Culinary disaster, that’s me in a nutshell. Or at least it was.
Until I hit my twenties, I was the sort of person who could burn soup. One time I tried to make a Moroccan chicken dish for a bunch of friends and my mum had to take over in order to save the house from burning down. And a couple Christmas’ ago I volunteered to make the tiramisu for dessert but added so much coffee liqueur that none of the designated drivers were able to get behind the wheel afterwards.
Fortunately, I then took a cookery course (better understood as a family intervention) and managed to gain some rudimentary skills that meant I was able to feed myself through university. However, it also meant that my diet became pretty much a mixture of six recipes that I learnt on said week-long course – mainly because these were the ones that look less than two hours to cook.
So alongside staples like “grilled chicken in bacon with salad and Mary Berry” (a delicious favourite of my mum) I often ended up with a freezer full of green thai curry, ratatouille and other “one pan, 20-30 minute, throw-it-all-in dishes”.
It also leant itself to some bad habits – randomly buying items I never used, throwing out half of the fresh stuff, choosing ready meals and takeouts at regular intervals because cooking just takes so much T.I.M.E. Especially once you add in prep and clear up. It simply wasn’t fitting into my lifestyle (get up, write, go to work, go to gym, come home, eat, write).
It’s a sweltering summer morning and I’m waiting for a train to Ipswich (don’t ask) when a young man with a too-bright smile waylays me and proceeds to tell me all about HelloFresh. He’s throwing out the buzzwords: fresh, organic, convenient, delivered to your door, Jamie Oliver, leading, so fresh, cook-from-scratch, fresh (again). I’m sceptical.
An international food company that creates meal-kits with everything you need to cook at home, HelloFresh, he insists, don’t offer processed foods like you see with other subscription food services. Their “recipe boxes” are chef made and come with everything you need to cook you meal along with complete recipe instructions.
“And of course, almost all our meals take around 30mins,” he says, flashing those quite-obviously-fake crowns again.
Now that peaks my interest. Knowing that I’m going away that weekend, I have him run me through the meal options, selecting three (far more adventurous than my usual fare), downloading the app, signing up (haggled to a third of the original price) and leaving with a little sprig of curiosity growing in my gut. Could it possibly be so simple?
Could an app solve my kitchen woes? Diversify my dining without demanding hours spent digging through supermarket aisles looking for obscure, overpriced spices?
Well, you know what? It did.
HelloFresh offered a transformational experience. My weekly menu suddenly included three meals full of organic veg, the best meats and fishes, new herbs and spices – and everything was pre-measured.
There were also little additions – a booklet to hold all my recipes together, tokens to collect so I could later reward myself with some wooden spoons or something. There were also a lot of binnables and offers that aren’t really offers (you know like spend £100 on wine and get the next £25 off etc) – but that was easy enough to forgive. At first.
Turns out HelloFresh has a fatal flaw. Two actually.
Their delivery service and customer service are both appalling.
From where I sit writing this, the number one reason for paying for a meal box is convenience. Convenience because you’re time-poor, because food-shopping is tedious, because cooking for hours is boring etc etc. Plus you get to live your wannabe-foodie dream with the totally photogenic packs that arrive in the post.
But when your box isn’t delivered on time, when it’s dumped outside on the street instead of in your safe place, when you’re called at 1030pm to be told it’s not going to turn up that week or the next (and you’re not even fully refunded), suddenly ‘convenient’ isn’t the word you’re looking for. The first time it went askew, I didn’t think much of it – my flatmate was able to rescue the abandoned box from the street so no harm done. But as issues piled up and all I received was obsequious apologies and “we’ll talk to the drivers, but they’re not actually ours so…” I began to lose patience with the excuses. My favourite: change your delivery time so that another driver delivers. My response: No, this is the time I can guarantee I’m home. The service shouldn’t expect its customers to bend to its problems (hello, Southern Rail).
Yet as the last straw landed, one of my favourite writers came to the rescue.
“Have you tried Gousto?”
@TheScribbleBug Have you tried Gousto?
— Steve O’Hear (@sohear) October 31, 2016
Well I hadn’t then. But I have now. A week after the last HelloFresh disaster (complete non-delivery), I ordered my first Gousto box. And wow, the difference in service is absurd.
Starting on a high, the first two weeks were half price. The food was just as good (except for the chorizo, which was admittedly rather lacking in chorizo-y-ness). They include free popcorn every time. And whilst, there are recipes I’ve not been blown away by, there were several of those with HelloFresh too. In fact, that’s half the fun given how rudimentary my diet was before.
My one gripe so far has been that there’s not quite so many veggies in Gousto’s recipes so I’ve been adding the odd onion or pepper to the mix just to help compensate. And I suppose the food isn’t quite so picturesque (then again, it’s also me cooking).
However, the real difference comes from exactly where HelloFresh failed.
Gousto use DPD to deliver. This means you technically could receive your delivery any time during your designated day. However, it also means you receive a text on the morning of giving you notice of the hour window in which your box will be delivered. This. Is. Ace. Moreover, when they accidently delivered to the wrong address (there are four No.10’s in my building to be fair), they gave me the next box free and the second box again half price. All done without any back-and-forth emails, no excuses, no useless apologies or finger pointing. I simply emailed Gousto and they rectified the issue within 24hrs and made me feel valued to boot.
— Harriet… (@TheScribbleBug) November 13, 2016
Spending time chopping and stirring and mashing and whisking isn’t something I ever thought I’d find therapeutic. But there’s something about having thirty minutes a day with nothing to do except cook that’s relaxing. Especially now I don’t have to worry about forgetting some essential spice or creating loads of waste.
If you’re looking for something to simplify your life in the New Year, you could do worse than starting in your kitchen.
Give Gousto a shot.