Finding your inner chef

Garnish and Gather does it all for you (except for the cooking)
This is not a picture of the author.

Courtesy of Garnish & Gather

I stare at the partially-mashed glob of sweet potatoes, immersed in a bowl of water. It looks like Jabba the Hutt is taking a bath.

This can’t be right. I consult the recipe card from Garnish & Gather, a new Atlanta business that provides cook-at-home kits with local, organic foods, and pre-measured ingredients for simple recipes from notable chefs like Seth Freedman and Julia LeRoy.

If anyone can help me—a lost cause in the kitchen—it’s a company like G&G, founded by Emily Golub, who had been toiling at a full-time corporate job and struggled to whip up good meals from the eclectic array of produce she got every week from her CSA. She wanted to eat locally and organically but needed some guidance on what to cook and how. So in June she launched the business.

I am the kind of person who loves healthy food; I’d rather eat a local, organic, lightly dressed kale salad than a double-decker burger or a mayonnaise-y foot-long. But I am also the kind of person who works full-time, has two little kids, hates grocery shopping, and avoids cooking. A lot of my meals are sourced from boxes and come to me via the microwave. Or maybe I just eat whatever mac ‘n’ cheese is left on the dining room table.

A personal chef is, fiscally, out of the question. There’s Good Measure Meals, which provides nutritious ready-to-eat meals in Atlanta and Athens for between $61 to $198 per week.

And then there’s Garnish & Gather, with its cook-it-yourself kits. One meal per week costs $35 for two people and $65 for four. Two meals per week is $65 for two people and $125 for four. Three meals per week is $95 for two people and $180 for four. (Note: the pricing structure is expected to change in 2014.)

The company says its meal kits are 20 percent to 25 percent cheaper than buying all the ingredients at a premium grocery store like Whole Foods. Each recipe is tested twice before it is offered up to customers, to make sure the process is fairly easy to follow.

“One of the goals is to help people rediscover the art of cooking and reconnect them with their food,” says Danielle Moore, G&G’s “mealtime manager.”

I pick up my meal kit at the nearby Cook’s Warehouse and find inside the adorable tote bag a frozen pork tenderloin from the Spotted Trotter, which sourced it from Brasstown Beef, along with a pre-measured packet of spice rub, a bag of Woodland Gardens sweet potatoes and D and A Farm potatoes, a small cup of Sweetwater Creek Tupelo honey, and a few other dime-bags of seasonings along with the recipe and a card recommending a table topic for dinner (“Who was the best teacher you’ve ever had?”).

The recipe says:

2 cups sweet potato, peeled & diced
½ cup potato, peeled and diced
1 quart of water
1½ tbsp butter
2 tsp honey
¼ tsp cinnamon
Salt & pepper to taste

I boiled the potatoes, as instructed, and mashed them with the remaining ingredients, and I’m left with this sickening-looking soup.

And then I realize my mistake. The water should not be in the bowl. The water was listed in the recipe for dolts like me, so I’d know how much to boil.

I rush to drain the water out of the mash, and of course lose some of the cinnamon and Sweetwater Creek Tupelo honey in the process. After thoroughly pulverizing what’s left, I end up with something akin to locally sourced, artisanally bland baby food.

I add my own ten-year-old powdered cinnamon and some salt. Still just mush. I see there’s a packet of local pecans in my Garnish & Gather tote bag. They found their way there by mistake. I sprinkle the nuts on the mashies. That helps.

I move on to the pork loin, which I’ve rubbed with the pre-mixed packet of Cafe Campesino coffee, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and brown sugar. The recipe tells me to heat oil in an oven-proof pan over medium heat and brown the loin on all sides.

OK. I do two minutes on each side, and it is brown on both sides. But that’s because the spice rub is brown. Am I supposed to scrape it off to see if the meat itself has browned? I decide to pan fry it just a few minutes more.

I don’t have an oven timer (or if I do I have no idea where it is), so after I put the pan in the oven, I set an alarm on my phone. It fails to go off. I take a peek at the meat. It is sizzling, but is it done?

I ask Siri. She tells me it should be 160 degrees or I risk killing my husband. I dig around in a messy kitchen drawer and miraculously find the meat thermometer. I puncture the pork with it. The dial measures by fifty-degree increments. I think it says 160, and cross my fingers we’re out of trichinosis territory.

I slice the meat and look for lemon zest, but I don’t have it in my tote bag, so I skip it.

Then it’s time to eat.

It is delicious. And for one shining moment, I see myself as the perfect wife, effortlessly whipping up a healthy and balanced meal for my husband while propping my toddler on my hip at the end of my own full workday.

And then the microwave beeps, and the kids scream for their mac ‘n’ cheese, and I’m awoken from my reverie.