When Street 14 Café shuttered its dinner service in the spring of 2017, local foodies momentarily lost access to Chef Andrew Catalano’s exceptional seasonal cuisine.
Catalano had quickly established himself on the North Coast for his farm-to-table menus, rustic pasta dishes and ingenious use of all things pickled, preserved and fermented. With the launch of his new venture, Alimento, last May, Catalano now offers — in the form of a weekly meal kit — the home cook the benefit of relationships he forged with local farms through the kitchen of Street 14.
“Alimento is a natural extension of my work at Street 14,” Catalano said.
He begins each week talking to farmers about what is harvest-ready. “Then I create dishes that will highlight those ingredients,” he said. “The main difference between Street 14 and Alimento, of course, is that the execution of the dish is passed on to the home cook.”
Meal kits have become big business in the last few years as busy people rethink their approach to dinner from frozen to fresh. What sets Alimento apart from major players like Blue Apron and Home Chef is Catalano’s commitment to locally sourced ingredients, reusable packaging and the ability of consumers to buy in on a meal kit, one week at a time, through his website alimentoastoria.com.
“Alimento” is an Italian word meaning “sustenance” or “nourishment.” For $84, or $14 an entrée, each meal kit contains the ingredients for three dinners for two adults, with detailed step-by-step recipes and portioned pantry ingredients and sauces. Beyond the meal kit service — available for pickup or delivery on Fridays — Catalano also offers home chef and catering services, and hopes to start a series of limited-seating dinner services featuring wine and beer pairings at his Astoria home as well as other venues around town.
A devoted following
Alimento’s meal kit service has already found a devoted following in the local food community. Merianne Myers, a board member of the North Coast Food Web, has been using the service every week since its inception.
“Although I cook frequently, I have learned so much from Andy by using the kits,” Myers said. “We’re eating new things and learning new preparations. And, we know almost all of the folks who are growing, raising, catching the food. I love having world-class food that I don’t have to shop for, and I love having no leftovers. Andy’s portions are spot on.”
Another regular, Jen Adams Mundy, also joined the service at the get-go, following Catalano to Alimento from his Street 14 gig.
“When we learned that Street 14 was going to end its dinner service, we were adamant about knowing what (Catalano’s) next move was,” Adams Mundy recalled. “We heard whispers about him starting his own locally sourced and environmentally conscious meal kit service. We were sure to stay in the loop so that we could become customers as soon as possible and learn to cook like a restaurant chef!”
Myers raved about Catalano’s “transcendent” pastas and house-cured charcuterie. Adams Mundy recalled her family recently enjoying a clam and chickpea stew featuring preserved lemon, local greens and pasta as well as a house-made kimchi fried rice with spring turnips.
For his part, Catalano was proud of a recent dish of a honey-glazed spiced duck breast with roasted heirloom cauliflower and quinoa.
“It was probably the most technically demanding dish to cook,” he said, “and I was concerned that people might be a bit unsure about duck. But the responses I received were overwhelmingly positive.”
Both Myers and Adams Mundy had never really considered using a meal kit service before Alimento came along, both citing excessive packaging as a major concern. Myers has dedicated herself to promoting the local food economy so shipping in food from elsewhere isn’t appealing.
Adams Mundy added: “The personal touch and Andy’s attention to his customer’s satisfaction is really unsurpassed. It is certainly something you would not get with the larger corporate meal service plans.”
With relationships with 46 North, Lazy Creek, Spring Up, Nehalem River Ranch and more local farms, the environmental footprint of one of Alimento’s meals is remarkably low. Catalano sources meat that has been humanely raised without antibiotics, and fish that has been sustainably caught by local producers like Ocean Beauty and Bornstein’s. If fish is on the menu, it is bought, processed and packed that Friday morning.
Consider a recent meal kit that included a dish of roasted, bone-in chicken thighs and a tomato-and-peach panzanella, a play on the classic Tuscan tomato-and-bread salad.
