In Martha & Marley Spoon’s sun-soaked Manhattan office, there is always something delicious cooking. The air is tinged with notes of roasting peppers, herbs, and fennel wafting from the oven in the test kitchen because tonight, the staff of this busy meal kit delivery service will have a Martha & Marley Spoon meal, too.
Once each month the team orders in multiple meal kits as a means of evaluating their system and experiencing their recipes the way one of their subscribers would. They test the recipes by cooking the dishes according to the included instructions, unpackage each product for quality check, and then they confirm the results for flavor and scale. While this would typically fall under their regular office routine, today is a little bit special. Right before the work day ends, the culinary department will host a monthly gathering, laying claim to the picnic tables on the roof of the building to gather for dinner, together.
On the menu are some of Martha & Marley Spoon’s newest dishes: roasted sausages and peppers with fennel, cucumber noodle salad, and lettuce cups filled with fragrant rice and sesame beef. The activity in the kitchen is in full swing as assistant culinary directors, Sanaë Lemoine and Theo Kaloudis, work their way through the materials that arrive in the Martha & Marley Spoon boxes. Sanaë pulls out a small frying pan and heats up some grapeseed oil. She opens an envelope of raw peanuts, stuck shut with a canary yellow spoon sticker. Though pale when they hit the pan, two minutes later they’re golden and gleaming as she spoons them out into a bowl. On a big cutting board on the other side of the stove, Theo slices sirloin steaks, letting them rest in a tamari marinade as she cooks some rice.
At her desk, just ten feet away from the bustle of the test kitchen, Jennifer Aaronson works alongside Sanaë and Theo. Day to day, they conceptualize, write, test, and photograph new, seasonal recipes that will be offered to their customer base in the coming weeks. Fresh peas are ready to be harvested from Hepworth Farms, one of their local Hudson Valley suppliers, which means that Jennifer must find a way to incorporate the green beauties into a Martha & Marley Spoon dish. “I’m thinking of a fettucine alfredo with peas and fresh herbs,” she says. The dish will be quintessentially Spring —bright flavors, and vibrant colors. “I love the simplicity of Italian cuisine,” she explains, “and I love that [Italians’] whole day revolves around food, because I feel like it’s what my day revolves around.”
Jennifer’s life didn’t always revolve around food. Graduating with an economics degree, she worked for two years in a bank, managing mutual funds, only to find herself daydreaming about what to make for dinner. “I said, ‘forget this,’ and I quit my job and went to cooking school in Boston,” where she apprenticed with the renowned Chef Suzanne Goin. Under Chef Goin’s tutelage, Jennifer’s cooking style took shape. “She’s so true to ingredients. Such a seasonal cook, uncomplicated but combines flavors in a smart way. It was the best start a girl could have asked for!”
Long before before culinary school or Suzanne Goin’s influence, Jennifer already had a kitchen hero. “My mom cooked every single meal that we ate. She was the queen of ground beef,” Jennifer muses. “My dad doesn’t know how to cook a thing, but he’s her number one fan. Every single night, he would applaud her cooking. He was so enthusiastic about everything she made.” It is this enthusiasm and appreciation for food that frame Jennifer’s perception of what Martha & Marley Spoon ought to be. “It’s such a gift to cook for people,” she says. “There’s something so tantalizing about that, to be able to be the provider and make people happy.” This philosophy drives her desire to help people create delicious meals at home, without the hassle of grocery shopping, in order to build a touchstone experience and establish the important family dynamic of dinner together around the table.
Jennifer helped launch the US branch of Marley Spoon with Fabian Siegel in June, 2015. Fabian’s interest in mingling his two passions, tech and food, led him to found Marley Spoon in his home country, Germany, in 2014. Within a year,they opened branches in Austria, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The next step was the United States, and Fabian was searching for a culinary director to help lead the charge in creating a unique identity for Marley Spoon in the overly saturated meal-kit industry in the US. Meanwhile, Jennifer, after fourteen years at Martha Stewart Living, decided to leave her role as the Editorial Director of Food and Entertaining, ready for a new challenge. Fabien sought her out to start the US branch of Marley Spoon.
