In July, chef Kathleen Wise moved on after nine years cooking for the popular — and well-documented — late night restaurant Starlite. Last week, she turned up at my front porch with a paper bag she'd packed with a three-course vegetarian meal.
Not because I did anything special. I just placed an order with the low-fi delivery service Wise started this summer, called Eat My Box. And if that vaguely profane wordplay wasn't enough, rather than summon this via app, I ordered Eat My Box from the website RusticAsCluck.com.
I find it all hilarious, even if the bagged delivery undercut the literalness of the joke. The gist is that Wise comes up with a weekly menu featuring vegetables she grew herself, or picked out at the farmers' market, or sourced from a favored family farm. A $25 order placed by Monday night nets dinner for two dropped off on Wednesday.
Wise updates the menu each week with dishes reflecting the season, whether that means certain timely vegetables, or cultural events, like a recent German-inspired meal for Oktoberfest. She collects her orders, makes the food, then cruises around the county Wednesday dropping them off (it's an extra five bucks to cover the extra mileage for North County orders).
I was home Wednesday afternoon when the chef herself came to my door, just on the heels of a text message she sent describing the meal. The mixed salad course included, "Speckled romaine, red and green romaine and a couple other varieties I don’t remember the names of, from the farmers' market and my back yard, with shaved fennel, cucumber, radish and carrots with an herb vinaigrette." Her brown rice bowl was sourced from a third-generation organic rice farm going back a century in the San Joaquin Valley. "Mixed into it is a carrot puree with garlic, cumin and tumeric," she texted, "and on top, spicy braised black kale and pomegranate seeds. I'd heat that up together and add the homemade labneh and pickled radishes cold."
Each dish was packed in a recycled plastic container, including a guava coffee crumb cake for dessert. She also throws in a wedge of fresh bread with each meal — in this case a recipe featuring flax seed and preserved Meyer lemon that I sliced and toasted with butter.
The salad was fresh, with crisp greens — and though there wasn't quite enough herbal vinaigrette to drench them as much as I like, it had a lovely bright flavor. It was pretty easy to heat up the seasoned rice dish, even if the presentation suffered from my clumsy microwave technique. But the dark braised kale still contrasted nicely against the cold toppings Wise had provided. The understated dish proved hearty and satisfying, and if I wanted more at the end it wasn't from any portion shortcoming, but because I had been really enjoying each bite.
Turns out, it's not such a bad deal to have a successful local chef bring you dinner. Wise has plans to expand her service to other days of the week, and to eventually include a wine option.