Munchery just launched a new way to cook - and I gave it a try

Munchery meal kit

Biz Carson/Business Insider

The food system is broken, but startups are still fighting to determine which one is going to be the one to fix it. Unlike transportation, in which Uber has emerged as king of its class, food delivery startups still number in the dozens.

There's GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Caviar fighting over delivering food from restaurants to your door. Then there's the class of food startups that want to replace your take-out options with their own healthy twist (see Sprig and Maple).

Then there's the last category: startups that send boxes of food to customers so they can cook it themselves. This is ruled by $2 billion company, Blue Apron, while still being challenged by up-and-comers like Plated and HelloFresh.

In the first move of its kind, one startup has evolved to position itself in two categories. Starting Tuesday in San Francisco, ready-to-eat specialist Munchery is launching a new ready-to-cook meal kit on-demand.

"Whenever we asked customers what they would do on nights they weren't ordering Munchery, 75 percent would say they would cook," said Tri Tran, CEO of the four-year-old startup. "The joy of cooking is now in our customers' hands in 10-15 minutes tops. They're going to sautee and maybe stir-fry some meat. Anything that takes a lot of time, like cutting vegetables, we have a prep kitchen that will do that for you."

Competitor Blue Apron has seen success with its cooking kits. Instead of making a weekly run to the grocery store, Blue Apron sends a weekly subscription box filled with food and different recipes.

The only thing Munchery is copying from Blue Apron is the idea that people love cooking food, but are too busy. Otherwise, it's an entirely new product - and one that it hopes will appeal to a different consumer base.

For starters, Munchery is offering its meal kits on-demand and scheduled, like it does its normal prepared meals. You can order a kit to be delivered in 30 minutes, or schedule it for 7 p.m. when you know you'll be back from soccer practice and need to feed everyone.

"No shopping. No prepping. No waste," said Pascal Rigo, the founder of Starbucks-owned La Boulange chain who joined the startup as its chief customer experience officer in early October. "You have this kind of achievement that you have for yourself when you cook at home."

Also unlike other services, Munchery doesn't lock users into a subscription plan. While some Blue Apron and Plated users have liked the subscription model, others have felt the "mental weight of having this box of eight meals you have to get through and cook," said CB Insights analyst Michael Dempsey.

"I don't think it's as big an impact for Sprig and Maple as it is for Blue Apron and Plated. I think they're signaling that 'we can do this, and do it on-demand,'" Dempsey said.

The third advantage is its partner chefs: Rigo, and Charles Phan, chef-owner of The Slanted Door restaurant in San San Francisco. Instead of being easy instruction versions of the classic, the menu at Munchery features restaurant-quality dishes from Phan and Rigo, but in a ready-to-cook version at home. Each kit is prepared for two people, and runs between $18 - $24, Tran said. Desserts cost $9. Right now, the ready-to-cook kits are launching in San Francisco only.

"I grew up watching my mom cook. I didn't have the option to call a delivery place in '60s Vietnam," Phan said. "Now we're just so busy we stopped being in the kitchen, but this will bring us back."

Before its launch, Munchery gave Business Insider a test of its new Ready-to-Cook kits. While I initially wanted to nickname them 'Lunchables for adults,' the Munchery meal kits surprised me in the quality you can cook in 15 minutes or less. The best part, like Phan said, was being back in the kitchen and trying something new and outside of my comfort zone.

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This is what creating a Munchery meal kit is supposed to look like — if only we all had granite countertops and six burner stoves. Instead, my challenge was to see what it would be like for the below-average home cook to try out Munchery's new meal kits.

This is what creating a Munchery meal kit is supposed to look like — if only we all had granite countertops and six burner stoves. Instead, my challenge was to see what it would be like for the below-average home cook to try out Munchery's new meal kits.

My kitchen is below-average to match my cooking skills. I have a gas stove, and no countertops other than the IKEA butcher blocks that I've installed in my kitchen. Without much cooking experience or a work space worthy of a professional chef, here's what it's like to try Munchery's meal kits.

My kitchen is below-average to match my cooking skills. I have a gas stove, and no countertops other than the IKEA butcher blocks that I've installed in my kitchen. Without much cooking experience or a work space worthy of a professional chef, here's what it's like to try Munchery's meal kits.

