PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARADVERTISER.COM
WILLIAM CHEN PUTS ALL THE INGREDIENTS FOR A RESTAURANT-QUALITY MEAL IN YOUR HANDS WITH FRESH BOX.
The older you get, the more of a chore it becomes to figure out what's for dinner.
First you have to decide what you want to eat. Then there's grocery shopping to do, and prep once you get home ... it's no wonder many people end up junk fooding it.
Imagine the possibilities if someone else did the planning and shopping and delivered all the ingredients for three great meals to your doorstep.
That's just what chef William Chen has done with Fresh Box, his subscription meal kit startup. Formerly the chef de cuisine at the Moana Surfrider Hotel, Chen said the idea of starting his own business is the result of a convergence of circumstances.
Working at the hotel, he was often complimented on his cooking skills and told he was lucky to have the ability to cook meals for himself at home. But, just as in the animated film "Ratatouille," he's a chef who believes "anyone can cook."
"If you give me 20 to 30 minutes of your time, I can show you how to do the basics, and you can just build from that," he said. "It was obvious to me that people want to cook, but they're hesitant because they don't know where to start. That was always in my mind."
THE INGREDIENTS FOR CORNMEAL CRUSTED FISH WITH WHITE BEAN AND BACON SALAD, AND MY FINISHED DISH, BELOW.
He was also participating in a CrossFit training program with specific dietary demands that required everyone to prepare their own meals.
"People started sharing their food, and when I looked at what others were eating, it looked a bit gray," he said.
On seeing Chen's colorful, yet still healthy food, the other participants were amazed.
"They started asking if I would make food for them and they would pay me."
He thought it would be too much trouble to do the actual cooking for them, but if they were willing to do the cooking, he could assemble all the ingredients.
Chen also knew people had trouble dealing with CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes, in which people help support farms by buying boxes of produce from farms on a weekly or regular basis.
"People would get these ingredients and ask how to use them," he said. "If you subscribe to a CSA box from a specific farm, you're limited to what they produce. You might get a bushel of kale and not be able to finish it before the next box arrives."
So his Fresh Box takes all of this into account, allowing novices to cook up creative and varied gourmet, restaurant-quality meals at home with ease. His recipes are nutritionally balanced and incorporate farm-fresh ingredients with zero waste.
"I wanted to present it all in a package that's attractive and interactive for people," said Chen.
THESE ARE THE INGREDIENTS FOR CHEN'S CHICKEN WITH PEACH SALAD. IN THE CENTER ARE OREGANO, ORGANIC SUGAR AND CIDER VINEGAR FOR THE SALAD'S TOMATO VINAIGRETTE.
CHOPPED RED POTATOES, PEACHES AND TOMATOES.
THE RECIPE CALLED FOR GRILLING THE CHICKEN AND PEACHES, BUT WITH NO GRILL, CHEN SAID IT WAS FINE TO COOK THEM IN A SAUTE PAN. SO I DID. FOR PHOTO'S SAKE, I WENT MY OWN WAY AND SEPARATED PEACHES AND SALAD. THE SALAD WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER HIS WAY, WITH THE SWEETNESS OF THE PEACHES.
THERE'S LEEWAY IN PRESENTATION. CHEN'S CHICKEN DISH WAS PRESENTED AS A SALAD, LEFT. I FANNED IT ALL OUT FOR THE SORT OF PEOPLE WHO DON'T LIKE DIFFERENT FOOD GROUPS TO TOUCH. I'VE MET PLENTY OF WEIRD EATERS, THE KIND WHO NEED TO PICK OUT EVERY INGREDIENT IN FRIED RICE, PILE THEM UP AND EAT THEM SEPARATELY.
Each box comes with all the ingredients and instructions for three meals for two, or dinner six nights a week for singles. His recipes come with pre-measured ingredients, an 8 1/2-by-11-inch “recipe card” with a photo of the finished dish, and step-by-step photos to guide you in the cooking journey. The only things you need from your pantry are salt, pepper and cooking oil.
Chen claims you can prepare the meals in 30 minutes or less, but that’s a pro talking. For us civilians it will take 30 to 45 minutes because there is prep time involved in chopping vegetables.
For beginners, it’s a learning experience. Even more experienced cooks have the opportunity to step out of comfort zones and try ingredients they’ve never used before. For those who want to impress a date with cooking skills, this is a no-fail option. And those short on time will find it easy to have all the ingredients delivered, in the right portions, so there’s no waste or spoilage.
He comes up with new menus weekly so you won't be bored, and even though I go out almost every night of the week, I found time to cook the three meals. With four days between first and last meals, the ingredients kept.
INGREDIENTS FOR STEAK WITH BALSAMIC ONIONS, INCLUDING BAY LEAVES AND GARAM MASALA FOR BASMATI RICE, AND SUMAC TO DUST OVER CARROTS. YOU MAY BE MORE FAMILIAR WITH SUMAC THAN YOU THINK. IT'S THE DOMINANT FLAVOR IN LI HING MUI.
THE FINISHED DISH WITH SUMAC CARROTS, GARAM MASALA-PERFUMED BASMATI RICE AND BALSAMIC ONIONS AND CILANTRO OVER THE STEAK.
THE RECIPE CARD FOR THE CHICKEN DISH. THE FLIP SIDE BEARS A PHOTO OF THE FINISHED DISH.
So far, 200 have subscribed to the service, with meals delivered to your door, anywhere on Oahu. But there's still plenty of boxes to go around.
"The more the merrier," Chen said.
Fresh Box membership is $10 monthly, plus $72 per box of six meals ($12 per meal). Nonmember price is $15 per meal ($90 per box).
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage appears in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.