Chef will take your veggies from box to plate


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Here's the great thing about a community supported agriculture, or CSA, program subscription: All those wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables delivered each week throughout the summer growing season.

Here's the not-so-great thing about a CSA: What do to with all that food, especially when the week's bounty includes unfamiliar items you don't have a clue as to how to prepare. (Seriously. What's a girl to do with kale? Or kohlrabi?)

Where there's a will, though, there's usually a way. And where there's not? Rachel Lori, a personal chef based in Lawrenceville, wants to help.

Last summer, the grad of Manhattan's Institute of Culinary Education returned home to Pittsburgh to continue her career as a personal chef and caterer. This summer, she'll extend those talents to local CSA subscribers. For $125 a week with a five-week minimum, plus the cost of the CSA subscription, the Fox Chapel native will pick up your weekly allotment, add locally sourced organic proteins and dry goods, and then turn it into at least five meals for two in the commercial kitchen she rents off-hours. Then, she'll box it up in easily reheatable containers and drop it right at your door.

The Kretschmann Farm in Rochester is already offering it as a service on its Web site (kretschmannfarm.com), and more farms will follow, expects Chef Lori, who is one of the presenters at the upcoming Farm to Table Conference. Should a customer be excited about a particular CSA, she's willing to work with them, too; if you're new to the idea, she can also help determine which CSA and plan will best meet your family's food expectations.

And you thought customer service was dead.

Professional cooks might be comfortable with the variety and quantity of foods in a CSA box, but your average home cook is often scared by it, says Chef Lori. This service, she says, takes that fear away.

"It's a fabulous option to get the freshest, most amazing food at extremely competitive prices," she says. "Absolutely everyone wins."

Adding to its appeal is the continual variety. Depending on what's in season, your delivery might include a fabulous fruit pie or lasagna Bolognese with fresh ricotta and spinach. You may know what's in the box, but there will still be an element of surprise to the meals. Or as she puts it, "Every day is like Christmas morning."

But what is you're looking for just the occasional meal or pantry item? Cooking instructor/chef Claudio Masci has partnered with Isidore Foods, a food subscription service that works with more than three dozen local farms, to offer his signature Italian dishes, breads and homemade pasta sauces.

Prices range from $5 for a loaf of focaccia or feather bread and $7 for a quart of vegetarian plum sauce to $22.50 for a six-serving tray of chicken Romano or marsala (isidorefoods.com). Chef Masci is also willing to make special orders. Purchases are delivered to a designated pick-up point based on zip code.

"It's all based on what's in season," says Chef Masci, who came to Pittsburgh from Italy's Abruzzi region 40 years ago and has been a name on the Pittsburgh restaurant scene since. He also teaches cooking at several local institutions, including Alfano's at the Quail in North Strabane and the Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley.

Chef Lori, too, worked for years in restaurant kitchens and private homes in the Hamptons and New York City, considered by many the culinary center of the universe. But Pittsburgh, she says, also has an "amazing" food scene.

"It's unparalleled," says Chef Lori, who tried her hand at acting before deciding on a career in the kitchen. "You hear about new restaurants every day, and the farm situation is unbelievable. You've got the Fertile Crescent here."

Chef Lori, whose Web site is personalchefrachel.com, is hoping to get as many people to sign up for her services as her hands can cook for -- say, 15 or 20. Already, a handful of clients have committed.

"Every person I tell the idea to thinks it's wonderful, so I am really excited and optimistic," she says. "I'm hoping people will throw a little caution to the wind and try new things."


Correction/Clarification: (Published Mar. 28, 2009) Cooking instructor/chef Claudio Masci, who has partnered with Isidore Foods, teaches at the Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley. The affliation was incorrect in this article as originally published Mar. 26, 2009.

Gretchen McKay can be reached at gmckay@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1419.


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