thing I always keep is a packet of the muffin mixture, which means that in 15 minutes I have freshly baked muffins for guests and if I hide the packet they’re none the wiser about who made them. Oh, and the pancake mixture is great for Sunday mornings with bacon and syrup.

The choices are almost endless with curries, stirfries, steaks, pies and even meals for those really watching their waistlines on the menu. The good news is that there are other companies doing similar things throughout the country.

Food Capers (foodcapers.co.za), also Gauteng-based, began in ­Darryl Minnaar’s kitchen, where he prepared and then delivered healthy meals to his customers’ doors. Two-and-a-half years ago he moved to a business premises and now delivers meals to about 200 people every week. He says people have a choice. They can order the full service – breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner?– or just lunch or dinner daily. Also, to help harassed mothers out he makes up healthy school lunches for delivery.

My Chef (mychef.co.za), which was co-founded by Afek a few years back, offers a similar service. It delivers meal-kits weekly in Durban and surrounding areas. “The idea is to assist busy urbanites to provide their families with scrumptious, balanced meals requiring very little effort,’’ says Athena Pampallis, the creative director at My Chef. Their menus change weekly and include everything from healthy options to children’s meals. About 800 people use My Chef’s services regularly.

Those in the Mother City can order from slimmingmeals.com, which provides, as the name suggests, meals for those watching what they eat. The cook, Sally Oosthuizen, also provides a carb-free menu and a more traditional meat- and-starch menu.
While the options in South Africa are limited for now, getting ready-to-eat food delivered is a global trend and if you look up the American sites you’ll find that you can have frozen dinners delivered by ­FedEx anywhere in the US, buy food gift certificates for a sick relative or give ready-made meals as a corporate gift.

For me, being able to order my food online and getting it brought to me gives me more of one thing money can’t buy – time with my family. With a full-time job, a family and a life of my own to maintain, I need all the help I can get. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I even bothered to cook for special occasions any more.

After all why bother, when with the click of a mouse I can get the food delivered and there’s just enough preparation required for me to pass off the three-course meal as my own creation – as long as I hide the packets at the bottom of the recycling bin. 

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