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Meal-Kit Startup Turns Customers into Chefs

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

If you’ve ever wanted to prepare a restaurant-quality meal in your own kitchen, your hunger may now be satisfied.

CookDC is a startup based out of Shirlington that delivers ready-to-cook meals to your doorstep. Its stated goal is “turning home cooks into chefs.” Examples of previous meal-kits include grass-fed flat iron steaks with smashed marble potatoes and romano beans as well as more exotic dishes such as homemade tagliatelle with wild stinging nettle pesto.

CookDC differentiates itself from similar food delivery services by prioritizing flavor over convenience and price. CookDC is not designed to be the cheapest or most efficient meal delivery option, but teaches people to cook delicious food comparable to a fancy dinner out.

“Everything is ordered a la carte so it’s not a subscription like the national chains,” said Matthew McCormack, who founded CookDC with his wife, Debbie McCormack. “You go [online and look at the menu] and if you see something you like, you buy it.”

Each meal comes with a written-up explanation of its historical background along with a description of the cooking techniques needed to prepare it.

“[The Food Network or cookbooks] are telling you how to cook it but they’re not telling you where you’re supposed to get wild morels from, [for example],” McCormack said. “They’re not handing it to you and then showing you how to use it, [like us].”

The culinary term for what CookDC does is “mise en place,” French for “put in place.” Professional kitchens spend all day prepping their ingredients and once their restaurant opens, all the chefs do is cook the food.

“As soon as a restaurant service starts, nobody is cutting a carrot,” McCormack said. “We’re giving you the ‘mise en place,’ giving you very clear instructions on how to finish that dish yourself. It’s prepped, it’s packaged.”

Customers do have the option of paying extra to get the meal fully prepared, or they can specify that they do not want to cook it that night. They can also double the portion or request kids’ servings.

Meals are delivered throughout the D.C. region between 2-5 p.m. The night before delivery, customers are told whether or not they need a certain pan for the meal or if they will have to fire up their grill in order to cook it. On the day of delivery, customers are texted when the meal-kit has left CookDC’s kitchen. Meals are delivered in coolers and are packaged in step-by-step compartments. Each meal usually has between three to seven steps.

McCormack explained that some of his frequent customers have developed such a trust in the quality of the meals that they order dishes they have never tried, such as tagliatelle with stinging nettles.

CookDC uses several restaurant wholesalers to get its products. The ingredients are always ordered the day of preparation or one day before. Produce tends to be from farms in Maryland or Long Island. McCormack explained that he also likes to highlight wild produce that cannot be cultivated.

“Everything is super fresh,” McCormack explained. “We actually did North Carolina trout recently. It was caught on a Tuesday, the supplier delivered it Wednesday morning. It was just gorgeous, glassy-eyed fish with absolutely no fishy smell.”

McCormack and his wife Debbie founded CookDC on March 1, 2016. Before that, he was simply an investment banker who liked to cook.

“I’ve always been a very advanced cook. In college, I would cook three turkeys every Thanksgiving for my fraternity,” McCormack said. “I was a volunteer fireman — I was the one that cooked on every shift. My wife and I do a 10-course charity dinner every year for our kids’ school.”

Then a few years back he ordered a Blue Apron box and was impressed by the business model, but thought the food was lacking in flavor so created CookDC. His wife remains an executive at Deloitte but provides “invaluable guidance” to her husband.

In the future, McCormack’s dream is to expand CookDC to all major US cities. All the recipes would be tested, there would be supply-chain sourcing and local franchise owners to deliver the meals around each region.

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