Hey there hungry people! I was recently given a promo code for a free box of meal kits from Chef’s Plate, which is one of several well-known meal kit providers. Here’s their website.
I did a review of Hello Fresh last year, which you can read here.
How does Chef’s Plate stack up?
My first impression of Chef’s Plate was that there were considerably fewer choices than with Hello Fresh, and there weren’t many that appealed to me. I was looking specifically for an interesting fish dish, and one that was entirely veggie. I found neither. There were Valentine’s specials on, which meant extra cost for items like salmon and steak.
The promo allowed for 2 kits for 4 people. I chose two kits based on ground meats, which was a bit of a surprise. I chose pork-based sloppy joes with green salad, and ‘Cottage Pie’ with beef. The cottage pie is shepherd’s pie, which seems much more identifiable. Not sure why they went with ‘Cottage.’ Perhaps to make it sound more exotic?
The sloppy joes were nostalgic, and I planned to make them for the Super Bowl. The pie was based on my surprise at seeing it there. It seemed atypical for meal kits, from my limited experience, and I wanted to see how it would turn out. I make Shepherd’s pie occasionally, and I enjoy it.
Overall, big disappointment on choices, and extra because the amount of promo didn’t fully cover 4 kits for 2 people so I couldn’t even get a broader sense of the choices without paying. It would be ~$5 to do that, and a little ding like that, clearly intentional, never does well with customers.
While I feel like things are getting better, the level of packaging is still the primary barrier to me ever getting these kits on a regular basis. Nothing particularly excessive here, but getting larger kits points out the extra waste from the portioning process.
You could order the same kits for 2 people, which is actually the base kit. The bigger size just means they put 2 of everything in the bag. 2 meat portions, for example, which also means 2 separate, enclosed plastic portions. There’s no way to combine them on the consumer end. You just have to hope that someone’s using common sense and having a larger size package on hand. It’s really bad for things like herbs and little spice packets.
Overall, I was not expecting much, and got it.
The ingredients were a really strange mix. The meat was fine, the potatoes were fine, and the various spice packets and such were all fine. It was the veggies that were strange.
The veggies for the sloppy joes were (literally) a greens mix and tomatoes. They were actually all gorgeous. The greens especially.
The veggies for the pie, however would have prompted a photo session and complaint if I’d paid for them. They were cut small into cubes, and gave the impression that they had been previously frozen. There was a lot of moisture in the package, and it was the kind of moisture you get from rotting vegetables.
When I opened the package, there was a bad smell that hung in the kitchen for a while. Some of the veggies looked salvageable, but a large amount had to be thrown out. I probably should have sent the whole thing to the compost bin.
Overall I have no idea what to think. Extremes of good and bad sandwiched around mostly decent stuff.
Making the Kits
Fun story: once I had a date in university, and I cooked for her. I made sloppy joes, and the recipe had a ton of ingredients including a full-on cup of ketchup. It was kind of like a gross achievement, and they turned out well, so I could say that I made her eat something that had a cup of ketchup in it, and she liked it. Small victories.
To say that the meal kit sloppy joes aimed low with the recipe is an understatement. I would have done the cup of ketchup recipe, which also had things like caraway seed and Worchestershire sauce in it, in a heartbeat. The kit used onions, pork and barbecue spice blend and barbecue sauce, both from a packet. I added actual garlic.
Maybe I’m looking at this wrong, and the simplicity is beauty, but the kit felt pretty underwhelming and unambitious, and I wouldn’t have learned any useful technique or insight into flavour from it.
The Cottage pie, outside of the crappy vegetables, was a complete surprise, entirely because of how much food it made. I expected to use a smaller dish, but it filled the whole Pyrex 9×13 baking pan. I’m willing to overlook a lot of quality issues if the value is really good. The flavour profile was lacking, so I added a generous amount of smoked paprika.
Overall, the recipes were simple and easy to make. While the joes aimed so low, I’d probably apologize before serving them, I could see plenty of people learning to make their own Shepherd’s (Cottage) pie from that recipe.
The joes were okay. The pork portion was generous, and the buns were nice. The cheese was odd, and had no presence other than colour. The salad was the greens and tomatoes and a tiny little cup of vinegar. I like nice veg and simple dressings, but it was too simple for a kit like this.
The Cottage pie was super bland. Several packets of spice, a gravy base, and soy sauce went into the mix, and all I tasted was a slight hint of salt and the smoked paprika I added. Not enough to overshadow anything, because I could also taste the meat and veg just fine.
Overall, the food was okay, and the ingredients mostly were good. The plentiful portions were a pleasant surprise, but the recipes were pretty basic. Memorable flavour was lacking big time.
Now that I have a direct comparison, I would put Hello Fresh above Chef’s Plate. I wouldn’t order from either based on packaging, for the record, but if I had to choose one, it would be Hello Fresh. The recipes were more complex, aimed higher, and looked more interesting overall. I learned a couple of things from Hello Fresh also, like how to cook Barramundi under the broiler, and a really nice combination of Halloumi or Paneer cheese with Israeli couscous, roasted vegetables and lemon crema that I’ve made a few times since.
Best thing about Chef’s Plate: beautiful bagged vegetables that were not only nice, but held up well.
Worst thing about Chef’s Plate: gross bagged vegetables that seemed like they had thawed from frozen in transit.
If the best and worst thing seem like a strange contradiction, they are. But I did get two kits in the box. To be wildly inconsistent across such a small sample size is not good, Chef’s Plate. I will not be ordering anything further. Thanks for reading.
If you want to have a good laugh about meal kits, check out our parody video ‘Bad Food Meal Kits’ below.