Using his farm-first philosophy, Catalano conceived of this meal after getting his hands on some peaches from Island’s End Farm on Puget Island, Washington, about 25 miles upriver. The chicken was raised across Youngs Bay in Lewis and Clark Territory by Melville Farms. Basil and heirloom tomatoes arrived from 46 North just outside of Astoria. Shallots were obtained from LaNa Conscious Farm in Astoria, with sourdough bread coming from Sea Level Bakery in Cannon Beach.
All of this was complimented by a perfect pour of house-made vinegar in a small reusable jar. Each bite burst with flavor and freshness, having traveled less than the distance of a marathon to make it to your dinner plate.
Humility in the kitchen
While the home cook can certainly pick up culinary tricks and inspiration from Alimento’s meal kits, the recipes are designed to be executed quickly.
“I really believe that good cooking depends less on technical skill than on an attitude of humility in the kitchen,” Catalano explained. “When it comes to making a tasty plate of food, high-quality ingredients will do most of the work for you if you let them.”
During a recent trial of Alimento’s meal service, nothing more was required than basic cookware and cutlery, olive oil, salt and pepper, and every dish was pulled together in about half an hour. What makes these meals special is having a talented chef curating the freshest possible ingredients from the best local sources, not to mention the hours of magical prep that Catalano puts into his menus behind the scenes.
One week Catalano put a heritage pork shoulder he had acquired from Nehalem River Ranch on the smoker at 6 a.m. for a twelve hour low-and-slow burn before it was pulled and portioned for sandwiches. The next week it was house-cured bacon and salt-cured egg yolks to round out a sinfully delicious dish of house-made bucatini pasta with fresh English peas. House-made vinegars, ferments and pickles, pre-measured sauces and dry ingredients, all of these expert touches allow the home cook to reach depths of flavors in record time.
Exact quantities, easy directions
With this attention to detail, sometimes the vegetables even find their way back to the farm. Teresa Retzlaff, of 46 North Farm, recently ordered an Alimento meal kit for her and her husband, Packy Coleman, on a week when they had supplied much of the produce for that week’s meals.
“Andy felt awkward selling our own produce back to us,” she said. “But I wanted the opportunity to see how what we grew was presented. It’s like eating a meal at a restaurant that you supply produce to — it’s a good thing to support your restaurants, even if you have to cook the food yourself!”
Retzlaff said Coleman, who likes to follow specific recipes when cooking, was immediately smitten with the kit. “I wish I had filmed him unpacking it,” she said, “exclaiming over everything, so happy to have everything measured out in exact quantities and easy directions to follow.”
Retzlaff and Coleman, who have been working with Catalano since his Street 14 days, took turns cooking the meals and found each meal delicious and filling — though, as Retzlaff recalled Coleman saying, “I’m sure it would have been better if Andy cooked it himself.”
Catalano will be catering the Astoria Co-op’s upcoming annual meeting Sunday, Sept. 17, at the Red Building Loft where the Co-op will unveil the design for their new store. The event is currently completely booked.
Soon Catalano will start bi-monthly fundraising dinners for the North Coast Food Web with seating limited to twelve guests per dinner. Retzlaff and Catalano are planning a series of farm-to-table dinners at 46 North for next year that would feature their local produce as well as local meats, fish and cheeses.
Alimento’s website will soon begin selling Jacobson Salt products from Netarts, and Catalano hopes to start selling more quality pantry essentials in the future. With autumn fast approaching, expect to see Asian pears, fall greens like kale and cabbages, root vegetables, pastured meats and wild mushrooms entering rotation in the meal kit service.
Alimento’s meal kit service is available at alimentoastoria.com. Sign up for a newsletter that comes out every Tuesday and details that week’s menu.
Kits can be purchased through the Alimento website at any time during the week, and are readied in insulated bags every Friday.
Kits are available for pick-up on Friday afternoons at the offices of the North Coast Food Web on 577 18th St., where the meal kits are prepped and assembled in the on-site commercial kitchen. Alimento also offers free delivery in the downtown Astoria area.