Blue Apron - flat iron steaks with ramps, fingerling potatoes and shaved asparagus salad

Tomorrow night I’m making rice flake-crusted hake for dinner for the two of us, served with sauteed daikon radish and yuzu-soy sauce.

The next night I’ll prepare flat iron steaks with ramps, fingerling potatoes, and shaved asparagus salad, and a little dill crème fraiche on the side.

I’m not a cook. But Blue Apron turns me into a very credible simulation of a chef, three times a week. We fell in love with Blue Apron almost immediately and have been subscribing for more than eight months. It has changed my diet for the better and given me a new appreciation of many types of food that I had been avoiding all my life. (Want to try it? Details below.)

This isn’t really a technology story, but it has a technology angle. It’s a business that could not have existed until it became possible to deliver boxes reliably and economically by overnight delivery. Amazon set the stage by almost single-handedly rewiring the business models for FedEx and UPS until second day delivery became our basic expectation. Blue Apron is an example of the kind of innovation we can expect now that goods can be moved long distances in the blink of an eye.

For sixty dollars a week, Blue Apron delivers a box with recipes and the exact ingredients for three dinners for two people. Delivery is available almost everywhere in the US, with some flexibility about which day your delivery arrives.

We love unpacking the Blue Apron box. The recipes are on top, glossy full-color pages covered with photos illustrating every cooking step – literally, every step – along with a photo of what the dish should look like when it’s plated, and exhaustively detailed instructions for preparation and cooking. There are also asides to explain how demi-glace is created or where yuzu juice comes from.

The produce is in an insulated lining, organic and sourced locally wherever possible. Literally every ingredient is included, in exactly the amount called for by each recipe. If a recipe calls for one stalk of celery, a single stalk is included in a neat plastic bag, labeled “celery.” (The label turns out to be important when the ingredient is unfamiliar – it’s reassuring not to have to guess what yu choy is.) Each spice, each liquid, each garnish is included. There were two tablespoons of crème fraiche and 1 teaspoon of dukkah (a spice blend of several kinds of seeds) in the box for this salmon recipe. If a recipe calls for butter or milk, there will be butter and milk in the box. You’ll need some olive oil and salt and pepper. Everything else is provided.

Below the produce is a layer of frozen cold packs, then the meat and seafood in vacuum packs, followed by another layer of frozen packs. We’ve never had a problem with freshness. The quality of the meat and produce has been uniformly excellent.

When you sign up with Blue Apron, you’ll indicate what types of food you eat – beef, poultry, pork, lamb, fish, shellfish, or vegetarian. Each week Blue Apron will select three meals based on that choice. You can, however, look at all the recipes for each week and choose the ones you want freely, regardless of what you indicated for your diet. Not every combination is available, which is occasionally frustrating but has never been a big problem for us. You can skip weeks whenever you choose. You’ll need a reminder on your calendar each week to look ahead, because choosing your menu or skipping a delivery has to be done a week ahead of time.

The recipes have been creative and interesting and fun to cook. We have been thrilled by about 75% of the Blue Apron meals we’ve cooked, and happy with just about all of them, even the occasional dud. All the recipes can be viewed online.

Not an adventurous eater? Many recipes include ingredients that we would never have chosen for ourselves. That’s turned out to be one of our favorite parts. I’ve become enthusiastic about kale and celeriac and golden beets. I’ve cooked with cabbage and cauliflower and fennel. It changes everything to prepare a dish with odd ingredients and have it turn out to be delicious when all the flavors come together from the spices and other ingredients. I look at restaurant menus completely differently now.

This is real cooking. It takes 45 minutes-1 hour to prepare each meal. You’ll do all the washing and chopping and dicing and zesting. Blue Apron simplifies the process of trying new recipes: it takes care of finding recipes and shopping for ingredients, but you still have to do the work to cook from scratch.

The cost is ten dollars per meal per person – actually a bit less because many recipes make enough that leftovers can be lunch or even another dinner. I think it cuts down our grocery bill by at least that much and it saves me multiple trips to the grocery store each week.

You’ll have less waste in your kitchen, of course. One of the disincentives of trying recipes at home is buying ingredients in quantity when you only need a small amount, then throwing away the rest of the celery or having a jar of capers sitting in your refrigerator with one tablespoon missing. There’s an interesting consequence for the company, too. It knows a week ahead of time exactly which meals and how many meals it is shipping. It buys direct from farmers and local suppliers, avoiding the markup paid by grocery stores to wholesale distributors. It has virtually no waste, unlike restaurants which cannot calculate their needs as closely. Blue Apron’s finances are private but it has the potential to be profitable faster than almost any other company in the food industry. It is growing fast, currently delivering two million meals each month and working on getting new financing that will give it a two billion dollar valuation.

If you want to try Blue Apron for free for a week, drop me a note. The company counts on word of mouth referrals. I can send five “invitations” for a free Blue Apron delivery. You’ll have to sign up and supply a credit card, so it’s up to you to cancel if you don’t want to continue, but the first week will really be free. (I don’t get anything for the referral, by the way. I’m pushing this out of love, not for money.)

If you’ve ever thought about improving your cooking skills but haven’t known where to start, give Blue Apron a try. Bon appetit!

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