The best thing about Munchery's meal kit is the delivery. At 5:30, a Munchery delivery person shows up at my office to give me an advance preview of the kit. It does need to be refrigerated, so I stick it in my work fridge until I head home. Since I live in an apartment where things would get stolen from the front steps in a heart beat, I haven't had a chance to try Blue Apron or Plated. Having an in-person delivery at my convenience is the best option for me.

The best thing about Munchery's meal kit is the delivery. At 5:30, a Munchery delivery person shows up at my office to give me an advance preview of the kit. It does need to be refrigerated, so I stick it in my work fridge until I head home. Since I live in an apartment where things would get stolen from the front steps in a heart beat, I haven't had a chance to try Blue Apron or Plated. Having an in-person delivery at my convenience is the best option for me.

Inside the Munchery bag, I have an order of Shaking Beef, a specialty from San Francisco chef Charles Phan's The Slanted Door restaurant. For dessert, Pascal Rigo has created a chocolate fondant inspired by La Boulangerie. Both dishes arrive in separate boxes, so I keep the fondant in the fridge while I start on the beef.

Inside the Munchery bag, I have an order of Shaking Beef, a specialty from San Francisco chef Charles Phan's The Slanted Door restaurant. For dessert, Pascal Rigo has created a chocolate fondant inspired by La Boulangerie. Both dishes arrive in separate boxes, so I keep the fondant in the fridge while I start on the beef.

Tucked into my Munchery Bag is a schedule for the next three weeks with a magnet to hang it up. Also in the bag are some toothpicks, so I can 'Smile Pretty!' Both are nice touches. Unlike other meal prep kits, Munchery lets you know what's on the upcoming schedule so, if there aren't meals you like, you can make sure to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store.

Tucked into my Munchery Bag is a schedule for the next three weeks with a magnet to hang it up. Also in the bag are some toothpicks, so I can 'Smile Pretty!' Both are nice touches. Unlike other meal prep kits, Munchery lets you know what's on the upcoming schedule so, if there aren't meals you like, you can make sure to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store.

I'm making Shaking Beef, a specialty dish from The Slanted Door, which includes beef, rice, vegetables, a special sauce, and an additional dipping sauce.

I'm making Shaking Beef, a specialty dish from The Slanted Door, which includes beef, rice, vegetables, a special sauce, and an additional dipping sauce.

Inside the box, almost all of the ingredients are included. I have the main ingredients of beef, rice, and veggies. Also in smaller bundles are the oil, sauce, dipping sauce, and spices. The one thing I quickly realize I'm missing? The green watercress shown in the promo pictures.

Inside the box, almost all of the ingredients are included. I have the main ingredients of beef, rice, and veggies. Also in smaller bundles are the oil, sauce, dipping sauce, and spices. The one thing I quickly realize I'm missing? The green watercress shown in the promo pictures.

I love that the veggies come pre-sliced, and these aren't just the discards. This is by far the biggest time saver in the box and still high-quality ingredients. Make sure you do have the scissors on hand to open all of the packets though. These aren't Ziploc baggies.

I love that the veggies come pre-sliced, and these aren't just the discards. This is by far the biggest time saver in the box and still high-quality ingredients. Make sure you do have the scissors on hand to open all of the packets though. These aren't Ziploc baggies.

The meal kit comes with an instruction manual. Each dish is only 3 steps, although each step has a couple tasks within it. Each recipe will take between 10-15 minutes. For the Shaking Beef, it's a 15-minute cook time.

The meal kit comes with an instruction manual. Each dish is only 3 steps, although each step has a couple tasks within it. Each recipe will take between 10-15 minutes. For the Shaking Beef, it's a 15-minute cook time.

The first step is to open the rice and microwave it for two minutes. Some of the ingredients, like the rice, are pre-cooked. This step is simply reheating the rice in the microwave.

The first step is to open the rice and microwave it for two minutes. Some of the ingredients, like the rice, are pre-cooked. This step is simply reheating the rice in the microwave.

The beef comes raw (and has a hidden butter square included in its cooling pack). Since the Munchery meals are designed for two, the small amount is the perfect portion, without waste, for me and my boyfriend.

The beef comes raw (and has a hidden butter square included in its cooling pack). Since the Munchery meals are designed for two, the small amount is the perfect portion, without waste, for me and my boyfriend.

