Let's say you're coming home from work and you're frazzled -- it's late and although you have plenty of food in the fridge, you have no energy to cook. So you pop a frozen pizza in the oven or stop at the local take-out joint, and your vows to eat more vegetables and whole grains, and to support local farmers, are down the drain for the day. Sound familiar?
Enter 608 Community Supported Kitchen, a meal-delivery service. Subscribers have two freshly-made meals a week delivered to their door with instructions for re-heating. Food is sourced from local farms and markets; meat primarily from Black Earth Meats.
Benjamin Lubchansky is the chef behind 608 Community Supported Kitchen, which has been operating in Mazomanie since October 2011.
Lubchansky and his wife, Kate, thought of the community supported kitchen concept in 2007 when they lived in Urbana, Illinois. Both were involved in local food advocacy, and heard through a friend about a busy woman with three kids who wanted healthy dinners for her family but didn't have time to cook herself. Lubchansky "wasn't interested in being a personal chef" but figured out a plan, using a model similar to Community Supported Agriculture shares.
Cooking meals in bulk made the process cost-effective and efficient. They started their company, The Food Nanny, in Urbana, and sold it before relocating to Wisconsin to be closer to Kate's family -- and more fresh ingredients. Another plus: Lubchansky is a enthusiastic fisherman, and there was very little fishing in central Illinois.
"I knew I could take this [business] anywhere that was near a university, and Madison made a lot of sense," says Lubchansky. "And Wisconsin has a good agriculture infrastructure."
Wisconsin even made it possible for Lubchansky to build a certified kitchen in his house, something he doubts would have been possible in Illinois.
Each Monday, Lubchansky takes his big prep list and cooks his way through it, "like any professional kitchen." Tuesday is final packaging and delivery. Meals are left in coolers that subscribers leave out at their homes, in which they also return (cleaned) the re-usable, oven-safe glass dishware. (Both meals are delivered on Tuesdays.) Deliveries reach as far east as Olbrich Park, south to the Beltline, and as far west as Mount Horeb.
The menu is what it is -- part of what makes the concept work is what Lubchansky calls "commitment" -- subscribers cannot pick and choose what they want to eat; and 608 commits to "being there with high-quality meals every week." Feedback, however, is welcome: "We like it when members tell us what they like and don't like."
A recent week's two meals consisted of fried rice, ground pork or tofu satay, and egg drop soup; and cream of broccoli soup, cheddar bread, and red and green leaf lettuce salad. Other entrees have included sloppy joes, pad thai, shepherd's pie, savory apple galettes -- there is a lot of variety. Lubchansky says recipes are repeated at the most quarterly; since menus are seasonal, it might be even less than that.
"I always liked to cook," says Lubchansky, who is originally from Baltimore, and cites his Jewish grandmothers as culinary inspiration, as well as the seasonal holiday flavors of "apples and honey, parsley and salt water." Once in college, he wanted to develop "a skill, not just a degree." (His BA is in geology and he has a master's degree in crop sciences.)
Other inspiration comes from Cook's Illustrated, Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food, Vegetarian Planet and perusing the cookbook section at the public library.
"Over the past six years I've become diligent about writing all the recipes down," says Lubchansky, who cooks by weight for greater consistency. "You need to be able to have reproducible results."
He is downright evangelistic about community supported kitchens as a business model: "You can dodge bullets. It's risk-averse. You don't need real estate or foot traffic. It's not wasteful, and there's no guesswork."
Subscribers sign on for a month at a time; one share is $30/week, but with multiple shares, cost is reduced. While 608 is mostly full, memberships are available. Lubchansky is also developing a frozen food line; five dinners including sweet potato burritos and Fountain Prairie Scottish Highland Beef with morels and celeriac are prepped and may be ordered in advance. For more information, see a FAQ for 608 Community Supported Kitchen, its "Weekly Instructions" blog for details on specific meals, or call 608-795-2211.