Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Food Bag - the food!


As I mentioned the other day, I was sent a trial week’s worth of food from My Food Bag last week. 

If you don't know the concept by now - have you been under a rock for the last week? - the basic idea is that recipes + all the ingredients to make them get delivered on a Sunday and you cook the meals yourself during the week. 

I like the concept.  It takes away the issue of thinking up what to cook for dinner, if that is an issue for you. (For me, that is one of the most fun parts of making dinner, but I acknowledge that I am not necessarily typical). My friend Kirsten, for example, loved the idea - for her, coming up with ideas for dinner is the most stressful part. It also eliminates the tedium and time of shopping for food, although obviously you are still going to have to buy ingredients for your other meals and basics. The ‘gourmet’ bag we tried costs $139 for four meals for two people. 

I liked that in general the meals in our bag were generous in size. The dishes tasted good and interesting and there were a couple of clever ideas I'll be doing again, like the sauce for the duck, made with pomegranate juice.  Most of the recipes had good amounts of vegetables (at least two serves), which is excellent. I mixed up the order of the meals, because I was in Oz until Tuesday night so didn’t get to start until Wednesday. But that didn’t really seem to matter; we just popped all the meat and fish into the freezer. All the produce was fresh and of good quality. The recipes were straightforward to make for both me and Sandy, so they work for a range of skill levels.

I have a couple of quibbles. 

Firstly, nutrition. Of course I'm looking at this - occupational hazard. But I think it is fair enough, since My Food Bag is promoted as healthy as well as delicious and convenient. I wonder why in that case, the recipes don’t have full nutrition information.  Saturated fat and sodium are two very key things to keep an eye on when we eat - but unfortunately these things are not revealed on the recipe cards. The cards only have kJ, protein, carbs and total fat. I can’t help but wonder why?

As one of the four meals was over 3,000kJ (700 calories) one was just under, and one had over 40g of fat, I have to assume that the saturated fat in these recipes is not ideal. Neither the duck nor the lamb dish is really suitable, energy-wise, for someone of my size to be eating regularly. The website does say the recipes are going to be balanced out over the week, so perhaps week one was an exception with two heavier, fattier dishes in the mix. I’d hope so if I was watching my weight. 

I applaud the concept of fresh, whole, free-range and organic food. But I also think if you’re going to promote recipes as ‘healthy’ you should put your money where your mouth is and prove it. (Don’t think I’m singling My Food Bag out here – I say this all the time about things I see in magazines and books, too). They could also take the opportunity to highlight the good things – at least two of these recipes would earn a ‘high fibre’ tick based on our criteria. 

My second slight quibble is time. On the My Food Bag promotional material and website it says the recipes are all ready in an average time of 30 minutes. Great, I thought. But two dishes in our bag took an hour to make – 10 and 20 minutes longer, respectively, than it said on the recipes. I don’t think I am a slouch in the kitchen prep department; I just think the recipes were a teeny bit ambitious in their timing and some of the cooking times were off. I don’t mind spending an hour on dinner – just tell me up front it’s going to take that long. These were not really weeknight, after-a-busy-day-at-work-and-a-commute recipes.  

I’m not sure about the value for money aspect – would I pay $139 for ingredients for four meals for two?  That’s $34.75 per meal, or $17 per serve – not a cheap dinner by any means. (The ‘Classic’ bag is cheaper - $8.95 a serve).  But I get that you’re paying for the convenience of having everything delivered to your door, which does have appeal. 

My overall impression is this is a great idea, and I can see the type of people it will appeal to – people who enjoy interesting food but often lack inspiration or ideas about what to cook. I wonder how many of those people there are out there to sustain something like this after the initial surge of interest; but I’d be delighted to be proven wrong on that point. Tighten up a bit on the recipes and give us all the nutrition information, then My Food Bag can accurately claim a ‘healthy’ message.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bags of PR

The big food story of last week was the launch of the My Food Bag food delivery service. I did not realise quite how big it was as I was in Sydney for the early part of the week. (The biggest food story there was whether or not the meatballs at IKEA contain horse meat. I can report from the front lines that IKEA promise their meatballs in Australia contain nothing but Australian meat. I can also report they contain not a lot of taste, but I don't think that is news to anyone).

I was offered the opportunity to try the My Food Bag service during its first week by the PR company, Pead PR. I thought that would be very interesting, although I felt slightly less special when I discovered that every food writer I know, plus every radio DJ, TV presenter, and a whole lot of bloggers and tweeters I'd never heard of were also on the PR schedule. By later in the week it occured to me that if you were in any way involved in food media and hadn't been sent a Food Bag, you'd be feeling pretty left out.

Anyway. There has been much chatter online and on air about how this has been done.
Radio NZ devoted a large part of their Media Watch show on it on Sunday.
The general commentary seems to be that the media has behaved unethically by commenting on social media and on other media about the product when they've been given the service to try for free.

For the record, I was not asked to tweet, Facebook post or otherwise cover the launch of My Food Bag. I've been asked to do that in the past for other products, which I have politely declined to do. I've seen it reported that other media were asked to tweet with a specific hashtag - I was not. Perhaps they knew my thoughts on such things.

