They deliver, you cook

They deliver, you cook

Engineering program manager Prabahar Annalingam is hardly a whiz in the kitchen, but he can whip up a hearty dish of Pakistani ginger chicken with naan under 30 minutes these days.

The 41-year-old has neither attended cooking lessons nor sought the help of his homemaker wife, Shantha, 32. Instead, his "cheat sheet" comes in a form of a meal kit, which consists of pre-measured fresh ingredients and illustrated recipe cards delivered to his five-room flat in Bukit Batok.

He says: "All I have to do is to throw everything in the pan and follow the instructions in the recipe."

He ordered a classic box from The Hungry Chef two weeks ago, which cost $62 and yielded three meals. During that week, his family also had pan-fried sausages with apples and onions, and sausage linguine.

His son Shanthosh, nine, has a new-found interest - chopping vegetables and sausages, and sprinkling condiments into the pan. Mr Prabahar also has a daughter, Hasini, six.

He says: "We would chat and joke around while preparing food; it is an engaging way to bond with the family."

He is part of a growing group of time-strapped home cooks who are opting for the meal kit. It allows them to fastforward the cooking process by cutting out the grocery run.

While the meal delivery service is common here, the meal kit is a fresh concept. It has been offered in recent months by a couple of companies, including The Hungry Chef.

Former market researcher Ruchi Ballal, 34, decided to start The Hungry Chef as a way of solving her kitchen woes. The permanent resident from India recalls that her hectic 10-hour work days meant little time to plan recipes.

She says: "I was frustrated that I was always cooking the same dishes, with an incomplete set of ingredients."

Cooking only on weekends also resulted in high wastage in the kitchen. "I had to throw away ingredients such as salad leaves and pesto sauces, which I occasionally used."

Through meal kits, Mrs Ballal, who has a 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, hopes to encourage home-cooking by "bringing convenience and inspiration to the doorstep".

She says: "Home-cooked food rules; it's healthier as you know what goes into your food. It is also a way of passing knowledge to your children."

Her customers can choose from a list of more than 20 dishes, which is updated weekly.

The selection spans cuisine as diverse as Japanese and Mediterranean. Prices start from $7.50 for a dish of Moroccan chicken fillet with pita bread.

Meal kit services first started in 2007 with Middagsfrid in Sweden.

The model has since been replicated across Europe and the United States. Hello Fresh in Germany and Blue Apron in the US deliver over one million meals each in a month.

Mrs Ballal and her husband Ashutosh, 34, started The Hungry Chef with $20,000.

It has received about 20 orders since its launch earlier this month.

For research manager Felicia Ong, 28, meal kits provide inspiration when she runs out of cooking ideas. She cooks up to five times a week for her husband and herself.

She adds: "It would be better if we can give feedback - our wish list of other exotic dishes to try, such as Caribbean cuisine."

A similar craving for adventure has drawn human resource manager Magdalena Poulin, 33, to order two meal kits.

Ms Poulin, who is from Poland, values meal kits as "a good learning opportunity".

She says: "I am willing to pay for a different cooking experience, without having to experiment with the timings or cooking methods, so it doesn't get messy in the kitchen."


This article was first published on December 28, 2014.
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