Young and Hungry

Home-Cooked Meals: Now With Less Cooking

D.C. has a new service for people who want to brag that they cooked dinner without having to chop an onion or marinate some meat.

Scratch DC, a meal prep and delivery service, launched last month to help people cheat the home-cooked meal. It works like this: Every day (Monday through Thursday, for now), a different dish is featured. You choose what time you want it delivered, and a bundle with all of the ingredients—chopped, measured, and marinated—arrives at your door. All you have to do is assemble and cook.

I was immediately skeptical of the new service: Who can't dice their own tomatoes? Do I really want to spend $26 on a dinner that I still have to cook?

Scratch DC isn't necessarily for cooking fanatics like me, who like to make their own pizza dough and regularly use an ice-cream maker. Instead, I turned to a cooking novice: my boyfriend. Despite his love of gourmet foods and an impressive knowledge of D.C. restaurants, Zach's idea of cooking is making a peanut butter sandwich. One time, he put a whole mango in a blender to make a smoothie; he didn't know mangos have pits. He's the perfect test subject.

A day in advance, I ordered the balsamic flank steak with redskin mashed potatoes and tomato blue cheese salad. The meal for two came to $33 with tax and tip. At 6:45 p.m. the following day, 26-year-old Ryan Hansan arrived at my door. The founder of Scratch DC does all the recipe development, cooking (with the help of a prep cook), order management, marketing, and delivery—at least for now while the company is in its infancy.

The food comes wrapped in a box with twine, and each ingredient has its own container: A salad of grape tomatoes, red onion, and organic blue cheese are already mixed together with balsamic and olive oil on the side. The raw flank steak is cut and marinated in a plastic Ziploc bag. The potatoes come whole with a container for the organic cream and butter and another for the salt and pepper. There are even two surprise cookie dough balls.

The ingredients are accompanied by a piece of paper that names the local farms each ingredient comes from. On the flip side are conversational directions ("whisper sweet nothings as that beautiful cooking machine gets hot and bothered"), which also outline what kitchen equipment you'll need and the cook time. If you get stuck, there are a phone number and email to reach out for help.

"I just want to eat the raw cookie dough," Zach says as he looks at the instructions. I start to get nervous about handing over the spatula.

As it turns out, everything goes smoothly. The instructions are more or less spot on, although the timing was such that the flank steak started to get cold by the time Zach finished the mashed potatoes. We ended up with two heaping helpings—more than enough food for two people. Given the portions and organic local farm ingredients, the $33 price tag didn't seem too bad.

"It tastes good. I can't believe I cooked it," Zach says as we chow down. I can hardly believe it either. And he's right, it's hearty and well-seasoned. We completely clean our plates.

Zach admits there's no way he would have dragged himself to the grocery or tried to find a recipe after a long day at work. "And yet, here I am cooking," he says. When I ask if he could have made the meal on his own from scratch, he says no.

A couple days later, I call Hansan to learn a little more about Scratch DC. Turns out the Reston native has no experience in a professional kitchen. As an undergrad at American University, Hansan started a printing company called Undermats that made customized mats to put under your chair so it doesn't mess up the carpet. Later, he did a stint at a company that runs background checks on people working with senior citizens. He's also spent a lot of time over the past few years traveling to the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, and beyond.

Many of the recipes come from his mom, who was always cooking when Hansan was growing up. As a young professional just out of college, Hansan found it hard to emulate that. "Your choices are either go out to dinner and spend a lot of money and end up eating pretty unhealthy, or you scrounge together what's in your fridge," Hansan says. "And usually for me, it was beer and half a jar of pasta sauce." That was the premise for starting Scratch DC.

Meals so far have included sesame ginger teriyaki shrimp with garlic quinoa stir fry, scallops and chorizo over snow peas and guacamole, and buffalo chicken tacos. In the coming weeks, Hansan hopes to introduce more exotic dishes inspired by his world travels. He's also looking to launch brunch delivery and a cheese course add-on. If he can get a liquor license down the line, he'd like to be able to deliver wine as well.

Despite my initial reservations about the service, I'm all for it. Even if only so my boyfriend will keep cooking for me.

Photos by Jessica Sidman

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