Let’s start with all the cards on the table -- this post may be as hard for you to believe as it was for us to write. As you might expect from people obsessed enough with ingredients to have a weekly column on a single vegetable, when it comes to pre-prepared meals the bar to enjoyment is set rather high. So the invitation to Fresh Direct’s launch of “Fresh Dining by Terrence Brennan” – a line of fresh food, vacuum packed for microwave dining at home -- was accepted with hearty skepticism.
Brennan (the chef behind Picholine and Artisanal) and his team, using his multi-European style as the jump off point, developed eight meals with an astonishing level of deliciousness achieved straight out of the microwave. This feat is accomplished by starting with extremely fresh raw and partially cooked ingredients, adding in just the right amount of moisten agents (butter, stock), and deploying a French designed high-tech cooking vessel that acts as a mini pressure cooker. This formula allows for dishes as varied as Winter Squash Ravioli with Roasted Autumn Vegetables to Chicken Saltimbocca with Yukon Gold Gnocchi to Boneless Rack of Lamb (arrived medium/medium-rare!) with Orzo to come out so perfectly you might consider eating in more often. Truth be told, numerous versions of these dishes taste better as Fresh Dining meals than they have at assorted restaurants we have visited over time. This no easy accomplishment in light of the fact that some of the meal components are delicate items that one might expect to lose their integrity during the trip to microwave – gnocchi, swiss chard and shrimp from the microwave? You bet. This kind of high-end convenience comes at a price, ranging from $9.99 for shrimp and chicken dishes to $16.99 for fancy items like lamb; salmon and trout fall in between.
When we spoke to Fresh Direct reps, they reiterated their commitment to the customers' evolving needs and believe this line of products serves them in a pattern that hews to their efforts at servicing their base. In the past these efforts have meant reviewing customer complaints for tips on improving service, sending over free items after delivery issues or buttressing Thanksgiving delivery service with a roving set of SUV’s carrying back-up supplies for orders with missing items.
To that end, in addition to building out this line of dinners to include other chefs' creations (look for announcements soon) covering a variety of styles and ethnic food categories, they are working on ways to make it easier for consumers to gain access to them outside of ordering them with groceries. Currently numerous large companies around NYC stock pre-packaged Fresh Direct meals in corporate kitchens so that they can keep employees from leaving for lunch (Wall Street types) and Fresh Direct is working on a plan to bring the meals to vending machines at office buildings and other locations around the city.
Fresh Direct also has a weekly program running that has their corporate president selecting some products to sell for a 50% discount, current offerings are here.
Editor's note: At the end of the event more meals were sent home with each guest. Fresh Direct, upon learning that there was a microwave deficiency with this taster, sent over one so that we could taste the full line. This microware is now en route to Housing Works thrift store as a donation.