Lin Zelcer is serving up delicious and healthy meals to a growing number of busy Peninsula families, and is doing so with flair and style. Christine VanDeVelde reports.
How do you go from herding a group of rich and famous offspring around a cattle ranch in Steamboat Springs for E! television's Filthy Rich Cattle Drive to a kitchen in Redwood City preparing spicy Moroccan chicken, amid baskets of yellow tomatoes, silver platters of sugar watermelons, and Mason jars of preserved lemons and oils infused with basil?
For former reality TV producer Lin Zelcer, who is the Peninsula's newest "It girl" chef, the first step was film school. And then it wasn't such a long, strange trip as you might suspect to cooking up her own meal delivery service. After a seven-year stint with Cream Cheese Films producing HBO concerts for artists like Madonna, the Rolling Stones and Jerry Seinfeld, Zelcer found herself out of a job in the wake of the Universal/NBC merger. Which is how she shortly found herself on that cattle ranch producing a reality show featuring boxer George Foreman's son, the daughter of O.J. Simpson's defense attorney, an heir to the LaPerla lingerie company, and the son of the 14th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh. "I went to film school to be an artist," she says. "And I felt as if my soul was being sucked out of my body hour by hour."
Struggling in her television career, she stumbled onto a new form of artistry when she prepared a five-course dinner for her boyfriend's birthday. She had always loved cooking -- her first job was making scrambled eggs and country potatoes for her family at age 8. And here was a "flavorful art" where the medium was aigre-doux or tuna tartare instead of ambient light and camera angles. Luckily, her father -- go-to hair guru Sammy Zelcer of Menlo Park's 1258 Hair Studio -- was "100% supportive", she says, when she announced she was enrolling at the Epicurean School for Culinary Arts in Los Angeles.
Combining a passion for food and endless curiosity about technique and ingredients, Lin developed a trademark style -- the healthy, home-cooked meal. Earlier this year, she started her meal delivery service here on the Peninsula. Fresh Meals provides healthy, delicious, individually prepared meals, delivered straight to your doorstep -- rosemary salmon with sweet potato mash and roasted green beans; pork tenderloin with peaches and grilled zucchini; beef kabobs with fingerling potatoes and fennel salad; lamb tagine with sautéed Swiss chard.
Lin keeps ingredients as natural and pure as possible and everything is extraordinarily fresh -- when it's delivered, it was made in her kitchen that morning. It’s also healthy fare -- she uses no creams or butter and organic ingredients whenever possible. "I want people to feel that they are eating a hearty meal," explains Zelcer, "but not one where they have to go to the gym to work it off."
Zelcer goes to great lengths to respond to individual needs. Client Eve Jaffe says she was going crazy trying to satisfy the culinary likes and dislikes of her family -- one hates tomatoes, one loves Brussels sprouts, one is picky, one is an omnivore. So she loves the personalized service of Fresh Meals. "One of my favorite stories is coming home to find my delivery and there are four salads individually boxed with each persons' likes and dislikes met!" says Jaffe.
Fresh Meals delivers five days a week between 2 and 4 p.m. on the day of the order. (No weekend service for now.). Clients order online by email or at www.freshmeals.net. An entrée, two meals and salad are priced at $50 per person. While that may seem a bit pricey, my experience shows that when it comes to food delivery service, you get what you pay for. With Fresh Meals, the portions are not only generous, but the variety and attention to detail are superb. With other services, the mass production and rotating menus can make everything start to taste the same. For now, Fresh Meals menus don't include desserts, but Zelcer will do pastries for private parties and catered events. A plan for providing healthy, pre-packed school lunches for families is in the works. And she loves to teach and will conduct in-home classes for clients, as well.
You can contact Lin Zelcer at www.freshmeals.net.
But in the meantime, she was willing to share with Gentry readers the recipe for one of Fresh Meals' most-requested entrees:
Fresh MealsTurkey Lasagna
- 6 no-boil lasagna noodles
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion finely chopped
- 1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey
- 1 (16oz.) jar organic marinara sauce
- 1 1/2 cup fat free ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1. In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add onions and cook till translucent. Add turkey and cook, stirring occasionally until juices evaporate and meat browns, about 10 minutes. Add marinara sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered till sauce thickens, about 10 minutes more.
2. Prepare pasta according to package.
3. Preheat oven to 375*. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Lay 2 noodles down and cover with 1/3 of meat sauce. Spread 1/3 of ricotta on top of meat. Do not mix. Layer 2 more noodles on top and repeat meat then ricotta. Place remaining noodles in dish and cover with remaining sauce and ricotta. Sprinkle with mozzarella and cover with foil sprayed with non-stick spray.
4. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10 minutes more. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Please note: the above recipe calls for packaged tomato sauce. Zelcer makes hers from scratch, but she's keeping that recipe for herself. Enjoy!
Lin Zelcer's Best Bets
Favorite Cookbook: How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, a great choice for the novice or experienced cook.
Favorite Cooking Show: "Iron Chef"
Favorite Snack: Apples and Peanut Butter
Favorite Ingredient: Garlic makes everything better.
Favorite Restaurant: Sushi Nozawa in North Hollywood
Favorite Kitchen Tool: My Messermeister knife. I really like the balance of it.
Favorite Cooking Trick: To juice a lemon properly, roll it back and forth under your hand on the counter before cutting into it.