Chef Chatter: Creating craveable, nutritious meals that everyone can afford – Fast Casual

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Editor’s note: Chef Chatter is a series featuring chefs-authored blogs. If you’d like to write a Chef Chatter blog, send your idea to Cherryh Cansler at [email protected]

By Zach Thomas, R&D Chef, Everytable

Like most chefs, I love creating food that hits all the high notes from innovative recipes with unexpected ingredients to flavors that reach beyond craveability. Yet, while there is certainly a place in the world for exceptional dining experiences, staggering rates of hunger and food insecurity in our country make meals like this completely out of reach for so many communities. 

After several years working in more traditional chef roles in New York, I recently joined Everytable, a mission-driven food company that strives to provide healthy and affordable meals to everyone across America. I can say without hesitation that this new journey, which affords me the opportunity to make someone’s day every day, is more enjoyable and rewarding spiritually than serving just a portion of our society. 

Choosing a different career path 
Becoming an R&D Chef is a bit of a hidden option when you’re going through culinary school. Working your way up through kitchens to eventually run your own restaurant wasn’t my dream like so many others. I want to make excellent food but I also want the time to prioritize family and friends in my life. Realizing I could be a chef with a more “9-5 schedule” and create amazing, healthy and affordable food for many people from all walks of life was a breakthrough for me. 

Food for the people 
Everytable started in 2016 as a revolutionary grab-and-go restaurant concept with made-from-scratch meals priced according to the neighborhood. Our main mission is food equality for all. At our locations in Watts, Compton and South Los Angeles, meals start at $5, while those same meals start at $7.00 in more affluent communities. Today, we serve thousands of fresh-prepared meals each day throughout Los Angeles through a combination of storefronts, subscriptions and Smartfridges supplied by a central kitchen, which falls under my domain as the company’s R&D Chef.  We’re also working with several local community colleges and universities to help alleviate food insecurity on their campuses. 

Behind the scenes of a commissary kitchen  
Transitioning from a more traditional chef role to one leading a commissary kitchen was challenging and one I excitedly accepted. About five percent of my job is creating new recipes; 90% is working to scale those recipes to maintain consistency, quality and cost; and the last 5% is follow-up and quality control. I spend quite a bit of time teaching the rest of the kitchen team how to scale our recipes, which we do by breaking down a dish to the most fundamental processes so anyone who isn’t a chef can produce the recipes and maintain quality and consistency on a large scale. 

Value engineering recipes 
Every restaurant has to manage costs, but at Everytable, we talk about shaving cents off a dish so we can keep it affordable and accessible. As part of my research, I visit a variety of local restaurants and then dissect the ingredients in a dish to estimate how much it would cost me to make this in the Everytable kitchen. I consider which ingredients are key to a dish and how I can make those ingredients go further and also which items can be removed or replaced to decrease the ingredient cost without sacrificing the flavor and soul of the dish. When I want to introduce our guests to new and exciting flavors, like Harissa for example, I might add it to a dressing to make it go further in a dish, since it is both incredibly delicious and expensive. We also prefer to incorporate fresh herbs and spices into flavor bases instead of chicken stock. I also choose which cuts I can use to spread a key ingredient throughout a dish — like shredding chicken andouille sausage instead of slicing it for our Jambalaya. 

Adapting recipes to a grab-and-go model 
At Everytable, the key to reducing meal costs comes from making all our meals in a central kitchen, and then passing the savings onto our guests. Of course making recipes for a grab-and-go model comes with inherent constraints on what types of meals will work best to maintain quality and great flavor. For example, when we developed our Moroccan Salmon dish, I thought about the office employee who would be apprehensive about heating fish for lunch. So, I decided to dust the fish with sweet and savory spices and as a result, when the meal is heated it almost smells like a fresh batch of cookies coming out of the oven instead of fish! When creating our new breakfast burrito, we knew they needed to be good on the go, so we focused on grains to soak up moisture, vegetables for crunch and cheese to add richness but also have a functional role of keeping it all together.  

Becoming part of the solution
Moving to Los Angeles and joining the Everytable team is easily one of the best decisions I’ve made since becoming a chef. Starting as a dishwasher in college and rising through the ranks with the help and support of friends and mentors, I have no regrets in stepping off the traditional career ladder and using my skills to help in the fight for food justice with Everytable.

Source: Thanks