Around the end of 2013, Matthew Dickhaus didn’t know how to cook.
He’s come a long way since then. It’s been five years, and Chef Ami, a Gainesville-based meal subscription service he now co-owns with his wife Johanna, delivers fresh meals to its customers’ doorsteps in Gainesville, The Villages and Tampa.
An additional warehouse in Tampa is currently being built and will be finished in the next few months.
They’ve got about 130 international recipes in their repertoire that vary on a weekly basis – everything from Mexican to catfish and grits, he said.
“It’s more of a gourmet take on things you’d normally see in a restaurant,” he said. “We try to push the envelope a little bit — be somewhat adventurous without scaring people off.”
Although similar to its counterparts that ship nationwide, Chef Ami prides itself on the fact that their food comes from Gainesville’s farms.
“They’re [farmers are] getting stuff from their farms to our customers’ doors in 24 hours – from the ground to their dinner plates,” he said. “And that’s not something you can do on a national level.”
One package includes six meals with all the pre-proportioned ingredients for each meal. The box, lined with gel packs, gets picked up at the time of the next delivery and is taken back to their warehouse, where it’s recycled for later use.
“It’s very wasteful, all the packaging that’s required to refrigerate a box,” he said.”It’s just a lot. And so, that’s one of the things I wanted to do better [than the nationwide counterparts]. By taking a more local approach, we have our own team of drivers.”
The team at Chef Ami includes Dickhaus and his wife, a manager who oversees all the hands-on operations – from checking the produce for the quality to facilitating the packaging, six delivery drivers and about 17 other employees.
Dickhaus said the idea behind Chef Ami was largely spurred out of necessity. He and his wife, who was his girlfriend at the time, fell into a bit of a cooking routine – sticking to the same tried and true recipes they’d eaten growing up or in college.
“It seemed like every time we wanted to explore a new recipe or cook something a little more exotic, it ended up costing more money than eating out,” he said. “And we ended up throwing away or storing ingredients that we would never use again, so we’d throw away the fresh stuff. And then we’d store bottles of all of these other things that we probably wouldn’t use for another year.”
The idea for his business came to him when he was away in Berlin, watching a cooking show.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be cool if you could cook along with your favorite chef and you just order the prepped ingredients, like it showed on the cooking show?’” he remembers. “There’s no waste or excess expenses cause you’re just paying for what you need.”
He tried a meal kit service in Berlin. Seeing that the business was doing well for itself, he decided he wanted to bring the concept to the states.
To hone their cooking skills, the couple enlisted the help of Michel Miloiseau, a French chef based in Gainesville who teaches one-on-one classes in the Gainesville area, according to his site.
He’d come over to their house twice a week during the first year of getting their business off the ground, teaching them a range of cooking techniques.
In fact, “ami” is French for “friend.”
“Our whole philosophy of our business is that we are your friend — the chef’s friend,” Dickhaus said. “That we help you out.”
For each Chef Ami box purchased, the company donates six meals to Bread of the Mighty, a Gainesville-based food bank.
By Kristina Orrego