An avid home cook himself, Fabian needed a partner whose culinary philosophy was congruent to his own: fresh ingredients, simple preparations. This cohesive vision drew Jennifer in. “I loved the idea of starting a company from the ground up. Coming from a very established brand, it was really exciting to think about building a brand.” At Marley Spoon, Jennifer and Fabien envisioned a meal-kit delivery service to unite seasonal ingredients with simple, delicious recipes.
While meal-kit competitors like Blue Apron and Plated may offer similar services, Marley Spoon is unique in their seasonality, and their support for local farms, purveyors, and established food artisans. Among these are Pat LaFrieda, a small butcher shop in Brooklyn and trusted supplier to chefs around the country; and Murray’s, a purveyor and producer of artisan cheeses. Martha & Marley Spoon also distinguishes itself in the meal-kit market with their attention towards reducing waste by making their product packaging minimal. Their ice packs are reusable, and their boxes and bags are entirely recyclable. An easy option for last minute entertaining, Martha & Marley Spoon meal kits are scaleable from two to eight people, which means that subscribers can prepare a dinner for eight almost as easily as a dinner for two, whether on a weeknight or any other night of the year.
The most distinctive identifier for Marley Spoon, however, is their focus on packing flavor into recipes that use eight ingredients or less. “It’s always harder to craft a smart recipe with tons of flavor in 30 minutes,” Jennifer says. “At Marley Spoon, when we think about recipes, we’re focused on smart cooking, which is trying to get the most amount of flavor of the fewest ingredients in the shortest amount of time.” Jennifer’s decade and a half of training at Martha Stewart Living prepared her well for this challenge. “As Martha always told us, ‘You have to save time to make time.’ So we want to save the home cook as much time in prep by making sure that each ingredient is a powerhouse of flavor and will carry its own weight,” Jennifer explains.
Within the first month of launching, Jennifer was pleasantly surprised to hear from Martha. Ever a curiosity-driven learner, Martha was intrigued by the rising popularity of meal-kit delivery systems and subscribed to all the various competing services to discover what they were like. Martha found Marley Spoon to be the most satisfying and asked Jennifer for an introduction to Fabian. Within months of their meeting, Martha made it clear that she wanted to become a partner in the business. “I feel really proud that after working with her from a Junior Editor on up, she chose to partner with me in my new venture,” Jennifer explains. “It feels really good to have come to a point where our companies have come together.”
Martha & Marley Spoon officially relaunched June 2016, giving Marley Spoon access to use Martha’s vast library of 18,000 recipes as a resource and a source of inspiration. At least one offering each week incorporates Martha’s tried and true recipes into their menu rotation, even including recipes that Jennifer herself developed while working at Martha Stewart Living. While they use this archive as a resource, Martha & Marley Spoon always adjusts recipes to fit their “smart-cooking” model; perpetually aware of the home cook’s time while creating an emphasis on flavor.
Today, in the Martha & Marley Spoon kitchen, the smart cooking model is working. Sanaë checks the oven, opening it for just a moment to take a peek, and the scent of roasting Italian sausages floods the space. The mood in the office shifts as the staff begin to peek their heads into the kitchen, winding their way closer as the work day begins drawing to a close. Sanaë pulls a linen tablecloth, napkins, and plates from their props cabinet. These she sets on a long wooden tray with silverware, ready to carry up the few flights of stairs to the roof. Theo places a fresh baguette and bowls of caramelized nuts, olives, and dolmas on another tray.
All together, the staff help bring the meal up to the roof. The table is set, but candles have been abandoned against the insistence of the brisk Spring winds. Finally, everyone sits. Someone turns on Spotify and links it to a portable speaker. A collective cheer rises from the group as the music drifts towards them. Jennifer serves the plates as Theo passes them down the line. Sanaë makes a quick trip back down to the kitchen and returns with cold beers, shuffling them around the table wherever she can find space. When everyone has finally been served, Jennifer, who cooks and tastes food all day, sits, too. She takes a bite of a sesame beef lettuce wrap. “Oh! That’s really good!” she says, laughing.
Photos by Cathie Berrey-Green