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Cooks lured to "prep kitchens"

Are you to busy to spend all of your time shopping, peeling and chopping? Let's hope SA soon catches up with Britain's newest cooking concept.

by: Kate Kelland | 29 Dec 2006

Patti Coulthard is a single Londoner with a hectic working schedule and a social life to match. She says she loves to host dinner parties for her friends and is keen to serve an eye-catching menu every time.

But instead of spending hours in supermarkets, grocers, fishmongers and butchers, then slaving over a hot stove, she has opted for Britain's newest cooking concept – the so-called "prep kitchen" of Dinners Made.

The concept of meal prep outlets was introduced in the United States around five years ago, and more than 1,000 such kitchens have opened up there in the past few years.

The idea is simple. You book a session in a pristine meal preparation kitchen, choose the meals you want to make from menus which change every month, and turn up to find someone else has done all the shopping, peeling and chopping.

Step-by-step instructions are laid out for each dish, so customers whisk the eggs, create the souffle or season the fish, to make each meal before heading home with enough food to throw an impressively large dinner party or feed the family for weeks.

Within a few minutes of arriving at Dinners Made in Richmond, west London, Coulthard is kitted out in an apron and latex gloves and is busy seasoning fresh sea bass fillets with chopped tarragon, dill, black pepper and olive oil.

"If you're busy, this is just fantastic," she told Reuters. "It's all fresh food, you know exactly what's going into it, and it tastes great."

Less than half an hour later, Coulthard is heading home with six portions of sea bass with red pepper coulis for her guests – and the kitchen staff are cleaning the surfaces, washing up and chopping the fresh ingredients for the next customer.

"Cooking by numbers?"
The Dinners Made version of the American idea was launched in Britain a few weeks ago by Briton David Lloyd, a former professional tennis player and Davis Cup captain and the entrepreneur behind a chain of sports clubs.

"I love cooking, I always have, and I think this is something that will take off all over Britain," Lloyd told Reuters from Florida where he is due to open a U.S. branch of Dinners Made later this month.

"It does everything people want. It's fantastic fun, it's great quality food, it's nutritious and it saves you a lot of time and cost."

From his original London site, Lloyd plans to expand to Birmingham, central England, and to Edinburgh in Scotland, and is looking for franchisees to take Dinners Made across Britain.

Fans say it is a fun way to create relatively large quantities of healthy convenience food for a good price – an average of less than 3.00 pounds ($5.90) per head – but critics dismiss it as cooking-by-numbers.

Steve Cox, Lloyd's business partner and the chef who runs Dinners Made's debut outlet, says it is a timely idea which will fill a growing gap in the British food market.

With the government eager to push home-cooking and family mealtimes as a way of eating more healthily and avoiding the growing threats of obesity and diabetes, Cox says the country is crying out for a new way of cooking quick, nutritious food.

"Yes, we're aiming at the yummy mummies and the busy professionals, but also, because of the value, it's great for regular, normal families who want to eat good, hearty, restaurant-quality food," he told Reuters.

"Our main advantage is that our food is fresh – you can see it, smell it, feel it, touch it – you know exactly what has gone into each dish because you're the one putting it in."

Cox, who also owns the Lone Star restaurant in Barbados and describes himself as a food consultant, rejects suggestions that Dinners Made is no more than an assembly line.

"There's also a bit of learning," he says. "And people have the chance to try things here that they would never do at home."

"We have a spinach and parmesan souffle on our menu. Most people would think 'Oh my god! A souffle, I could never do that!' But you follow the instructions, you can take them home and freeze them or cook them fresh. And they really do rise."

Think South African's could benefit from a concept like this? Please add your comments in the box below.

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