Friday, April 28, 2006

Cooking Clubs 

Because we don't have any of these "prepare your own" kitchens locally, although there are a couple in the state, I didn't really hear about them until I read the post in Tigers and Strawberries.

I remember several years ago, we did have a "make and take" pizza place, where they had all the ingredients and pre-made pizza dough available. You went in, chose how many pizzas you wanted, what sizes, put them together, and then took the pizza home to freeze or bake and serve.

They didn't last long.

I'm not sure why, and since I never used them, I suppose I never will.

I've read some of the websites for these places, though, and I have to wonder.

Barbara cited several newspaper articles that were less than enthusiastic about the idea, one because the recipes were corporate-driven and not locally adaptable, the other because the individual components were pre-frozen and the resulting dinners said "institutional" rather than "home-cooked". I suppose it will depend upon the individual companies.

After reading a lot of these companies' websites, I have a few observations of my own. The menus are all very meat-heavy, and the choices are very limited for families using this on a weekly basis - they'd be eating the same entree for at least 3 meals every month, and quite possibly for more. There doesn't seem to be an option for the single person, and there are no vegetarian or special diet options - I can see all three of these being bigger markets than the one that is directed to a family of four, especially if the food is fresh and local, and not by some large food distributer like Sysco or Dawn Foods.

I am particularly perturbed when I see menu items like "Potato Bacon and Spinach Casserole" or "Shrimp Quesadillas" or "Blackened Tilapia" being touted as vegetarian. Bacon, shrimp, tilapia - these are not on a vegetarian food list.

Very few of these places seem to offer side dishes, and the few that I've seen who list sides on their website (and I fully admit that their web pages may not contain all the information), generally list rice or mashed potatoes.

The concept is that of a community kitchen with sous chefs, and honestly, if you've got the time to travel to a community kitchen and spend the couple of hours there, herded from prep station to prep station, then you've probably got the time to do this all at home in your own kitchen. The biggest plus for such a community kitchen concept is the community aspect - doing this together with the entire family, with friends, or to meet friends. And someone else to clean up afterwards is kind of nice, but when you go home and actually cook thse meals to serve, you stil have to clean up anyway, so it's not that much of a benefit on that point.

However - if such a concept were adapted for single people, for people on special diets - gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free, diabetic, heart-healthy - I can see this having a strong appeal and being very successful. Especially if the foods were seasonal and local, with more flexible menus.

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