MINDFUL CHEF | FOOD REVIEW
Ben Woolhead takes a punt on one of the leading home-meal-kit mail order companies’ wares and finds it to be a mixed bag, with several smaller bags inside it.
Food *** Value **
First of all, that name. Mindful Chef sounds less like a recipe box service and more like a quack in an apron who Gwyneth Paltrow might employ for a small fortune to serve her dinner party guests a selection of scented foams. Mindfulness is everywhere these days, it seems – including the kitchen. The implication here, presumably, is that there’s something meditative and stress-relieving about preparing a home-cooked meal. On a lazy Sunday, with a large glass of rioja in hand, maybe. But on a weeknight, at the end of a long working day, trying to strip umpteen strands of thyme and chop up the tiny leaves is more likely to send me into a blind fury.
Mindful is, however, also the company’s way of describing their approach to both food and the environment, and the corporate image is clearly key. School-chum founders Myles Hopper, Giles Humphries and Rob Grieg-Gran disguise their backgrounds in finance, marketing and personal training by posing, welly-booted, on tractors or in the rolling fields of their native Devon, while the weekly recipe magazine is pure Waitrose food porn. And the brand and business plan are evidently working, with a little help from the pandemic: during the first lockdown, the firm trebled in size in just three weeks. Incidentally, not something you’ll do as a regular customer, as the emphasis is very much on healthy options.
The way it works is simple: you select up to three dishes from the Mindful Chef website, indicating whether they’re for one, two or four people, and then all of the ingredients and instructions are delivered to your door on a designated day. You’re under no obligation to sign up to weekly deliveries, and can pause them if you’d like.
The ingredients for our three meals are high quality, generally sourced from small independent producers and arrive perfectly fresh and well packaged (of which more later…), with nothing damaged or missing. Even contemplating the logistics required to achieve this is enough to give me a headache. With 20 different recipes to choose from each time, the service is well suited to anyone stuck in a culinary rut, eager to add something new to their weekly repertoire.
So it is that we find ourselves celebrating freedom from routine with venison and mushroom stew one night, its rich thyme-laden sauce making all that faffing worth it. However, ultimate responsibility for getting the recipes right obviously lies with you. Given that everything is provided, there’s no need or excuse for freestyling, and only by following the instructions to the letter can you fairly judge each dish. The first evening’s Vietnamese crispy pork, cooked as advised, ends up being rather dry – but we regret not adding the recommended splash of water that would have improved a claggy, though otherwise flavoursome, lentil and chana dal the next night.
Food waste is a significant contributor to climate change, so ensuring you receive the exact quantity of each ingredient is understandably a cornerstone of Mindful Chef’s self-trumpeted green credentials. However, the tradeoff is excessive packaging, and it’s hard not to be somewhat cynical if you’re consummate professionals at using up leftovers but are being asked to tear into a third non-recyclable plastic sachet of tomato puree for the sake of a single recipe. Selling out to Nestle certainly doesn’t say much for their commitment to environmental ethics, either.
And then there’s the cost. In a nutshell, Mindful Chef offer mouthwatering recipes at eyewatering prices. Perhaps it’s more of a reflection on our disregard for portion control, but our dishes, supposedly sufficient for four people, barely stretch to two adults and a seven-year-old with a healthy appetite. For this privilege, we redeemed a £60 gift voucher and still had to pay an additional £9. To put that into perspective, immediately prior to the delivery a homemade spiced lentil soup that cost about £2 to make fed us for two meals. What price convenience, eh?
words and photos BEN WOOLHEAD