Prepless Cooking. This is not cooking without alligators or pinstripes on your shirt. This is being able to cook a dish without having to go to the grocery for ingredients, without having to wash, peel, dice or measure a single thing. In prepless cooking, the "prep" work has already been done.
In this case, it's been done in the kitchen of Hugo's, the epicurean West Hollywood restaurant where owner/manager Tom Kaplan debuted his kits of ready-to-cook entrees a few days ago, offering four different selections each week. Each one-serving container ($5.95-$8.95) includes the meat, vegetables, wine, herbs, cream (and anything else you'll need), pre-measured and ready to add as described on the accompanying recipe sheet.
And it really works. I gave my visiting father-in-law (who is not--forgive me, Dave--in the habit of "gourmet cooking") two of the kits. Pasta carbonara with prosciutto and bacon took him 14 minutes from stove to table. We were eating his chicken marsala with sun-dried tomatoes 12 minutes after he started. Then I tried a couple: pasta con funghi and breaded veal cutlet (the cutlet comes partially cooked) in a wine, cream and caper sauce took me 10 to 12 minutes apiece.
We found they could be made in a single skillet apiece--plus a pot of boiling water for the pasta, of course. Each generous portion tasted as delightful as the next: Hugo's own recipes made with their notably prime ingredients.
According to Kaplan, the time factor is prepless cooking's chief appeal. It is for people who want to spend an evening at home with neither major effort nor the compromise of frozen food or reheated take-out meals. And while prepless entrees cost about half of what they would eaten at Hugo's, Kaplan thinks that money is not the major factor in their appeal.
What most people don't realize is that once the preparation is done, many standard Italian, French and nouvelle -style entrees take only a few minutes on the stove. On the other hand, almost everybody knows that Chinese food takes only minutes to cook once the preparation is done.
So it is not surprising that Chin Chin, the casual Chinese-food cafe, introduced "Wok-Away Chinese Home Cooking" kits about six months ago. Chefs Neil Cooper and David Yao have six dishes a week available in their take-out section: shrimp, chicken or beef with vegetables already in chunks, complete with the makings of a sauce ($5.95-$8.95). Zak, a teen-age Chin Chin-frequenter I know, came over and cooked up his first garlic chicken kit in about 10 minutes. After he wolfed it down (I did get a small sample), he announced contentedly: "It tasted just like Chin Chin."
Is it because the Chin Chin on Sunset Plaza is such a place to see and be seen that they've temporarily discontinued Wok-Away there? I'm not sure, but I'm happy to say that Wok-Away is going strong at the Brentwood location. (Noodle dishes, dim sum and other items are also available for take-out at both sites.)
Want something sweet to finish your dinner? There's always Wolfgang Puck's new frozen desserts (sold at Neiman-Marcus). In fact, the way things are going, staying home may be the best way to eat out.
Hugo's, 8401 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 654-4088. Restaurant open 6 a.m. to midnight every day. Prepless cooking orders taken 10 a.m.-7 p.m. for pickup any time.
Chin Chin, 11740 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, ( 213 ) 826-2525. Restaurant and take-out open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; till midnight Friday and Saturday.