Place an order online for pick-up or delivery, turn your oven on and starting cooking a restaurant meal.
In addition to basic curbside pickup, a number of restaurants have started offering “meal kits” or “supper kits,” with packaged ingredients and instructions, that you finish cooking at home.
Like meal kits from companies such as HelloFresh, local restaurant chefs have created the recipe and prepped much of the food: you do the rest.
For the restaurant, it’s a bit of marketing in tough times and an attempt at added revenue.
In many cases, like a steak dinner, the logistics make sense: a nice striploin can’t really be grilled at the restaurant and then transported clear across town to its destination with quality intact.
But pick up the kit to make the meal — with salad, sauces, condiments, a baked potato — and grill the steak yourself and you’ve got a fresh, hot meal of restaurant quality with less prep work.
There are several local restaurants that have embarked on meal-kit programs over past few weeks, and I gave a few of them a test drive.
An important note: The menus and prices are subject to change, while delivery and pick-up options vary.
What to expect
Good vegetarian option that’s gluten-free (although note that their kitchen is not gluten-free): sweet peppers stuffed with quinoa, cauliflower “rice,” black olives and feta with a zippy and refreshing corn salad.
Clear instructions and labelling. Arrived at the door in good, re-usable cooler bags.
Cambridge Mill, Cambridge
Mildly spiced Asian-style beef lettuce wraps feature super tender beef with hoisin glass noodles. A quick re-heat of the beef contrasts with cool noodles and crisp romaine. Cucumber-sesame salad accompanies.
Crafty Ramen, Guelph and Kitchener
A lot of thought has gone into the coordination of ingredients, packaging and instructions.
It’s really a “mini-course” in making ramen and was a fun learning experience. Excellent online directions with a labelled and numbered photograph.
Looking for something a little different?
The list is not comprehensive, but there are also other meal-kit selections on offer. They include:
Fat Sparrow Marketplace, St. Jacobs
Bake-your-own nachos come with the chips, cheese, salsa, etc., and the tinfoil pan. Build it, bake it and munch it.
Moose Winooski’s, Kitchener
Apparently flying off the virtual shelf is the “campfire kit” of burgers, dogs, slaw and S’mores. Perfect for warmer weather.
King Street Trio, Waterloo
Chef Kyle Rennie started their Supper Club program a few weeks ago.
One kit included freshly baked bread, a salad, a pasta main course and dessert.
“The idea is you don’t have to rush to eat while it’s still hot. You can even cook it a different day,” Rennie said. Check out their Instagram for instructional videos.
The Keg, Guelph
The Keg’s “Celebration Kit” is everything you need for a dinner that serves two to eight. The kit can be refrigerated and held for three days.
Charcoal Steakhouse, Kitchener
The barbecue steak kit includes protein, baking potato, a brandy-peppercorn sauce, veg, salad and garnish.
Executive chef Terry Salmond provides a detailed, typed series of three or four steps for preparation. A popular selection for taking advantage of Charcoal’s aged-steak program at home.
Willibald Farm and Distillery, Ayr
They started out with pizza kits, but in barbecue season have added a house-made garlic and fennel sausage kit with home-made ketchup, natural pickle relish, grainy mustard and buns, said Chef Byron Hallett.
There’s also a brined half-chicken to be served with home-made root-beer barbecue sauce and pasta salad.
“All of which are packed raw to test your culinary skills from the safety of your own home,” Hallett said.
A ‘bond’ with chefs
To sum up, you don’t need to be a seasoned cook to handle the basics of the assembly and re-heating process. The kits require a small amount of skill but more the inclination to cook. The nice thing is that all the prep work — including slicing and dicing — is done for you.
The kits could be an enjoyable family event and perhaps a way to involve kids in the cooking process in a relatively simple fashion.
There’s also a bit of a “bond” indirectly created with a restaurant that you may or may not be familiar with, one that is certainly more than just ordering curbside takeaway and more than what larger meal-kit delivery companies can offer from their commissaries.
Are the kits part of the new normal for restaurants? It’s too early to tell. Many restaurants are only a couple of weeks into their programs and are still finding their feet and getting formulas and processes correct.
However, if they can get the margins right and generate some decent revenue, home meal kits that encourage a modicum of cooking shared with restaurant chefs could be part of the post-COVID-19 culinary landscape.