Since starting this blog, I’ve been on a mission to explore all sorts of ways (and reasons) to enjoy a home-cooked meal in the city. And I’m impressed by the variety of them that seems to grow every day. Furthermore, many of them share the same values about food — fresh, seasonal, and conscientiously produced. Here’s one great revelation that’s come to home cooking in Brooklyn, a new start-up by Quinn Fitzgerald called Feast Upon.
I was lucky enough to get the inside scoop from Quinn as he was devising the concept for this service earlier this year. It’s simple: pick out a menu that you’d like to prepare from a selection of those created by local chefs. Order it, and Quinn comes to your door with a bag of fresh ingredients and a simple instructions card. It’s the kind of formula that might only work as well as the food turns out, and after tasting the recipes twice, I have to say, the meals came out marvelously.
Since it’s just began, the project is still hyper-local in scope, featuring chefs’ recipes from Park Slope restaurants (such as Palo Santo, whose duck and chimichurri sauce I made), and delivering only to nearby areas so far. But let’s see what Quinn has to say about where it’s going, and how it was founded, in his own words below.
How did you come up with the idea for Feast Upon — were you its perfect target audience?
QF: I saw that cooking at home was too time consuming for many who would otherwise love to do it. So I set out to make it easier for New Yorkers to connect with great food at home. As a frequent entertainer, I developed a formula for hosting dinner parties and dates in New York. I would pick my last great restaurant meal and attempt to replicate it at home. Then I would get obsessive about finding farmers who were growing the best seasonal produce and visit multiple farmers’ markets. And for appetizers and desserts I turned to the new crop of local artisans making incredible breads, cheeses, chocolates and baked goods.
Sometimes the meal was great. But one time, early in my hosting career, I rashly invited more than ten people on short notice to impress a girl. I drastically over-reached with a braised lamb inspired by a recent meal at Dressler. While the lamb didn’t come out until midnight, and by all culinary measures I failed as a host, there was a fun story behind the affair and the night was a success. More importantly it brought the people I cared about together in an intimate setting and I ended up dating the girl for two years.
I found that many share my enthusiasm for eating great food at home, but don’t have the time or the patience to pull it all together. I launched Feast Upon to provide a solution. So yes, I am my target audience, but I think there are a lot of us.
As a kitchen shortcut, Feast Upon almost reminds me of the days when housewives opted for boxes of just-add-water stuff, only with exceptional ingredients and a better outcome. Ha! Do you think people will become better eaters and perhaps cooks overtime with feasting on your concept instead, though?
QF: I’m sure you’re not old enough to have suffered through the dark days of American home-cooking. But yes, our mission is to spread the joy of cooking and part of that is having a bag of tricks. So each of our meals has at least one fun cooking trick not typically used in home kitchens. For example, our Summer Salad recipe calls for quick-pickling an onion. It’s so simple and delicious but the average home-cook wouldn’t think to do it. But since we provide all the ingredients in the right proportions, it’s very hard to screw up. So you can learn with Feast Upon and take it with you the rest of your life.
As for one of the great challenges in home-cooking, timing, we didn’t want everyone to learn the hard way like I did with my midnight lamb. So we worked with food testers and writers to create a single step-by-step instruction page that integrates the recipes for the entrée and the sides. This way you know everything will come out at the same time. Now novice cooks can get a feel for pulling together a full meal without fear of failure.
How was it working with the chefs who shared their recipes for each of the feasts?
QF: Now we have a routine and it’s pretty simple, but the first few meals took a lot of work.The upside was I got to spend time with Jacques at Palo Santo, Justin at Beer Table and Mike at Flatbush Farm. They are wonderful people and so clearly passionate about their food. On one of my visits to Flatbush Farm, Mike got tired of explaining how to cook his famous chicken. So he took me down to the kitchen and cooked the whole meal in front ofme. He then served it to me in the backyard with a cold beer and said, “That’s how you cook chicken.” Chefs are amazing people and we want to celebrate the inspiration they provide.
Do you hope to expand the offerings outside of your ‘hood in Park Slope?
Absolutely! I want every New Yorker to be able to access on-demand delivery for cooking chef-inspired meals with farm fresh ingredients. Right now we only deliver in Park Slop eand Prospect Heights, but we are getting loads of requests for delivery all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. So last week, we started crowd-sourcing our expansion plan and added a button on our site where you can vote for your neighborhood to be next in line.
What’s your hands-down favorite meal to serve for a:
a) date night for two?
Personally I love risotto for dates. The care involved with stirring in the liquid bit-by-bit while the grains slowly plump with flavor lends itself to a romantic meal. But if you want to impress, Flatbush Farm’s Old World Chicken is the way to go. Each person gets their own small pouissin chicken from this incredible organic farm in North Carolina served on a bed of sautéed chard next to herb infused fingerling potatoes.
b) family dinner for four?
I grew up in a household where cooking was the central focus of our evenings and the whole family got involved. We designed Palo Santo’s Seared Duck Breast with Chimichurri as an alternative to a typical family dinner and as way to get the entire family cooking. Mom can tend to the surprisingly lean Hudson Valley Duck breast, while Dad chops the herbs for the chimichurri and the kids season and toss the potatoes for roasting.
c) Mmm… and large party for ten?
I’m a big fan of buffet style dinners for large groups. And with more people avoiding meat, Beer Table’s Summer Salad & Chickpea Stew is perfect. You can start guests with a light, tangy summer salad with capers roasted cauliflower and pickled onions. Then pass out bowls for a buffet style entrée of tomato, chickpea, barley and couscous stew served over arugula and let guests mix in their own Vermont yogurt and spicy sriracha to taste.
What’s your take on why it’s great to “feast upon” meals that you made yourself?
Everyone needs to eat. But what we eat, how we it, and who we eat it with says more about who we are then almost anything. Bringing friends and loved ones together around a home-cooked meal with quality ingredients is one of the great pleasures in life. We want to help make it easier and more fun. But we also want to better connect people with the food on their table. That’s why with each meal we profile the chef who inspired the meal, the farmers who produced the ingredients and the local artisans who made it even better. When you cook with an eye to where your food comes from you are not only supporting the most conscientious food producers, but playing an active role in this incredible food community. And, of course, eating very well.