(NB, Moveable Feast only deliver to the mainland US)
OK, I’m fresh off binging both seasons of The Bear. Several hours of watching a gourmet chef-lead drama has inspired me to unleash some unfettered creativity in the kitchen. There’s only one problem: I’m a gastronomic dunce.
Look, I’ve whipped up the odd curry, and blazed through a few of the staples that arrived via various meal delivery services. Over lockdown, I even went as far as to make a timpano, one of the most complicated Italian dishes ever invented, but these culinary heroics are minor blips on an otherwise limited life in the kitchen.
Despite my dearth of skills, though, I’m very suggestible and newly dead set on making a statement dinner. An intensive cookery course seems a bit much, and I should also add that I’m very lazy. Seems like a real pickle.
A friend put me onto Moveable Feast, a new company with a product called Dinner Party. Based in California, they deliver full menus from Michelin-starred and James Beard-recognized restaurants. This isn’t like a takeaway version of high-end food; the ingredients are delivered and you part-prepare the dishes yourself, which seems like the perfect compromise for my predicament.
I sign up for Octavia (Moveable Feast feature one restaurant per month), a San Francisco restaurant that, under chef Melissa Perello, won a Michelin star in 2019. Invites are issued, and the following Thursday (to ensure freshness, the service is only available on Thursdays), a huge box arrives with ice packs and a couple of dozen packets and tubs. Also included are detailed instructions, menus and links to a video that you can watch to get hints for preparation.
The box arrives at noon on the day, and everything goes into the refrigerator, with a few ingredients coming out to acclimatize a couple of hours before prep begins. I watch the video and it’s a lovely ten-minute highlights reel of the main techniques. These are mainly chopping, slicing and drizzling, all of which are well within my lowly wheelhouse.
Would you care to hear the specials? OK. For starters, we have marinated calamari with sungold tomatoes and zucchini, a creamy mozeralla with fig and salsa verde, and charred eggplant tapenade with feta and crispbread. For mains, we have a gem lettuce and stone fruit salad, king salmon in a chile-garlic butter and corn lasagne with shishito peppers. We finish on a blackberry trifle with passion fruit curd and coconut chiffon.
So, I would neither conceive of, nor think I could attempt anything on that list. The best part is that the food has been cooked or is a matter of constructing say, the trifle, from the ingredients provided. Everything is color-coded and so even idiots like me don’t end up dumping blackberry into the calamari and end up with some kind of misguided, avant-garde monstrosity.
I pre-prep the desserts and get the starters ready for my guests arriving (10-15 minutes), set out extra-fancy place settings (there’s a menu for each person, which is a simple but charming touch) and deem it acceptable to open some bubbles, just as a creative fuel, of course.
The instructions are also color-coded and just set out a simple timeline of when to put things in the oven, and what little extra equipment you might need (just six basic kitchen implements for this one). The main courses have 19 steps total and take 30 minutes, but mostly it’s just sliding things in and out of the oven, and so you can socialize freely as long as you remember to set timers.
Thanks to the video, I had a good idea of presentation. There’s a risk that unskilled hands could ruin the aesthetics, but two things make that difficult to do: the garnishes such as wild flowers and salsa verde elevate the look, and the very high quality of ingredients means that the dishes hold their shape, and even my clumsy mitts manage to approximate the plating of Chef Perello. I don’t think she’ll be headhunting me any time soon, but I don’t think I shamed her too deeply.
The system works. I prepare and serve a multi-element three-course dinner for four without any stress, mishaps or disasters. Once the prep is done, you can relax into the wine and gossip and before you know it, you’re stacking the dishwasher.
Did I feel like shouting “CHEF YES CHEF!” many times while piping passion fruit curd or sprinkling herb mix? Maybe. Did I feel a sneaky sense of accomplishment even though I told everyone that the food came from Moveable Feast? I did. Did everything get eaten and a good time was had by all? Absolutely.
At $385 (including shipping), I would say it’s maybe a special occasion affair. The ingredients and packaging are both notably very high quality, and so I felt that the value held up well, and given that you’re getting seven courses for four people from a Michelin-starred establishment, it’s not a bad deal. And the feeling for a schmuck like me of emulating a gourmet chef? Priceless. (PO)
See the Moveable Feast website for details.
Our friend Jody travels to Benin, where he finds friends who are making a dish that might look somewhat familiar if you're a fan of gumbo. We eat it a lot here in New Orleans, but it's interesting to see where the dish came from. Take a look at this video and subscribe to his channel Exit Strategy TV for more content like this.