The beef is the main cooking portion of this meal. The beef cubes are fresh and not pre-marinated or spiced. With 15 minutes as a suggested cook time, we spend the first five minutes opening packets, microwaving rice, and spicing the beef.

The beef is the main cooking portion of this meal. The beef cubes are fresh and not pre-marinated or spiced. With 15 minutes as a suggested cook time, we spend the first five minutes opening packets, microwaving rice, and spicing the beef.

The beef hits the pan to brown for seven minutes. Munchery included all the edible ingredients, including the oil for the pan. I did need to supply my own skillet and cookware for the rest of the steps. The meals are designed to be as easy as cooking over a campfire. If you have a skillet and some spare plates, this recipe would work so far.

The beef hits the pan to brown for seven minutes. Munchery included all the edible ingredients, including the oil for the pan. I did need to supply my own skillet and cookware for the rest of the steps. The meals are designed to be as easy as cooking over a campfire. If you have a skillet and some spare plates, this recipe would work so far.

11 minutes in, my fire alarm goes off. Oops. I know my stove runs hot, but we tried following the Munchery instructions precisely. Seven minutes on the stove turns out to be too long for the beef, and I'm stuck waving a towel in front of my fire alarm so it stops going off. To be fair, this also happens when I cook something like a frozen pizza, so it's likely not the Munchery meal kit, but my own stove. Regardless, I realize I should trust my own cooking skills and treat the recipe as a suggestion along the way.

11 minutes in, my fire alarm goes off. Oops. I know my stove runs hot, but we tried following the Munchery instructions precisely. Seven minutes on the stove turns out to be too long for the beef, and I'm stuck waving a towel in front of my fire alarm so it stops going off. To be fair, this also happens when I cook something like a frozen pizza, so it's likely not the Munchery meal kit, but my own stove. Regardless, I realize I should trust my own cooking skills and treat the recipe as a suggestion along the way.

With the fire alarm subdued, it's time to add the sauce, vegetable, and butter. The sliced vegetables prove to be a time-saver again. I love being able to dump them in the pan with the freshly cooked beef.

With the fire alarm subdued, it's time to add the sauce, vegetable, and butter. The sliced vegetables prove to be a time-saver again. I love being able to dump them in the pan with the freshly cooked beef.

It again cooks quickly, but that's my stove's fault. My apartment smells delicious, and 20 minutes later, I have finished cooking my Shaking Beef.

It again cooks quickly, but that's my stove's fault. My apartment smells delicious, and 20 minutes later, I have finished cooking my Shaking Beef.

The Shaking Beef doesn't plate as well as the photo, but that's expected for a home cook. For one, I'm missing the watercress that it's supposed to be served on so I'm missing the touch of green. Otherwise, I'd like to think I'm not too far off the recipe.

The Shaking Beef doesn't plate as well as the photo, but that's expected for a home cook. For one, I'm missing the watercress that it's supposed to be served on so I'm missing the touch of green. Otherwise, I'd like to think I'm not too far off the recipe.

At the end of my cooking adventure, I had used a bowl for microwaving the rice, a plate to spice the beef, and a pan mix everything together. There's a small amount of trash from all the wrappers.

At the end of my cooking adventure, I had used a bowl for microwaving the rice, a plate to spice the beef, and a pan mix everything together. There's a small amount of trash from all the wrappers.

When it comes to taste, it doesn't even matter that my food (or my kitchen) doesn't look like it's supposed to. On my first bite, I can tell this is better than most things I've cooked at home. The rice, despite being microwaved, is soft and tasty. The vegetables are cooked to the perfect tenderness. The beef is a little bit tougher than I'd like, but that's a cooking error on our part. The key here is the flavors in the sauce. In all the meals I've cooked at home, this is levels above. For only taking 20 minutes (which included photo-taking and a fire alarm), I'm sold.

When it comes to taste, it doesn't even matter that my food (or my kitchen) doesn't look like it's supposed to. On my first bite, I can tell this is better than most things I've cooked at home. The rice, despite being microwaved, is soft and tasty. The vegetables are cooked to the perfect tenderness. The beef is a little bit tougher than I'd like, but that's a cooking error on our part. The key here is the flavors in the sauce. In all the meals I've cooked at home, this is levels above. For only taking 20 minutes (which included photo-taking and a fire alarm), I'm sold.