For sure though, there has been some pretty gushy and indiscriminate coverage of My Food Bag around the place. I think the NZ Herald's Bite section possibly needs to give it a rest after two weeks' worth of pretty full-on mentions and My Food Bag recipes from Nadia.

But in general, this is nothing new. PR companies send out free products all the time. It's how things get featured in magazine pages and on websites. If I can't try a product, I can't consider it for my pages. By far the majority of what is sent to me does not make it into the magazine. Some of it doesn't meet our nutrition criteria; some of it doesn't taste very good. it only gets in if we have tried it and genuinely liked it. No one can buy their way in to our editorial pages.

You should see the corner of my office where all the PR stuff gets put - every six weeks or so I have to open an office 'free store' to get rid of the excess. I hear beauty editors on womens' magazines have amazing treasure troves of product in their cupboards. How do we think all those 'what's new in lipsticks/foundation/eyeshadow' features get put together? This is how PR works.

So I think what's happened with My Food Bag is not underhanded, it's just really effective PR. If I was the My Food Bag team, I'd be saying a big Thank You to Pead PR, because they have done a great job of giving a new company a really good start.

Tomorrow: what I thought of the food!



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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Auckland eating adventures


It's been six years since I've lived in the city, and it is fair to say a lot has changed. It's also fair to say I have not been exactly up with the play on what's shaking in the Auckland restaurant scene. In the past six years we would have eaten out in the evening in Auckland perhaps a dozen times. As Catherine Bell put it the other night, "You have a lot of catching up to do".
What better time to start than with our celebratory night out on the town for the breaking of febfast. It was with decidedly mixed feelings that Sandy and I did this. We've both loved the feeling of not drinking - how much more energetic and clear-headed and just generally better we felt. On the other hand, we also like wine. A moderate evening was proposed. Two glasses only, I said, one a glass of bubbly to celebrate the fast breaking, and another glass of something with dinner.

We started at Soul Bar, since there are few nicer locations on a sunny summer evening. A glass of Moet et Chandon accompanied by haloumi & mint fritters with honey and almonds and some lovely little smoked salmon bruschette felt like a really good start. A toast, a sip, and the month of non-drinking was over. Onwards!



Our next stop was one of the hot new places - probably made hotter by the fact that it's only temporary. The Hamptons is a (how I hate this term) "pop-up" restaurant in the front courtyard of an office building in Shortland Street. It's been well-reviewed and talked up by the food media, so we thought we'd better check it out. I can see why it's only going to be there until May - the wind, even a slight one, whips and swirls through the buildings and once the sun was gone it was a wee bit chilly sitting in what is basically an outdoor room. But it's a lot of fun - set up like a New England beach club/lobster shed it's got a menu full of what you might expect to find in that part of the world. Crab and corn cakes, crayfish rolls, clams, etc, but with a little twist of elegance, as you might expect from the team that brought us Clooney. We enjoyed a piece of brisket on the bone served in a smoky barbecue sauce and a dish of spiced snapper with a salad of gorgeously sweet tiny heirloom tomatoes. Corn bread on the side was a bit sweet for me - we should have gone for the iceberg lettuce salad which in retrospect was probably a knockout. I'll be back for the crayfish rolls.



Moved on by the chill, more than anything else, we mooched down to Britomart, thinking we might find dessert somewhere before our ferry home. Unexpectedly this turned into the highlight of the evening. Ortolana, the brand new casual but magical restaurant tucked in between the stores at the Britomart Pavillions, was on my radar courtesy of a foodie friend but we'd decided not to go there for dinner. I instantly regretted that decision when we wandered in, and the fact that there were three other food writers inside was a tip that something great was going on here. So too was the warm and welcoming smile and incredibly gracious persona of host and co-owner Jackie Grant, who did not miss a beat when we said we only wanted dessert, even though there was clearly a growing queue of diners keen for full dinners. The orange creme brulee we shared was divine, accompanied by some of the most delicious grapes; Jackie told us they were montelpuciano, from the family's Kumeu farm. We loved that the house rose (Invivo) was only $7 a glass, too. The dishes I saw heading to other tables looked fresh, simple and full of flavour - I cannot wait to head back for proper dinner.



I confess to never having heard of the Hip Group before tonight, which Jackie and husband Scott Brown own and run. But it turns out they are some of the cleverest operators in Auckland when it comes to cafes, and this is their first evening venture. It's very soon to be followed by another, even more interesting one - a dessert restaurant, Milse, which opens this week. Jackie gave us an impromptu tour of Milse which is next door to Ortolana - it's a stunning space, seating only a handful of people, where you'll be able to get a 5-course dessert degustation, should you desire, or order a la carte, or take a little something sweet away.


With its setting of twinkling fairy lights and manicured landscaping, Ortolana has a lovely feeling about it, and there is some seriously interesting but simple and seasonal going on with the food too, I think. I can see another night on the town (or maybe a lunch) on the cards for us very soon.



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