Volume 22, Number 03 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 29 - June 4, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
David Leach preparing dinner at home in Tribeca while his son David, 16, and wife Mary watch. Leach and two partners have started a free Web site with daily step-by-step instructions for quick family meals.
Local dad’s tips for family dinners from soup to nuts
By Julie Shapiro
David Leach is no stranger to the kitchen, but the Tribeca father of two is still often daunted by the question of what to cook for dinner.
“It’s really hard to think of stuff,” said Leach, who prepares dinner every night for his wife and teenaged sons.
To help other parents make meals for their family, Leach recently launched notakeout.com, a Web site that features a complete menu for every weekday, including a grocery list and step-by-step instructions. Working with his friend Kurt Holm in New Jersey and cookbook author Susan Loomis in France, Leach’s goal is to get more families to eat healthy dinners together, even in Tribeca’s time-crunched culture.
The recipes focus on seasonal, local foods and are geared toward recently laid-off fathers who are now charged with preparing meals. The instructions are unusually detailed — they’ll explain how to zest a lemon and tell aspiring chefs not to worry when the chicken sticks to the pan. The instructions also integrate several recipes at once, so all the dishes will be ready at the same time.
“We work from the assumption that you don’t need to have amazing kitchen skills to do this,” Leach said. “If you can read, you can cook.”
The tone of the recipes is lighthearted and fun, with instructions telling when the children should be told to set the table, or suggesting that the chef open and taste the wine, just “to make sure it’s okay.”
Subscribers to the free recipe service receive an e-mail every day with that evening’s recipes, all of which should be doable in under an hour, Leach said. Recent meals included teriyaki steak with lemon spinach and ginger rice, and braised Sicilian chicken with cannellini beans and Swiss chard.
Leach declined to name the number of subscribers he and his partners have signed up so far, but he said the site received more than 5,000 page views when it first went live at the end of April. The site is not yet bringing in much money from its Google ads, but Leach hopes to sign an agreement with companies like Fresh Direct to deliver the groceries matching each day’s recipe to subscribers who would pay a fee.
While Leach wants to simplify the experience of cooking, the recipes do not include shortcuts like bottled dressing or canned soup. They also avoid ingredients that have a large carbon footprint.
“We’re never going to call for asparagus in December, because we don’t want someone buying it from Peru,” Leach said.
Leach’s philosophy puts him in line with Alice Waters, a chef who advocates using local ingredients and formed the Edible Schoolyard program. Waters, who inspired Michelle Obama’s White House garden, will contribute a week of recipes to Leach’s site starting June 15.
Leach frequently tests the recipes on his own family. As an artist and commercial photographer, Leach has a flexible schedule, which means he is responsible for dinner. His 16 and 17-year-old sons, who go to LaGuardia High School, know they have to be home to eat as a family, and his younger son often helps Leach cook.
The recipes are designed for families, but Leach admitted that they could push the boundaries of “a 7-year-old who’s used to eating chicken fingers with French fries.” One evening’s menu, for example, was beet soup with scallion bread pudding. Still, Leach said most of the food is accessible, and the meals include traditionally kid-friendly items like pizza, fajitas and macaroni and cheese.
“We’re not melting gorgonzola over everything,” Leach said.