Originally, I was worried when I saw the portion size, but once the rice and veggies were added in, it turned out to be a full meal. If I didn't have someone to split it with, I'd be worried I would turn the meal into an over-sized dinner instead of keeping it for leftovers, but I had to save room for dessert..

Originally, I was worried when I saw the portion size, but once the rice and veggies were added in, it turned out to be a full meal. If I didn't have someone to split it with, I'd be worried I would turn the meal into an over-sized dinner instead of keeping it for leftovers, but I had to save room for dessert..

Dinner was delectable, but I'm definitely a dessert person. My boyfriend though, has other ideas: "After all this, we have to cook dessert too?

Dinner was delectable, but I'm definitely a dessert person. My boyfriend though, has other ideas: "After all this, we have to cook dessert too?

Munchery has sent me a chocolate fondant recipe from La Boulange to try. In the packet is a strawberry compote, fresh strawberries, some sliced almonds, and two fondants for the base.

Munchery has sent me a chocolate fondant recipe from La Boulange to try. In the packet is a strawberry compote, fresh strawberries, some sliced almonds, and two fondants for the base.

The strawberries are fresh, although the instructions don't advise me whether I should wash them or not. To be on the safe side, I give them a quick wash before dicing them. Helpfully, the step-by-step guide does tell me the difference between simply slicing off the top versus hulling a strawberry. Since this is a 10-minute recipe, I decide to go for the quick chop.

The strawberries are fresh, although the instructions don't advise me whether I should wash them or not. To be on the safe side, I give them a quick wash before dicing them. Helpfully, the step-by-step guide does tell me the difference between simply slicing off the top versus hulling a strawberry. Since this is a 10-minute recipe, I decide to go for the quick chop.

In a pan, I mix the compote mixture with the fresh berries and bring to a boil. This is the only cooking step in the recipe, aside from a quick 10 second zap of the fondant in the microwave.

In a pan, I mix the compote mixture with the fresh berries and bring to a boil. This is the only cooking step in the recipe, aside from a quick 10 second zap of the fondant in the microwave.

Once both are done, I easily pour the strawberry compote onto the fondant and top with sliced almonds. Considering the butter, cocoa, almonds, strawberries, sugar, and flour I would have had to buy normally for this recipe, the cost and waste-savings are clear. It's $9 for a dessert for two, which is less than the bulk cost of the dry ingredients.

Once both are done, I easily pour the strawberry compote onto the fondant and top with sliced almonds. Considering the butter, cocoa, almonds, strawberries, sugar, and flour I would have had to buy normally for this recipe, the cost and waste-savings are clear. It's $9 for a dessert for two, which is less than the bulk cost of the dry ingredients.

After zapping the fondant an extra three seconds in the microwave, I'm left with a warm gooey center paired with fresh strawberries. Each bite is mouthwatering, and the chocolate is warm. Any ingredient I've put in the microwave hasn't come out stale at all. Even though this has a 10 minute cook time, it takes us 7 minutes to go from unwrapping the box to a professional dessert.

After zapping the fondant an extra three seconds in the microwave, I'm left with a warm gooey center paired with fresh strawberries. Each bite is mouthwatering, and the chocolate is warm. Any ingredient I've put in the microwave hasn't come out stale at all. Even though this has a 10 minute cook time, it takes us 7 minutes to go from unwrapping the box to a professional dessert.

If it were within my budget, I would definitely order a meal kit from Munchery again. For one, it works with my lifestyle. I can't wait have a subscription box delivered every week, but I'd also like to feel accomplished by creating my own food, not just placing take-out orders. It's a similar price point, but you do have to budget the cooking and cleaning time involved. The Munchery meal kit also brings out my love of cooking and just how much fun it can be. Yes, I may have had to wave my towel to get the fire alarm to stop going off, but that's a memory I can laugh at later. All is forgotten with the first bite.

If it were within my budget, I would definitely order a meal kit from Munchery again. For one, it works with my lifestyle. I can't wait have a subscription box delivered every week, but I'd also like to feel accomplished by creating my own food, not just placing take-out orders. It's a similar price point, but you do have to budget the cooking and cleaning time involved. The Munchery meal kit also brings out my love of cooking and just how much fun it can be. Yes, I may have had to wave my towel to get the fire alarm to stop going off, but that's a memory I can laugh at later. All is forgotten with the first bite.
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