Quick Coq

Home delivering Escoffier-style gourmet meals within minutes, Spoon Rocket fancies up fast food


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The SpoonRocket kitchen.

Lori Eanes

In a sprawling Berkeley commercial kitchen, workers pare squash. Chop eggplant. Heft trays of fresh pork shoulder. Scoop snowy mounds of garlic mashed potatoes into the left-hand sides of row upon row of Gideon’s Bible–sized plastic boxes. Whole star anise, bay leaves, and peppercorns dance in the thick braising liquid that simmers in a massive pot.

This is where the SpoonRocket team prepares gourmet meals—one meat entrée and one vegan entrée daily, with sides—to be delivered quickly all over Berkeley and Emeryville (Oakland is in the works) in specially heated trucks. Helming this ambitious startup—selling white-tablecloth food in recyclable plastic boxes at just $6 a pop from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.—are 2009 UC Berkeley grads Anson Tsui and Stephen Hsiao: Their previous meal-delivery companies, Pho Me Now and Munchy Munchy Hippos, were late-night student favorites. With SpoonRocket, the pals want to promote healthy, elegant fast food.

When SpoonRocket’s classically trained executive chef, David Cramer, was offered this job, “it sounded easy: Make awesome food for a bunch of people every day. Piece of cake.’ ” Soon the Cordon Rouge Culinary Academy alum realized how many things he couldn’t cook for a delivery service that he had cooked at restaurants.

“For instance, I can’t grill anything.” And raw fruit isn’t a great idea. But pineapple-glazed babyback ribs? Lamb osso buco? Sweet-potato lasagna? Cassoulet? Coq au vin? Done deal.

At least 80 percent of SpoonRocket’s ingredients are organic, “but we don’t stop at organic. We’re into biodynamic, sustainable farming,” says Cramer, who studies seed catalogs in order to request specific heirloom plants from growers and co-ops.

“We know which farms our produce comes from,” he says.

He started cooking today’s meals yesterday. He’s starting tomorrow’s today.

“I’m a big fan of the slow-food move-ment. I like to cook things as long as possible, layering in all the seasonings at every level, in the French style. We’re making slow food, delivered fast.”

Jerk pork. Filet mignon adobo-style. Mushroom rigatoni. Massaman curry. Whatever the nationality of any given dish, “the fundamentals of French cuisine as taught at the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts are applied throughout the cooking process.

We’ll use a mirepoix made of aromatic vegetables; we’ll braise for a longer time and at a lower temperature than would be done in, say, the Italian style. We’ll carefully strain the braising liquid,” Cramer explains.

“It’s challenging because we’re feeding a lot of people every day in an unusual way.

On any given day at a typical sit-down restaurant, you might serve one hundred people, each of whom is expecting exceptionally good food. You prepare their meals in the restaurant’s kitchen and immediately carry them out to the tables.

“We serve four to five hundred people a day, and we have to carry their meals a lot farther. To be honest, most people who order meals delivered want just two things: a lot of food, fast. They want it to be decent, but they don’t care whether it’s exceptional. I do.

“I’m all about exceptional. I’m going to make it exceptional, whether they care or not.”

Good For You

“Fast food is the default option to feed yourself when you don’t have much time or money,” says SpoonRocket’s co-founder Anson Tsui. “We want to make healthy and nutritious food more accessible to people so that the default thing people should be eating is always something that is good for them. Obviously, it would be great if everyone on the planet were raw vegans—it’d be great for people and the environment, but that’s not going to happen, so SpoonRocket is trying to bridge that gap. ... We want to change the world. We want healthier people.”

His previous meal-delivery company, Munchy Munchy Hippos, offered marsh-mallow-Nutella sandwiches, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, and Otter Pops. “After four years of doing that, I felt super-bad,” Tsui says. “I was just selling junk food to children.”

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