Making dinner most nights of the week using fresh, nonprocessed ingredients is a worthy goal. And it sounds easy enough. But factor in most people’s hectic schedules, and success is far from guaranteed, never mind the level of kitchen skills or desire. Planning, shopping, and cooking all take time — a key ingredient that is in short supply for a lot of people.
Now imagine someone sending exactly what you feel like making right to your door.
Enter Blue Apron, a company based in Lower Manhattan that delivers fresh food and recipes directly to customers. Recipients still have to cook, but a significant portion of the initial work has already been done.
Blue Apron deliveries, which might contain fresh meats or fish, herbs, vegetables, and fruits, are shipped in refrigerated boxes with exactly the right amount of ingredients for two, three, or four meals (depending on the plan), with recipe cards. These include background information on the dishes, a list of ingredients, and step-by-step instructions, with photos, for each one. Subscribers can view weekly selections online, and can opt out of a delivery if they will be away or don’t like the choices. Deliveries have cold gel packs inside, so if you’re not home when the box arrives, it will stay fresh for several hours. Meals average $10 per person.
“Our mission is to make great home cooking accessible,” says Matthew Wadiak, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and one of Blue Apron’s three founders. He says that he and co-founders Ilia Papas and Matt Salzberg, whose backgrounds are in computer engineering and venture capital, “cooked a lot of meals together when we were starting out.”
The first time Susan Mazur, a corporate lawyer in Boston, tried a Blue Apron dinner, she thought, “The food was delicious but it wasn’t conducive to a working mom because it took too long to make.” (Though most recipes give cooking times of 25 to 35 minutes, Mazur and others have said they can take up to twice as long.) But her husband pressed her to try again because the food was so good.
Rushing home from work to make dinner for her husband and two young sons most weeknights, Mazur doesn’t have time to stop at the grocery store. So she decided to give Blue Apron another try. She changed the delivery day from mid-week to Saturday. Now she does as much prep as she can on the weekend, and when she gets home from work she really can cook a meal in a half-hour. With Blue Apron, Mazur doesn’t have to plan meals or worry about shopping. “It’s hard to explain how much stress that relieves,” she says.
When the company was getting started, in mid-2012, Wadiak wrote the first 300 recipes in his one-bedroom apartment in New York. Now he has a team that includes a culinary director and manager, both CIA graduates, and a group of recipe writers. Recipes are perfected at their test kitchen in Brooklyn. “It’s a simple residential kitchen because our customers are cooking on a residential stove, so we try to emulate that,” he says. Though he no longer writes every recipe, Wadiak still reviews all of them.
“A big part of our ethos is learning and sharing,” he explains. A Blue Apron editorial team writes the recipe cards and all website content, “including anthropology of the food and what it means to cook together. People really embrace it,” Wadiak says. One customer planned a wedding proposal around a nettle pasta dish — with the result he had hoped for. The editorial team is also working on cookbooks, so customers will be able to make all their favorite recipes whenever they want (but will have to shop for ingredients themselves).
Phil Landa, a screenwriter who lives in Belmont and works from home, does most of the weeknight cooking for himself, his wife, and their daughter, Sophie, 18. He says he turned to Blue Apron because the family was relying too much on takeout and the same old recipes. “You want to cook at home, you get into a rut. It’s nice to try different things,” he says. “Sophie likes to cook and it’s been really nice for the two of us.” Landa has been impressed by the freshness and quality of Blue Apron’s ingredients. And because all ingredients are already measured, he notes, there is no waste.
According to Wadiak, many customers are now cooking with items they may have never heard of, were timid about using, or just couldn’t find.
Mazur has cooked with beets and fennel for the first time. Landa is getting to know lemongrass. Still unsure of exactly how to work with it, he says he has turned to Blue Apron’s online tutorials for help. Wadiak notes that, perhaps surprisingly, the company has a fairly even mix of rural and urban customers, and he thinks that is largely because a lot of ingredients are unavailable in more remote areas.
Joshua Janson, who lives in the South End, writes in an e-mail, “For someone like myself who doesn’t have the patience to learn how to cook it is shocking how easy they make it . . . I love the look of shock on my husband’s face (truth be told I’m rather shocked when I see what I created as well) when I serve him an absolutely perfect creation that I made.”
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Lucia Huntington contributed to this story. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.